Archive for May, 2012

It’s Official: Random Inspections Improve Workplace Safety

Friday, May 18th, 2012

Do government regulations in the workplace protect employees and consumers, or does the high cost of compliance merely drive companies to layoffs and bankruptcy? Proponents of each argument make their cases based on passion and little else since the available studies on the issue have been biased in one way or another. Now, a new study designed to produce more objective results has shown that random safety inspections do indeed improve safety without leading to burdensome expense or job loss. Some scientists say the randomized, controlled study design could be a model for testing whether proposed future regulations are likely to be effective.

Companies undergoing random inspections saw workplace injuries decline by about 9% in the 4 years following the date of inspection compared with injury reports during the same time period in firms that were not inspected, the researchers report online today in Science. The cost of the injuries reported—including medical treatment and missed work—fell by 26%. Using information from financial data provider Standard & Poor’s, the investigators found that the inspections had no effect on employment, total earnings, sales, or the survival of the company.

“Our study suggests that randomized inspections work as they’re meant to, improving safety while not undermining the company’s ability to do business,” says Toffel. “Now we’d like to get more data to see exactly how inspections reduce injuries, and to investigate what kinds of companies would get the most or least benefit from safety regulation.”

“The work is unusual in the strength of the study design,” says Jon Baron, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group that seeks to increase government’s effectiveness based on rigorous evidence about what works. Baron notes that safety regulations are often put in place without scientifically credible evidence of their likely effects. Ideally, he says, all new government regulation should be subjected to similar randomized studies before being widely implemented.

Read the rest here: http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2012/05/its-official-random-inspections-.html?ref=hp

Making Employee Health and Safety a Priority

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

Employers will agree that their employees’ health and safety are priorities, but just how is that manifested in the company culture? In other words, they often “talk the talk, but do they walk the walk?” Ensuring that employee healthand safety are reflected throughout all company departments, functions and programs, from the company policy manual to skill training, is key to “walking the walk.” Here are a few thoughts regarding an overall wellness strategy.
Company policies— Clearly state the employer’s philosophy and programs, including safety and those that are regulated or mandated by governmental agencies, regarding all work related functions. Safety and wellness policies include, but aren’t limited to, personal and company safety practices, drug-free workplace, tobacco use, employee health, etc.
Functional procedures – Outline the steps needed to accomplish various occupational tasks. They are especially important for functions that may occur infrequently, such as responding to an accident or emergency. Some functions are applicable to management but others are applicable to all employees. For example, management may oversee the company safety program, but all employees are responsible for ensuring safe conditions exist.
Job descriptions— State the specific responsibilities of the employee which should include health and safety elements.
Job standards— Provide clear and measurable standards of job performance that are usually tied into employee evaluations and pay raises. Including health and safety standards, clearly makes this a responsibility of all employees.
Training— Educate your staff on how to perform their jobs and convey the employer’s expectations. Supervisory skill training is an essential proficiency for your front line managers. Don’t forget drug free workplace education and training for supervisors and employees.

Mentoring and job coaching— Meet occasionally with the employee during or apart from job performance to discuss progress, identify performance success and opportunities, set goals, and reinforce company expectations.
Employee participation— Allow employees to provide feedback on various work functions and procedures. Allow them to identify safety and health concerns, new and existing programs, and potentially identify cost-saving measures. This helps employees to feel empowered which improves productivity.
Healthy lifestyle promotion— Promote health among your staff, because it can go a long way to reducing operating costs, especially sick days and down time, and improving productivity. Use of illicit drugs (such as marijuana), abuse of prescription drugs, and heavy and binge drinking all affect the workplace. Studies have
shown that employers can positively affect employees’ off-work use of drugs and alcohol by promoting a healthy lifestyle as a critical factor in positive work performance.
Another equally important aspect includes healthy eating, exercise and weight loss. These can improve health and mental attitude and reduce injuries and stress while enhancing productivity and morale. Furthermore, if the employer contributes to a health care plan, it can help to reduce health claims, thereby keeping costs down.
Finally, remember— Work toward your company employee relations goal with a plan! A healthy workplace “makeover” may take some time to transition.
The National Drug-Free Workplace Alliance

Identifying and Responding to Substance Abuse in the Workplace

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

It’s not always easy to identify a substance abuser in the workplace. They are often very adept at concealing their substance use. Often, others know
or suspect that a co-worker may have a substance use problem. Here aresome signs that may be indicators of a substance problem:
• Absences – becoming more frequent and with little explanation, often happening with more frequency both on and off the job
• Presenteeism – the abuser is physically present at work but unengaged;increasingly productivity suffers
• Personal hygiene – the substance abusing employee becomes indifferent to his or her hygiene
• Reactionary or paranoid when questioned; sometimes volatile.
• Physical signs, including: inability to focus, dehydration, tiredness, excitability, dilated pupils, bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, balance problems, or an unsteady walk
• Confession about excessive alcohol/drug use or a hang-over

Addressing the problem

A comprehensive drug-free workplace program is the best means of preventing, identifying, and dealing with substance abusers in the workplace.

