Cold Weather Work Habits and Personal Protection Equipment

Dec 07

Most of us have heard of cold-related illnesses such as frostbite, hypothermia, chilblains, and trench foot. All are illnesses related to cold stress. But the cold is insidious and works its way deep into the body where it indirectly causes cold-related problems.

Workers with chronic diseases such as asthma or arthritis are more likely to suffer flare-ups in cold weather.

Cold stress also decreases the worker’s dexterity, coordination, mental skills, and causes an overall decline in performance that negatively affects worker safety. Workers are more prone to accidents.

Also, working in the cold increases the likelihood of employee sprains and strains. This turns up as a health issue such as a low back strain. However, all muscles and tendons have less resistance to harm when exposed to cold weather.

What is Cold Stress?

Cold stress is the way your body responds cold temperatures stemming from heat escaping from part of your body, such as hands, limbs, feet, and/or head. When the body has prolonged contact with cold, lengthy exposure is a physical and mental challenge to your body.

Humans lose heat four ways:

  • Radiation
  • Convection
  • Conduction
  • Evaporation

The best way to avoid cold weather stress leading to cold weather illness or injury involves changing work habits and wearing the right clothing.

Changing Work Habits

How long an employee works in cold weather depends on wind and air temperature. The colder the temperature and the stronger the wind, the shorter work periods are. The following table, adopted by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) as Threshold Limit Values (TLVs) for cold stress is an excellent guide for management in establishing the length of a work period.


Forklift Safety

Nov 30

Forklifts have revolutionized the construction industry. However, using them creates the risk of serious injury and death for drivers, other employees, and pedestrians.

Although following the rules for forklift operation – safety checks, maintenance inspections, and so on –are time consuming, they’re essential for workplace safety.

To help ensure that your construction projects stay productive and accident-free, we’d recommend these guidelines:

Designate walking and driving paths.

Many accidents happen because a worker was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Help prevent such incidents by clearly marking paths for foot traffic and forklift lanes. Yellow tape is easier to notice than signs, and won’t become covered with dirt or debris like floor marks.

Have the right tires.

A blowout could cause an accident or halt productivity. The type of tire is perhaps the most important difference between forklifts that only operate indoors and those used indoors. While indoor forklift-tire sizes relate to truck weight, aisle and lift height, tires for outdoor lifts aim to prevent punctures.

Identify gradient inconsistencies.

The floor gradient is an important consideration because slight changes can cause a tip-over. This is the number one cause of death and serious injury to forklift operators.

Because forklift designs vary significantly, choose the appropriate model. The first factor to consider is the maximum load. Trying to lift a load that exceeds this capacity can damage the arms or cause a tip-over. When possible, assign drivers who have experience with the model you’re using. If this isn’t an option, make sure the driver understands the limitations of this forklift and can do pre- and post-operation maintenance checks.

Our agency’s specialists would be happy to help keep your staff and equipment safe on the job.


10 Steps to Electrical Safety

Nov 17

A preventable electrical injury occurs in the workplace every 23 minutes.

Jim White, training director for Shermco Industries, Inc., a Dallas-based electrical power systems test and maintenance company, has developed this list of 10 tips for keeping workers safe from shocks, burns, and electrocution on the job:

Develop a zero-tolerance policy toward energized work. 

Get serious about “no hot work.” This includes conducting an electrical hazard analysis for energized work. Fine and discipline violators.

Get out in the field or plant and see what your workers are doing. 

(aka “management by walking around”).

Develop checklists or other ways to track who is qualified to perform which tasks. 

Some businesses use job-task analyses to provide a blueprint of employees’ activities.

Train your employees.

To be qualified to perform any task, workers must know the construction, operation, and hazards associated with the equipment they’re using. Make supervisors responsible for knowing what employees can – and can’t – do safely.

Develop safe work practices and procedures.

Practices such as energized electrical work permits, clearance procedures, and switching orders can help prevent accidents and can help document that the right steps were taken. These precautions become especially important in case of an accident.

Perform periodic safety audits. 

When workers know that they’ll be subject to random audits, they’ll try to maintain safe work procedures and practices. Remember: what gets measured, gets done.

Conduct job briefings 

any time the scope of the work changes significantly and when new or different hazards are present.

