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International Workplaces and Drug Testing

Owners of businesses with international scales have much more to consider when developing their workforce.  One of these considerations is something that comes as a standard to US-Based Businesses: Pre-employment, post-accident, or random drug testing.  What happens when your company begins to compete in the international scale, and this standard of employment is either frowned upon or flat out banned?

Workplace Safety on an International Scale

Employers face a much different landscape once leaving U.S. borders. What works here may not necessarily work there, and in fact, could result in sanctions or legal action. Before beginning international operations, employers should consider that other countries may have a different perspective on the employment relationship itself.

In many other countries, for example, it is assumed that employers have a disproportionate share of the power and leverage in the employment relationship, necessitating that employees be provided with certain legal protections we do not find in the U.S. This assumption creates some fundamental differences in the ways that other countries approach the employment relationship.

Let’s start with the fact that the United States is virtually alone in the developed world in permitting employment-at-will.

What this means is that in most other countries, employers may terminate for cause only, or risk penalties and even lawsuits. Consider that in much of the rest of the developed world employment agreements are not only commonly used, they may even be desirable for employers. These two concepts alone can be a big surprise for employers who previously have not operated outside of U.S. borders.

Before we discuss drug-testing outside of the U.S., allow me to set the scene by describing what I have observed with clients just beginning to expand internationally. It is not uncommon for employers just beginning cross-border operations to import wholesale their U.S. policies and practices, including employee handbooks, EEO policies (including citing U.S. law!), hiring, firing, and leave policies.

In some ways, this makes sense. It saves money to use policies and procedures already in place, and using the same policies across divisions or among subsidiaries ensures consistency and perhaps easier administration. When it comes to drug-testing policies, however, employers should carefully consider the legal landscape of the countries in which they operate prior to implementing U.S.-based policies.

Random testing may be illegal in other jurisdictions

Although our neighbor to the north, Canada, may appear to be very similar to the U.S., the Supreme Court of Canada recently held that the implementation of random alcohol testing for employees in safety-sensitive positions was an invasion of privacy and an invalid exercise of management rights.

The Court held that without “evidence of enhanced safety risks, such as evidence of a general problem with substance abuse in the workplace,” such testing was an “unjustified affront to the dignity and privacy of employees,” and therefore impermissible. In other words, just because the workplace might be inherently dangerous due to the nature of the work (for example, manufacturing or construction), this fact alone does not justify random testing.

While “reasonable suspicion” testing may be permissible under certain circumstances, employers should be sure to carefully document unsafe behavior and verifiable examples of drug or alcohol-related incidents.

Drug and alcohol testing in Europe can also be tricky, where employees generally have greater privacy rights than in the U.S., and drug and alcohol testing may be seen as a violation of the employee’s basic right to privacy.

Although employers and employees can generally set out the parameters of acceptable drug and alcohol testing through employment contracts, some countries, such as Belgium and Finland, prohibit the contracting away of basic privacy rights and may hold such contractual provisions to be invalid. In Poland and the Czech Republic drug and alcohol testing is generally prohibited.

Pre-employment screening is permissible in some countries (the United Kingdom), but is strictly limited in others. In France, for example, pre-employment drug-screening is generally prohibited unless an occupational physician recognizes and recommends such testing.

7 Legal Considerations in International Drug Testing

In fact, drug and alcohol testing is strictly limited in most European countries, as well as many other countries around the world, including countries as diverse as Chile, Colombia, and South Africa.

In other countries, such as India and China, drug and alcohol testing is generally not done, either because many of the substances that might be prohibited in the U.S. are widely and legally available, and/or substance abuse counselors and rehabilitation programs are scarce or non-existent.

Unjustified testing can result in fines, and even criminal sanctions in several European countries. In general, employers should always check the law in each particular jurisdiction in which they operate.

Although drug and alcohol testing requirements vary by country, there are some common-sense protections for all employers to consider implementing:

  1. Know the law in the country in which you plan to operate. Do not assume that U.S. policies can be implemented in other jurisdictions;
  2. Have written policies that set out testing parameters. Set out types of testing that will be conducted (where permitted), and levels of discipline associated with positive tests. Include information regarding prevention, counseling and treatment where appropriate;
  3. Ensure that employees’ privacy is being respected and that all privacy controls are firmly in place;
  4. Carefully consider drug and alcohol testing policies, and use only where necessary. Broadly applied testing may run afoul of many other countries’ privacy laws;
  5. Ensure that the least-intrusive means of testing are being used;
  6. Limit testing to those substances that are reasonably believed to have an effect on workplace safety;
  7. Consider applicable disability discrimination laws prior to implementing policies or taking any disciplinary action. Keep in mind that unlike in the U.S., some countries consider current drug users to be protected under disability discrimination laws.