A drug-free workplace program includes:

• Written policy – clearly states the prohibitions of substance use at the workplace along with the consequences for violations of that policy. The policy is supported fully from the top down.
• Drug testing – all employees including management are subject to pre-employment, post-accident and reasonable suspicion testing as a minimum. Random testing is also considered a best practice.
• Supervisor training – provides all supervisory personnel with skills to identify and deal with substance abusers.
• Employee Education – to educate employees on the harms of substance use and how it negatively affects the workplace
• Parent Awareness – Provides employees who are parents (who make up a large segment of the workforce) the resources they need to address and prevent substance abuse within their families.
• Employee Assistance Program (EAP) – EAPs provide counseling for employees andtheir family members to address a wide rangeof problems including substance abuse.The goal of an EAP is to provide the employee with the tools and resources needed to successfully remain in the workplace.

What Can You Do?

Substance abusers in the workplace create a problem that affects you and should concern you. There are a number of ways in which you can do something about it.

Don’t enable substance abusers

When you participate in concealing substance use, you are protecting the abuser from consequences and delaying the opportunity for them to receive help. You may think you aredoing them a favor, but in actuality, you and your co-workers’ safety is at risk.
Don’t ignore the problem

If you suspect drugs are being used or sold, you should confidentially notify a supervisor or a human resources professional.

Don’t stage an intervention
Despite the growing popularity of realitytelevision shows addressing substance abuseand addiction, it is a serious issue that must behandled by qualified professionals.

Don’t worry about risking a substance abuser’s job

It is normal to be empathetic about a substance abusing employee. We often want to “live andlet live.” The reality is that you will create a more dangerous working environment; causing you and co-workers to have to work harder to make up for the abuser’s poor work performance.

The National Drug-Free Workplace Alliance

DOT Issues Interim Final Rule on 6-acetylmorphine (6-AM)

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

Posted for public inspection in today’s Federal Register for publication Friday, May 4, 2012, is a Department of Transportation Interim Final Rule:
Procedures for Transportation Workplace Drug and Alcohol Testing Programs
6-Acetylmorphine (6-AM) Testing

The following is a summary of the Interim Final Rule (IFR):

1) The Department is amending certain provisions of its drug testing procedures for 6-acetylmorphine (6-AM), a unique metabolite for heroin.

2) The IFR is intended to streamline the laboratory process for analyzing and reporting 6-AM positive test results and is designed to facilitate Medical Review Officer (MRO) verification of 6-AM positive results.

3) Effective July 3, 2012:

a) For Laboratories:
• Laboratories will not be required to consult with MROs when 6-AM is confirmed and there is no morphine detected at 2000 ng/mL;
• In such cases, laboratories will not be required to test for morphine at Limit of Detection (LOD); and
• Laboratories will not be required to report these 6-AM results to ODAPC.

b) For MROs:
• MROs will no longer be required to consult with laboratories when 6-AM is confirmed and there is no morphine detected at 2000 ng/mL; and
• MROs will not be required to report these 6-AM results to and consult with ODAPC.

4) MROs will continue to adhere to 40.151(g) by not accepting an employee’s assertion that there is a legitimate medical explanation for the presence of 6-AM in a specimen.

5) Public comments regarding the IFR will be accepted until June 3, 2012.
The document can be viewed at the Federal Register’s Public Inspection website: https://s3.amazonaws.com/public-inspection.federalregister.gov/2012-10665.pdf (This link is only good for today, May 3, 2012).
We expect to have the actual Federal Register IFR on our website Friday, May 4, 2012: http://www.dot.gov/odapc/frpubs.html.
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Teen “Heavy” Marijuana Use Up 80 Percent Since 2008

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

NEW YORK, May 2, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — New, nationally projectable survey results released today by The Partnership at Drugfree.org and MetLife Foundation found that past-month marijuana use – particularly heavy use – has increased significantly among U.S. high school students since 2008.

The Partnership Attitude Tracking Study, sponsored by MetLife Foundation, found that 9 percent of teens (nearly 1.5 million) smoked marijuana heavily (at least 20 times) in the past month. Overall, past-month heavy marijuana use is up 80 percent among U.S. teens since 2008.

Concerning Trends in Teen Marijuana Use According to the New PATS Data (2008-2011)

•Past-month use is up 42 percent (up from 19 percent in 2008 to 27 percent in 2011, which translates to about 4 million teens).
•Past-year use is up 26 percent (up from 31 percent in 2008 to 39 percent in 2011, which translates to about 6 million teens).
•Lifetime use is up 21 percent (up from 39 percent in 2008 to 47 percent in 2011, which translates to nearly 8 million teens).
This marks an upward trend in teen marijuana use over the past three years. The last time marijuana use was this widespread among teens was in 1998 when past month use of marijuana was at 27 percent.