Be cautious about implementing safety awards programs

, especially if they might discourage accident reporting.

Become familiar with industry standards. 

Examples include with NFPA 70E and the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) Guide for Performing Arc Flash Hazard Calculations.

Document everything.

If you don’t have it in writing, you never did it. Show a good-faith effort; OSHA will notice – and compliance could save you big dollars and legal penalties.


Curb Camera Phone Use In The Workplace

Jun 29


More and more companies are restricting employee use of personal cell phone cameras on the job for fear that these ubiquitous devices might create legal headaches, lead to job-related claims, and/or compromise company trade secrets.

For example, employees might take inappropriate photos or videos of co-workers without their permission, leading to accusations of sexual harassment or invasion of privacy. Even if the picture-taking doesn’t create legal problems having these images posted online might well embarrass the employees depicted or make them uncomfortable.

Soured relationships in the workplace can also create problems. A disgruntled employee might want to embarrass a boss or gather evidence for filing a legal claim. All sorts of types of images – from a supervisor getting upset with an employee to overall working conditions – could easily become fodder in an employment dispute.

What’s more, if your company has patented products and closely-protected manufacturing processes, any information leaked to a competitor might be extremely damaging.

The best way to deal with this risk is to develop a written policy that controls employee use of cell phone cameras at work, with clear penalties for violations. Determine which workers need cameras as part of their jobs (for example, truck drivers who might have to photograph an accident for insurance purposes). Make sure that employees permitted to use camera phones at work give you the right to review all images and delete any work-related images. You should also prohibit employees from posting work-related photos on line.

The key to success lies in keeping your workers informed about this policy and enforcing it consistently.

To learn more, feel free to get in touch with our agency’s risk management specialists.



Safety Bonus Programs: Pros And Cons

Jun 22

I recently received this hotline inquiry:

Q: We have a safety bonus program that gives a $25 gift card each quarter for all groups that have no lost-time accidents, and at the end of the calendar year provides them with a share in an $8,000 bonus check. In researching this, I found that OSHA has stated that safety bonus programs which give monetary rewards to employees for no-lost time accidents can be seen as creating incentives to not report accidents or to pressure fellow employees not to do so. However, I read in a SHRM article that the Secretary of Labor stated that there would not be a fine for keeping such programs. Should we stop our incentive program it or leave it as is and wait for the DOL to prohibit it?

A: We’ve seen this memo from OSHA on HR That Works. Incentives always have their shadow side. If management makes it clear that they want injuries reported, the next step is to approach your employees and ask how the company can use these incentives in a way that does not encourage non-reporting? They might well have some better ideas than what you’re using. There’s no law prohibiting safety incentives – just concerns about possible negative results from using them.



10 Personnel Management Challenges For CEOS

May 25

Raley, Watts, & O'Neill, MD, Non-profits

Over the years, I’ve had the chance to do hundreds of three-hour workshops for CEOs about personnel practices. In light of this experience, I’d like to share 10 challenges that CEOs and executives face when it comes to personnel management.

  1. The difficulty in finding new talent. The good news is that most of these employers expect to do more hiring than firing this year. The challenge is that most of the good employees are already taken. Perhaps the biggest mistake is thinking that you find these people, as opposed to attracting them. To attract talent, you have to position yourself as an employer of choice – a great place to work. Companies such as Costco, Southwest Airlines, and my beloved In-N-Out Burger do this so well that they don’t need to go find anybody.
  2. Problems in retaining top talent. This is the flipside of the conversation above. In the marketplace of talent swapping, some companies will win, while others lose. To what degree do you have a philosophy, strategies, and tools to make sure you are retaining top talent? Do you understand why people either come to work for you (through a post-hire survey) or why they leave you (an exit interview)? Do you tap into their opinions and concerns with surveys, focus groups, and one-on-one conversations? Remember: Turnover is contagious.
  3. Lack of managerial leadership. When we run 75 miles an hour and promote people into management, chances are that this happens with little or no training. Fact is, half of managers in your industry are above average and half are below average. Guess who gets more training? You need to train managers in business acumen, communication, basic compliance, team building, and systems understanding. Most important, they need training in time management so that they can spend 80% of their time adding the value they can – and only 20% doing administrative tasks.
  4. Low employee engagement. This is easy to understand when we’ve just gone through a difficult recession, which has limited raises, cut benefits, and stunted growth opportunities. On top of that, it feels that we have a federal government that fosters an us vs. them mentality with the workforce. Perhaps the question for leadership is “how can we help our employees?” How can we help them become more productive so they can grow in their careers? How can we help them find greater meaning in the work they do every day? How can we help them gain more control over the direction of their career? As Shakespeare stated so eloquently, “To work we love with delight we go.” What would it take for your employees to love the work they do every day?
  5. Failure of management to benchmark or improve performance. Performance management is one of my favorite subjects. To begin with, do you have a specific goal for improving performance? Sure, you want sales to increase by 10%, but do customer service reps, the receptionist, and the CEO have a goal to increase their specific performance by 10%? The next question is: What are you trying to improve? What aspect of performance is most important? If you have a high growth company, perhaps what matters most is quick hiring, onboarding, and training performance. If you’re a restaurant, perhaps your food is great but your wait staff is abysmal. Focus on your strategic objective.