Original Article found in the TLNT Human Resources and Recruiting article “Implementing Drug and Alcohol Testing at Non-U.S. Operations.”

Cold Stress: Types and Tips on Avoiding Workplace Injury

During the cold months of the year, it is important to know the several types of cold stress and what to do if you or anyone you work with is exhibiting signs of being too cold. Knowledge about the cold and how to react to the temperatures is key to protecting yourself and others and staying safe.

Hypothermia

When exposed to cold temperatures, your body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced. Prolonged exposure to cold will eventually use up your body’s stored energy. The result is hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature. A body temperature that is too low affects the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly or move well. This makes hypothermia particularly dangerous because a person may not know it is happening and will not be able to do anything about it.

Symptoms

Symptoms of hypothermia can vary depending on how long you have been exposed to the cold temperatures.

Early Symptoms

  • Shivering
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of coordination
  • Confusion and disorientation

Late Symptoms

  •  No shivering
  • Blue skin
  • Dilated pupils
  • Slowed pulse and breathing
  • Loss of consciousness

First Aid

Take the following steps to treat a worker with hypothermia:

  • Alert the supervisor and request medical assistance.
  • Move the victim into a warm room or shelter.
  • Remove their wet clothing.
  • Warm the center of their body first-chest, neck, head, and groin-using an electric blanket, if available; or use skin-to-skin contact under loose, dry layers of blankets, clothing, towels, or sheets.
  • Warm beverages may help increase the body temperature, but do not give alcoholic beverages. Do not try to give beverages to an unconscious person.
  • After their body temperature has increased, keep the victim dry and wrapped in a warm blanket, including the head and neck.
  • If victim has no pulse, begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

Cold Water Immersion

Cold water immersion creates a specific condition known as immersion hypothermia. It develops much more quickly than standard hypothermia because water conducts heat away from the body 25 times faster than air. Typically people in temperate climates don’t consider themselves at risk from hypothermia in the water, but hypothermia can occur in any water temperature below 70°F. Survival times can be lengthened by wearing proper clothing (wool and synthetics and not cotton), using a personal flotation device (PFD, life vest, immersion suit, dry suit), and having a means of both signaling rescuers (strobe lights, personal locator beacon, whistles, flares, waterproof radio) and having a means of being retrieved from the water.

Frostbite

Frostbite is an injury to the body that is caused by freezing. Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and color in the affected areas. It most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, or toes. Frostbite can permanently damage body tissues, and severe cases can lead to amputation. In extremely cold temperatures, the risk of frostbite is increased in workers with reduced blood circulation and among workers who are not dressed properly.

Symptoms

Symptoms of frostbite include:

  • Reduced blood flow to hands and feet (fingers or toes can freeze)
  • Numbness
  • Tingling or stinging
  • Aching
  • Bluish or pail, waxy skin

First Aid

Workers suffering from frostbite should:

  • Get into a warm room as soon as possible.
  • Unless absolutely necessary, do not walk on frostbitten feet or toes-this increases the damage.
  • Immerse the affected area in warm-not hot-water (the temperature should be comfortable to the touch for unaffected parts of the body).
  • Warm the affected area using body heat; for example, the heat of an armpit can be used to warm frostbitten fingers.
  • Do not rub or massage the frostbitten area; doing so may cause more damage.
  • Do not use a heating pad, heat lamp, or the heat of a stove, fireplace, or radiator for warming. Affected areas are numb and can be easily burned.

Trench Foot

Trench foot, also known as immersion foot, is an injury of the feet resulting from prolonged exposure to wet and cold conditions. Trench foot can occur at temperatures as high as 60 degrees F if the feet are constantly wet. Injury occurs because wet feet lose heat 25-times faster than dry feet. Therefore, to prevent heat loss, the body constricts blood vessels to shut down circulation in the feet. Skin tissue begins to die because of lack of oxygen and nutrients and due to the buildup of toxic products.

