Asbestos is a natural mineral that is found on just about every continent.  It is still mined in some countries, including Canada and Russia, but others have outlawed mining of asbestos.  It is a highly fibrous mineral with long, thin, separable fibers that can be spun together to create valuable heat-resistant properties to be used in insulation and other products.  Studies estimate that there are more than 3,000 different types of commercial products that include asbestos.  The mineral itself is not harmful, as long as it is intact.  But when it is damaged and fibers become airborne, it can have harmful health effects.

Since the 1980’s asbestos use has dropped.  But the 4.5 million people who worked in U.S shipyards during World War II have been the greatest group of individuals at risk.  Well known as an excellent fire retardant and heat insulator, asbestos was used for insulating boilers, steam pipes, and hot water pipes in ships.  Shipyard workers were exposed to what is known as “friable asbestos”.  When it can be crumbled and released into the air, breathing asbestos fibers will stay in the body and cannot be expelled.

Our family lost a member to mesothelioma this past year.  She had worked in the shipyards back in the ‘40’s, running electrical wiring in the interiors of warships, during WW II.  About seven years before her death, she developed some respiratory symptoms.  Her doctors attributed it to heart failure, which she was prone to have due to a heart attack many years earlier. About six months before she died, she was experiencing particularly acute respiratory distress. This time, her chest x-ray showed something very suspicious.  Her doctor thought it might be some sort of cancer.  She specifically referred to it as “sheet like” infiltration.   She was diagnosed with mesothelioma.   Inhaling asbestos fibers can cause inflammation, which eventually results in the form of cancerous tumors, particularly on the mesothelium (lining of the lungs).  Mesothelioma usually takes decades to surface.  In her case, it took several decades; however, her pain and suffering was not diminished.

In our next segment, we will talk about removal/abatement of asbestos: whether it is hiding in your home or school, how to contact the proper authorities, and use of proper tools, personal protective equipment, including breathing protection.

Protecting Your Eyes

Your eyes are vulnerable and easily damaged. OSHA requires employers to supply face and eye protection to workers. However, it’s ultimately up to the employee to choose to wear protective eye equipment.

An insane but apparently common misconception is that contact lenses offer adequate eye protection. This idea could not be more wrong. Contact lenses offer no protection from common workplace hazards and many times can actually make things worse.

For example, a hot spark could land on your contact lens and melt it onto your eyeball.

If you wear contacts, you need to wear safety glasses for additional eye protection, too. If you wear glasses you need to either have prescription safety glasses that meet ANSI standards or wear over-sized safety glasses over your regular glasses. If you wear over-sized safety glasses over your regular glasses they need to fit right so you can still see.

Safety Skills can help you learn about safety requirements with our online safety training programs.


In an earlier installment on our website, we talked about ways to recognize and do something about coworkers that have problems with alcohol and drugs.  Here are some of the staggering facts:
In the United States:

  • One out of every 10 people has an alcohol problem;
  • There are more than 50 million binge drinkers;
  • There are 17 million illegal drug users;
  • Almost 15 million people  who abuse prescription drugs are out there;
  • Approximately 68% of illegal drug users are employed either full-time or part-time. (National Institute on Drug Abuse)
  • Between 10% and 20% of our nation’s workers who die on the job test positive for alcohol or other drugs. (OSHA)

Do you know or work with someone who would be included in the above figures?  Persons who have a problem with drugs or alcohol are costly to employers, because of being less productive.  They are likely to hurt themselves or someone else.  They normally miss more work days, file more worker’s compensation claims, or damage equipment by making errors in judgment.

If you know someone who might have a problem with drugs or alcohol, you will hurt them more by ignoring their problem, doing their job, lending them money, or covering up for them.  Don’t enable them.  Most companies have Employee Assistance Programs, ensuring that their employees can get treatment without penalty.  If they have a serious addiction problem, they should be encouraged to get help.  After successful therapy, everyone wins in this situation: the employee, the company, and the coworkers!

There also should be policies against drug use in the workplace, with firm consequences for violations.  If appropriate, drug testing should be utilized.  If your company doesn’t have a program of this type, work with your security office or employee association to set up an anonymous hotline for reporting drug trafficking on the job.

OSHA works with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Partners for An Alcohol and Drug Free Workplace program to help employers ensure their health and safety plans are enhanced through workplace drug prevention.


Around three million workers in this country have jobs to repair or service equipment or machinery. According to OSHA, the number of lockout/tagout fatalities each year range between 150 and 200. The number of lockout/tagout accidents per year average 60,000.  The best way to avoid an accident is to shut off power, lock out energy, release stored energy and double-check.

Lockout is the preferred method of isolating machines or equipment from the release of energy sources. These sources can be mechanical motion, motion due to pressure, gravity, springs that are under tension or compression, electrical, or thermal (high or low temperatures).