    Here’s a question I encourage everyone to ask those who report to them and, if you’re the one doing the reporting, to ask yourself: “What are the three most important things this employee does every day?” What good is a performance management approach if you can’t be on the same page as this question? When you have determined this, ask: “How would you know if you were doing your job well without having to ask me or without my having to tell you?” Once the employee can answer this question to your mutual satisfaction, you have legitimate benchmarks. The question then becomes: How can you improve? What training, resources, support, etc. do you need to supply this employee so they can perform at their best? Remember, as both Peter Drucker and Dr. Deming said: Nine out of ten employees want to do a good job every day; it’s the system they find themselves in that creates problems.

  6. Misaligned compensation, benefits, and incentives. Here’s another of my favorite subjects. Exactly why do you have healthcare, 401(k) or other benefits? Do they help you to hire better talent? If so, how would you know? Do benefits help you retain talent and improve performance? How would you know? If these benefits don’t tie into your strategic objectives, the chances are that you’re wasting many of them – and at a hefty price tag. I’ve begun working with a genius who is turning the benefits sales process on its head. By running algorithms of employee data and healthcare expenses, he can define the optimum benefit mix for an employer, which it then takes to the marketplace – as opposed to the marketplace telling the employer what plans are available for their demographics. Finally, how benefits are managed can impact productivity. For example, sick pay can actually grow healthcare expenses and reduce productivity. Not surprisingly, San Francisco and now Portland actually require employers to offer sick pay. How about providing wellness pay or paying people for being at work? Bear in mind that any incentive you use has both negative and positive consequences.
  7. Failure to execute strategic initiatives. We live in a rapidly shifting business environment that requires us to manage change quickly and successfully. If you haven’t done so, please watch the recorded webinar I did on Change Management and have your entire management team do the same. (If you don’t have access to HR That Works, let me know and I’ll send you a link to it). The webinar makes two major points: First, one of the traps of the hero is over-commitment. This holds true of both individuals and the company as a whole. When we over-commit, we tend not to live up to our commitments – which generates mistrust. Secondly, strategic initiatives require buy-in. Just as in sales you want to make the purchase the buyer’s idea, when it comes to change management, you want it to be the idea of your supervisors and employees. Give them some ownership of the idea and you’ll find them onboard with it. Because change will remain a constant, we’ll need to keep, coaxing, encouraging, and inspiring each other towards growth. When we stop the over-commitment and focus on execution, we’ll keep growing the bottom line.
  8. Finding time for management. Too many executives and managers mismanage their use of time so badly that they’re on overload and unable to take on any growth objectives. Most top CEOs I know take at least a few days a month away from the job so that they can work on the business instead of just working in the business. Google is smart enough to allow its employees to do this one day a week. As Stephen Covey reminded us in the Seven Habits of Successful People, you need to keep sharpening the sword. Everyone in your company needs to understand and execute time management techniques. I’ve produced an HR That Works Time Management Training Module that can help you and your managers with this.
  9. Lack of commitment to or interest in human resources. I realize that many business owners and executives feel that HR is boring, or worse. They didn’t have to know anything about it to start a business. Even though they often have little or no idea on how to run an HR department or function, in one-on-one meetings with their peers in Vistage, executives usually describe personnel issues as the major challenge facing them. The fact that employee relations just isn’t their thing provides an incredible opportunity for HR professionals to offer the expertise needed.
  10. Failure to understand the bottom-line potential of HR. Business owners are revenue animals who often don’t see personnel practices as generating revenue. This has been a long-standing uphill battle for HR. There’s a reason why Fast Company magazine years ago published an article, “Why I Hate HR.” In reality, many companies have great HR practices which form the foundation of their bottom line success. For example Jack Welch stressed the importance of HR practices as an economic driver in his years at GE. In fact, he’s still talking about it.