“These findings are deeply disturbing as the increases we’re seeing in heavy, regular marijuana use among high school students can spell real trouble for these teens later on,” said Steve Pasierb, President and CEO of The Partnership at Drugfree.org. “Heavy use of marijuana – particularly beginning in adolescence – brings the risk of serious problems and our data show it is linked to involvement with alcohol and other drugs as well. Kids who begin using drugs or alcohol as teenagers are more likely to struggle with substance use disorders when compared to those who start using after the teenage years.”

Teen Marijuana Use Has Become a Normalized Behavior

Teens now report seeing more of their peers smoking marijuana and only 26 percent agree with the statement, “in my school, most teens don’t smoke marijuana” (down from 37 percent in 2008). Also, 71 percent of teens say they have friends who use marijuana regularly (up from 64 percent in 2008).

Teen past-month “heavy” marijuana users are significantly more likely than teens who have not used marijuana in the past year to:

•use cocaine/crack (30 times more likely)
•use Ecstasy (20 times more likely)
•abuse prescription pain relievers (15 times more likely)
•abuse over-the-counter medicines (14 times more likely)
Social disapproval of marijuana among teens remained the same, with 61 percent of teens saying they disapprove of their peers using marijuana. (About 41 percent say they ‘strongly disapprove’). The PATS data also found an erosion of anti-marijuana attitudes among teens, with only about half of teens (51 percent) saying they see “great risk” in using marijuana, down significantly from 61 percent in 2005.

Dangerous Teen Craze Whip-Its Making a Comeback?

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

There is growing concern among health professionals that Whip-Its — small canisters filled with nitrous oxide that can be used as a recreational drug are making a comeback among teenagers and young adults across the country.

“What makes them really popular is they’re easily accessible,” said William Oswald, founder of the Summit Malibu drug treatment center. “You can get them at a head shop, you can get it out of a whipped cream bottle.”

The most recent figures show that Whip-Its have become the most popular recreational inhalant of choice, with over 12 million users in the U.S. who have tried it at least once, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Inhaling the compressed gas, either from the Whip-It chargers, a whipped cream canister, or a nitrous tank, is purported to result in a fleeting high, lasting anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes.

And while some states have passed laws attempting to stop the inhalation of nitrous, experts say the use of Whip-Its is mostly ignored by authorities and left unregulated.

“It’s non-detectable,” said Oswald. “So when they’re testing people, it doesn’t show.”

An ABC News investigation aired on “Nightline” found that multiple online retailers allowed large purchases of the Whip-Its, with no questions asked about age or what they would be used for. A tobacco shop selling the canisters alongside cigars and rolling papers insisted they were cooking supplies, but then immediately removed all boxes from the shelves when confronted with ABC News cameras.

But while a growing collection of user videos on YouTube portray doing Whip-Its, or “Noz” as it’s sometimes called, as a harmless, laughter-inducing activity, it can be deadly.

Illinois college student Benjamin Collen, 19, died from asphyxiation from nitrous oxide. He was found dead in a fraternity house surround by Whip-Its chargers in 2008.

Melyssa Gastelum was an 18 year-old aspiring fashion model and National Honors Society student when she went to an all-ages party in Phoenix last May where she inhaled Whip-Its and ingesting a small amount of ecstasy. She died later at the hospital and the medical examiner ruled that nitrous oxide was a contributing factor in her death.

“I wish I could wake up from this nightmare,” said her mother, Christy Gastelum. “I ask myself, ‘Why do bad things happen to good people? Why?'”

Experts told ABC News it’s not clear why sniffing death occurs in some people and not others, which adds to the hidden danger of using inhalants such as Whip-Its.

Dr. Westley Clark, director of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment at SAMHSA, said inhaling nitrous oxide, or huffing as it’s sometimes called, can cut off oxygen to the brain and result in severe effects on the body’s cardiovascular system.

“What you’re concerned about is heart effects, effects on their peripheral nervous system, effects on their organ system,” said Clark.

Debbie Goldman knows that all too well. She said she started using Whip-Its in college and through her years at one of the country’s leading law firms, going through 10 boxes of the tiny chargers every night, 24 to a box.

“My whole body would go numb, and I would just fall asleep,” Goldman said. “My neurologist told me I was very lucky that I didn’t die from it or have brain damage.”

When she woke up one morning and couldn’t walk, she said she required intense physical therapy for six months. Then she entered rehab and got sober. Now, Goldman said she wants young people to know how addictive and dangerous Whip-Its can be, and she wants officials to take notice.

“They should not be accessible like they are,” she said.

The grieving family of Melyssa Gastelum are also now committed to raising awareness about the dangers of nitrous oxide inhalation.

“Our parents did talk to us about marijuana, heroine, drinking and driving,” said Melyssa’s older sister, Alyssa Gastelum. “But there’s so many things that you just don’t know about And it’s not just teaching your kids right and wrong. It’s teaching them about what can happen to them. How one decision can change their lives and their family’s lives forever.”