All equipment must be locked or tagged out to protect against accidental or inadvertent operation when such operation could cause injury to personnel. Persons must not attempt to operate any switch, valve, or other energy-isolating device when it is locked or tagged out.  OSHA standards require that a designated person turns off and disconnects machinery/ equipment from its energy source before the service/maintenance is performed.  To prevent unauthorized persons from reactivating the flow of energy, the point of control must be secured by locks, tags, and/or posting a qualified person, or a combination of all three.

Listed below are types of businesses that are not covered under these standards, but are covered under other standards:

  • Construction, agriculture and maritime equipment
  • Electric utilities
  • Oil and gas well drilling and servicing
  • Work on cord and plug connected equipment that is unplugged and under control of         employee, and
  • Gas steam, water or petroleum hot tap operations under certain circumstances.

Almost 95 percent of all lockout/tagout citations involve not having a formal Energy Control Program in place. Lockout/tagout remains near the top of the Occupational Safety and Heath Administration’s (OSHA) list of most frequently violated standards. Injuries and citations could be reduced by properly training all employees on lockout/tagout procedures.


OSHA defines confined spaces as those with configurations which hinder activities of employees who must enter, work in and exit places that have limited and restricted means for entry or exit, and are not designed for continuous employee occupancy.  These can include:

  • storage bins
  • manholes
  • pits
  • silos
  • process vessels
  • pipelines
  • underground vaults
  • sewers
  • wells
  • tanks

One or more of the potential hazards of working in Permit-Required Confined Spaces can be a hazardous atmosphere to engulf the entrant, walls that converge inward, or floors sloping downward and tapering into smaller area which could possibly trap or asphyxiate the person, unguarded machinery, exposed live wires, or heat stress.

To prevent accidents, companies should:

  • Train employees thoroughly;
  • Post proper signs on location;
  • Always assume that hazards are present;
  • Follow proper lockout/tagout procedures;
  • Ensure adequate ventilation for employees;
  • Furnish non-sparking tools;
  • Provide and ensure required PPE is used at all times;
  • Monitor continuously while work is being performed;
  • Have rescuers on site and trained for any emergency.

It is estimated that over one and one-half million workers enter confined spaces annually.
Most accidents can be prevented by properly educating the persons who do this work and ensuring that they are adequately supervised at all times.

More About Protecting Your Eyes

In researching eye injuries at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, their logo is “Use Them or Lose Them”, picturing a person with safety glasses on.  Thousands are blinded each year from work-related injuries that could have been prevented with proper use of eye and face protection.  More than $300 million per year in lost production time, medical expenses and worker compensation are due to eye injuries alone.  Each day, over 2,000 U.S. workers have job-related eye injuries that require medical treatment. Safety glasses, goggles, face shields, and welding hoods, and full-face respirators must meet ANSI Z87.1 standards.  The frame of safety glasses must have Z87 or Z87+ on the frame. Anytime workers face hazards of flying particles or objects, they are required to have side protection or side shields on glasses.  Those who work in health care, janitorial, construction, laboratory staffs, construction, and welding, risk permanent damage to their eyes if they do not wear the proper PPE for face and eyes.  Employers must determine the types of hazards that are present before assigning PPE to workers. Side shields come in a variety of styles that will fit just about any shape of safety glass, and are used widely among many professions.  They are a great safety convenience, as they slip on and off safety glasses, but give the added security of side protection.  Wrap around glasses also furnish protection from wind, flying particles, dust, and much more.  Eye injuries occur because of inadequate side protection, proper fit, or particles that fell from above, such as drilling or hammering overhead. What have you observed at your work site?  How many workers are wearing any type of eye protection?  And do they keep it on all day?  A very common response after the fact of an eye injury is “I didn’t think I needed it.”  With all the wonderful features that safety glasses boast, there’s just no excuse for not wearing eye protection!  There are safety glasses available for  all kinds of work that are stylish and have features, such as fitting over regular prescription glasses, numerous tints, even ones with bifocal lenses. The next time you need a pair of sunglasses, check out the cool new styles of safety glasses.  They look great, cost less, and furnish much more protection.  You’ll be stylin’ with your new safety glasses on the job, working around the house, or at play. Sources: OSHA NIOSH


Scientists at the Alaska Volcano Observatory have been closely watching Mt. Redoubt, an active volcano in the largely volcanic Aleutian Range, since the end of January, when geologists recorded a sharp rise in earthquake activity.  Volcanoes can shoot ash 30,000 to 50,000’ high, and depending on wind and velocity, be carried more than 100 miles away.   The threat level (Aviation Hazard Color Codes) has been raised from yellow to orange, which means there is heightened unrest with an increased likelihood of eruption, or volcanic eruption under way with no ash or minor ash emission.  Anchorage is the nearest large city to Mt Redoubt.  Falling ash and ash flows carry toxins into rivers and lakes.  Glass particles in ash can also cause damage to vehicles.