If you own, run, manage, or advise a company, addressing these HR challenges provides a unique competitive advantage!



Attracting And Maintaining Top Talent

Mar 23

Prof Liab.jpeg

I recently responded to the LinkedIn question “How can a company attract and maintain top talent?” in this way:

“Although you’ll get many responses about technique and strategy, in my experience that’s just the beginning of the answer. There’s a significant emotional aspect to the question. In the words of the Buddha, “What comes to you comes from you.” So that’s what I’ll focus on in this answer; the emotional blockages that stop things from coming to you. Ask yourself these questions:

    • Are you really willing to do what it takes to attract and keep great talent?
    • Are you willing to hire somebody better than you? Or even better than their manager?
    • Does driving towards excellence scare you? Are you prepared to hire the top 10%?
    • Would you fit in this category?
    • Is there such a thing as an “overqualified” applicant?
    • Are you open to hiring and managing different types of people? Can you hire without baggage?
    • Do you make a conscious effort to show people you care – or is this just your self-talk?
    • Do you allow employees to make a difference? To stretch? To find the good in their work?
    • Do you let go of poor performers, thus making room for more good ones?
    • Does leadership give a hoot about people, or simply growing their bottom-line?
    • Is this a fun place to work or is the attitude that fun and work don’t mix?

Most importantly, think about your own experience. Why would you work somewhere or stay there? “



Accommodating Pregnancy In The Workplace

Mar 16

Although many women work through their pregnancies without difficulty, some of them with physically demanding jobs or complicated pregnancies might seek accommodation at some point. However, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not define pregnancy as a disability or disorder, but as a natural process related to reproduction.

If pregnancy is not a disability, are pregnant women entitled to accommodation? What about women with pregnancy-related impairments? Are they covered by the ADA Does the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) entitle pregnant women to the accommodations they need to continue working during pregnancy? Are there state laws that entitle pregnant women to accommodation? These are the types of questions are being examined by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) and other women’s legal organizations. According to NWLC, both the ADA and the PDA often require reasonable accommodation for pregnancy.

Let’s start with the ADA. The regulations interpreting the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) state that pregnancy-related impairments can meet the definition of disability if they substantially limit a major life activity. Pregnant employees with impairments that meet the definition of disability will be entitled to an accommodation under the ADA. Because the ADAAA has broadened the definition of disability to include many temporary and less severe impairments, more workers with pregnancy-related impairments will now qualify for direct coverage.

In addition, the interaction between the PDA and the ADA will often result in a heightened duty to accommodate even pregnant employees who do not meet the ADA’s definition of disability. NWLC argues that the PDA requires employers to treat pregnant women at least as well as other employees with similar limitations in their ability to work. Because the ADA requires employers to accommodate a wider variety of medical conditions, pregnant women will often have similar limitations to people who are entitled to accommodations under the act – which means that they’ll be entitled to accommodations as well. For example, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has made it clear that the ADA requires reasonable accommodation of a temporary back injury that leaves an employee unable to lift 20 pounds for a few months. Because pregnant workers must be treated as well as employees with similar work limitations, a worker who has been instructed not to lift weights of more than 20 pounds because of her pregnancy must also be accommodated, according to NWLC.

To ensure that employers’ legal obligations to provide accommodations are unmistakable, the NWLC and a broad coalition of groups from the health, disability, and women’s rights communities are urging Congress to pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) – draft legislation which states that pregnant women are entitled to reasonable accommodations that can be provided without undue hardship to an employer. These are the same types of accommodations that are available to people with disabilities under the ADA. In addition, some state laws already give pregnant workers’ rights to workplace accommodations, as described in a recent report by Equal Rights Advocates.