Symptoms

Symptoms of trench foot include:

  • Reddening of the skin
  • Numbness
  • Leg cramps
  • Swelling
  • Tingling pain
  • Blisters or ulcers
  • Bleeding under the skin
  • Gangrene (the foot may turn dark purple, blue, or gray)

First Aid

Workers suffering from trench foot should:

  • Remove shoes/boots and wet socks.
  • Dry their feet.
  • Avoid walking on feet, as this may cause tissue damage.

Chilblains

Chilblains are caused by the repeated exposure of skin to temperatures just above freezing to as high as 60 degrees F. The cold exposure causes damage to the capillary beds (groups of small blood vessels) in the skin. This damage is permanent and the redness and itching will return with additional exposure. The redness and itching typically occurs on cheeks, ears, fingers, and toes.

Symptoms

Symptoms of chilblains include:

  • Redness
  • Itching
  • Possible blistering
  • Inflammation
  • Possible ulceration in severe cases

First Aid

Workers suffering from chilblains should:

  • Avoid scratching
  • Slowly warm the skin
  • Use corticosteroid creams to relieve itching and swelling
  • Keep blisters and ulcers clean and covered

Recommendations for Employers

Employers should take the following steps to protect workers from cold stress:

  • Schedule maintenance and repair jobs in cold areas for warmer months.
  • Schedule cold jobs for the warmer part of the day.
  • Reduce the physical demands of workers.
  • Use relief workers or assign extra workers for long, demanding jobs.
  • Provide warm liquids to workers.
  • Provide warm areas for use during break periods.
  • Monitor workers who are at risk of cold stress.

Provide cold stress training that includes information about:

  • Worker risk
  • Prevention
  • Symptoms
  • The importance of monitoring yourself and coworkers for symptoms
  • Treatment
  • Personal protective equipment

Recommendations for Workers

Workers should avoid exposure to extremely cold temperatures when possible. When cold environments or temperatures cannot be avoided, workers should follow these recommendations to protect themselves from cold stress:

  • Wear appropriate clothing.
  • Wear several layers of loose clothing. Layering provides better insulation.
  • Tight clothing reduces blood circulation. Warm blood needs to be circulated to the extremities.
  • When choosing clothing, be aware that some clothing may restrict movement resulting in a hazardous situation.
  • Make sure to protect the ears, face, hands and feet in extremely cold weather.
  • Boots should be waterproof and insulated.
  • Wear a hat; it will keep your whole body warmer. (Hats reduce the amount of body heat that escapes from your head.)
  • Move into warm locations during work breaks; limit the amount of time outside on extremely cold days.
  • Carry cold weather gear, such as extra socks, gloves, hats, jacket, blankets, a change of clothes and a thermos of hot liquid.
  • Include a thermometer and chemical hot packs in your first aid kit.
  • Avoid touching cold metal surfaces with bare skin.
  • Monitor your physical condition and that of your coworkers.

The Value of Worker Safety Education Going Online

There are more than 100 OHSA regulations that companies must train their workers about and there are plenty of training programs to comply with these requirements.  Yet many companies today recognize that how they do safety and health education is just as important as what they teach.

Companies are looking to engage their employees and often change their organization’s culture with their training program in hopes of yielding a big long-term payoff.  One way this can be measured is by less workers’ compensation claims and more healthy employees. So while maintaining compliance with OHSA standards remains important, some companies are looking for more interactive, behavior-changing, self-empowering programs to create a culture of learning wellness and safety within all their facilities.

Facilities that may be in more than just one state, which is why e-learning or online education is slowly gaining popularity with industries that have employees at multiple sites who are required to receive OHSA training. In order to meet OHSA’s “hands on “ learning component and feedback requirements, instructional designers have built more interactivity, gaming techniques and feedback mechanisms into online safety programs, according to a January 2013 HR Magazine article titled “Putting Safety Training Online.”

The most common benefits cited by professionals for providing online learning tools to employees are:

  • Flexibility – Training can be accessed by employees from anywhere and anytime.
  • Cost-effective – Instructors do not need to travel to multiple locations to provide training.
  • Efficient – It is easy to schedule, record and assess outcomes with online learning tools.

If companies work with a vendor to provide the online courses, companies may receive additional benefits as well.  Some courses can be translated into multiple languages, emails and reminders to take the courses can be produced by the learning management system, as well as the delivery of current OHSA standards each year.

The bottom line is that many companies are regulated to conduct training, but are also looking to provide their employees with more health and wellness knowledge to guide them in their everyday work and life situations. Online education with its convenience for employees and cost-effectiveness for employers and may be the answer for meeting all these goals.

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