Citizens of Alaska are not unfamiliar with these occurrences, and usually have advance warning in order to be prepared for the eruption of a volcano.  These volcanoes are different from the types of those in Hawaii, as they produce molten lava.  Ash fall from the Alaska volcanoes are tiny parts of rock and glass, which can cause severe injury to breathing passageways, eyes, nose, and open wounds.

As with any natural occurrence, we encourage persons in the area to be prepared the best way possible, by:

  • Staying inside as much as possible
  • Covering face with wet cloths, if masks unavailable
  • Keeping fresh supplies on hand, i.e., water, food
  • Closing windows and vents to chimneys.

Following most eruptions, the possibility of short-term minor discomforts such as nasal and throat irritation, coughing, wheezing, uncomfortable breathing, skin irritations, and painful itchy eyes are typical results, rather than more serious health problems.  However, persons who suffer from respiratory ailments should take extra precautions to be prepared.


Is compromising your safety and the safety of others worth the minutes you’ll save by speeding to arrive at your destination?  Exceeding the posted speed limit (or driving too fast for conditions) is a factor in almost one-third of all fatal crashes.  Speeding-related fatalities are not always related to interstate travel.  Only 14 per cent of speeding-related fatalities occur on interstate highways.  While speeding, the driver is unable to have enough response time to avoid a crash, has an increased likelihood of crashing, and an increased severity of the crash once it occurs.  Other distractions while driving that play a roll in accidents are:

  • Talking on cell phone
  • Reading
  • Texting
  • Emotional agitation
  • Alcohol, Drugs

Neighborhood speeding is another problem that often has to be controlled by interested citizens who get their local law enforcement agencies to establish stricter speed enforcement to protect children, pedestrians, bicyclers and other motorists.  Speed bumps have been found to be a good way to slow drivers down in neighborhoods, as well as a friendly cop parked close by with his radar gun!

Speed Awareness Radar Trailers are another way to alert drivers if they are going too fast, as their speed is displayed on a board as they pass by.  Another theory is that driving too slowly on higher speed limit highways can be as dangerous as driving too fast.  We all need to be aware and alert of what is going around us at all times.

You have probably been traveling down the road, to be passed by someone in a great hurry to get wherever he’s going, darting in and out of traffic, but when you arrive in the next town, there he is, sitting at the first traffic light!  Most of the time, if we just observe the speed limit, we will get there safely.  What was that story about the tortoise and hare?  Slow down, save a life!

National Highway Transportation Safety Administration
State Farm Insurance


Is there truly a safe place to work in today’s world?  Everyone deserves security while they work.  On the nightly news, there have been more and more reports of someone killing family members and innocent bystanders at their place of employment.  Someone who harbors resentment of another coworker, has family problems, health problems, or may have been dismissed from their job might return to their job site and take the lives of one, two, or several persons.  The old days of leaving home with the doors unlocked, leaving the keys in the car, and all other innocent acts have long departed.  An unspoken rule of thumb for these times is to be aware of your circumstances at all times, especially at your workplace.

Some jobs have a higher risk of incidents of this kind than others.  Gas stations, convenience stores, and liquor stores are at the top of the chart for violence. Work sites such as these have constant contact with the public, exchange money, and are open late nights and early mornings, have small numbers of employees in place, and may be located in high crime areas.  By reducing the amount of cash on hand, having no easy escape routes, security cameras, and adequate lighting, some crimes could be deterred.  Other suggestions are to have closed circuit television, silent and personal alarms, time-release safes and most importantly, working in pairs.

There is no type of employment without risk.  Homicide is the third leading cause of workplace deaths.  Drug abuse, social issues, and poverty, are just some of the factors.  Every business should have a workplace violence prevention program in place.  Employees should be asked to take an active part in planning such a program.  Their involvement is crucial because they are an important source of information about what’s happening on the front lines, especially those who work at night.

Proper screening, background checks, along with drug and alcohol testing during the hiring process could alert employers of a potential problem.  A violent act could happen because there is a lack of security.  Employees need to recognize a threatening situation and report it.  It is better to act on it than ignore it.  A horrible act of violence might be prevented by notifying company security or contacting law enforcement.

Although OSHA does not have standards or regulations concerning this topic, they recommend five key components that can benefit employers and employees alike:

  • Management commitment and employee involvement
  • Worksite analysis
  • Hazard prevention and control
  • Safety and health training
  • Evaluation

No single strategy solution that will work for all types of businesses, but potential risks of workplace violence should be identified and corrective measures implemented.