Accommodating pregnant employees is also in the financial interest of employers. The NWLC provides several sound business reasons why employers should accommodate their pregnant employees in the same way that they do for workers with disabilities. Data show that the costs of these accommodations are likely to be minimal, and that providing them will have bottom- line benefits to the employer: including reduced workforce turnover, increased employee satisfaction and productivity, and lower Workers Compensation and other insurance costs.

Despite the legal and financial arguments, some employers are still not accommodating pregnant employees. This is why the EEOC recently identified “accommodating pregnancy-related limitations under the ADAAA and the PDA” as a priority area for itsenforcement efforts through 2016.

If you are an employee who was not accommodated during your pregnancy or you believe you were discriminated against on the basis of pregnancy, the NWLC would like you to share your story. Employers interested in sharing their experiences accommodating pregnant employees or in consulting about best practices are also invited to contact NWLC, at

Keep in mind that when it comes to providing accommodation ideas, Job Accommodation Network (JAN) consultants will brainstorm accommodation ideas for anyone with any type of limitation, including limitations related to pregnancy, whether or not the ADA covers the condition. So, if you’re an employer trying to accommodate pregnant employees, or a pregnant employee looking for accommodation ideas to offer your employer, feel free to contact JAN for assistance!

-Linda Carter Batiste, J.D.,

Principal Consultant with comments from the National Women’s Law Center

P.S. Speaking of job accommodations, HRThatWorks members can join us for a joint webinar with JAN on Providing Accommodations for Employees with Mental Health Impairments, to be held March 20th at 1PM EST by going to



Twelve Questions For Growing Companies

Mar 09

Don PhinGood to Great author Jim Collins identifies 12 questions leaders must grapple with if they want to excel. These questions apply to anyone in HR management, as well. Here’s my spin on them:

  1. Do you want to build a great company (or HR function) and are you willing to do what it takes?
  2. Do you have the right people on the bus and in the key seats? HR must be 100% responsible for making sure that this happens.
  3. What are the brutal facts? Where is HR supporting you and where is HR hurting you? For example, has HR allowed you to keep poor players on the bus?
  4. What’s your “hedgehog’? The hedgehog is something that you can do best, make a buck, and be passionate about! How does HR support this?
  5. What’s the one thing you do that you’re great at? Are you known for hiring the best employees in your industry? For getting them to perform beyond their peers? For having the highest retention rates? For fostering creativity? Where does HR help you to do things better than your competition?
  6. What’s your 20-mile mark and are you hitting it? The point is to be goals oriented. Unfortunately, too many people in HR don’t have a plan — and thus, don’t have goals.
  7. Where should you place your big bets based on empirical validation? As Jim Collins and any good marketer would tell you, test, test, test — and when you find out what works, blow it up big time. To what degree do you test one way of hiring, hiring tool, or managing performance, etc. to find out what works best?
  8. What is your 15 to 20 year Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal? Of course, this means that you might not be there when the goal is met. The real question is, what type of legacy do you plan on leaving?
  9. What could kill you, and how can you protect your flanks? For example, could a new, well-funded competitor swipe away your top talent? What is HR doing to prevent this? As stated in recent blog posts, swiping confidential, trade secret, and other proprietary information can harm a company overnight.
  10. What should you stop doing to increase your discipline and focus? This is a theme that I preach in time management. Before you can pretend that you’ll do anything new, you must first stop doing something. Otherwise, the result will be burnout, and non-productivity.
  11. How can you increase your return on luck? By asking question! Where have you been lucky? Where have you made great hires? Where have you had superstar performers? What can you learn about these people that will help hire more like them?
  12. Last, but not least, are you becoming a Level 5 leader building a Level 5 culture? To a large degree, this is about humility. It means playing 40/40, as I discuss in the HRThatWorks Victims, Villains, and Heroes program. Being humble does not mean that you are weak; it’s an inner strength that empowers others to find their inner strength.

I’ve greatly enjoyed reading Jim Collins’ books over the years. To see my five-minute video summarizing his insights, click here. Collins recommends that we tackle each of these 12 questions every month. Likewise, I suggest that you focus on a single proactive objective in HR every month. See the Form of the Month, a 2013 HR Game Plan.