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Column: Workplace programs help ensure staff safety

As I sit waiting out recent thunder, lightning and hail storms in Chetek, Wis., I am considering topics for this year's column and safety programs come to mind.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, also known as OSHA, has many regulations for employers to ensure a safe workplace for employees. On the OSHA website you will find, "Under the OSH Act, employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthful workplace. OSHA's mission is to assure safe and healthful workplaces by setting and enforcing standards, and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance. Employers must comply with all applicable OSHA standards."

This information in this article is for employers who are covered by Minnesota Statute Section 182.653.

AWAIR

Through OSHA regulations, Goodhue County is required to have a safety program which includes accident investigation programs, safety committee work and training. County employees are currently attending required safety training which includes AWAIR, the Workplace Accident and Injury Reduction program.

In 1991, Minnesota amended the OSHA statutes to require employers to develop, maintain and implement a formal safety and health program known as AWAIR. The AWAIR Act requires Goodhue County to establish and enforce a written workplace accident reduction program which is based on clearly stated goals and objectives. The Goodhue County AWAIR policy is very extensive and covers several areas including responsibilities of management and employees, personal protective equipment, safety committee organization, accident investigation and training requirements.

In addition to the AWAIR training, Goodhue County employees receive training on bloodborne pathogens. Bloodborne pathogens, as described by OSHA, "are infectious microorganisms present in blood that can cause disease in humans." Bloodborne pathogen training is required for all employees but those whose job could put them in situations where they may be at a greater risk for exposure to blood receive additional training. This includes nurses and patrol deputies.

Chemicals, blood, fire

Goodhue County is also required to provide training to employees on the Employee Right-to-Know program. The purpose is to make employees aware of dangers associated with chemicals and hazardous substances that can be found in the workplace.

The Right-to-Know program must include a method for employees to access information and warnings for all chemicals which could be found in their workplace. Goodhue County employees have the ability to look up information about chemicals they may come into contact with through internet access to safety data sheets. Formerly known as Material Safety Data Sheets or MSDS, the format of safety data sheets changed in 2012 to require uniformity from all chemical manufacturers.

Safety data sheets include information such as the physical and environmental health hazards of chemicals and also safety precautions for handling and storing chemicals.

The final area where all Goodhue County employees are trained is fire extinguishers. OSHA regulations require an employer to provide an educational program to employees where there are portable fire extinguishers available for use.

Job-specific needs

Besides the required training previously discussed, several departments in the County have their own job-specific safety training.

For example, Public Works regularly trains its employees on proper use of chainsaws, traffic hazards and defensive driving. Health and Human Services trains employees on emergency preparedness. The Sheriff's Office also trains employees on hazardous materials, respiratory protection and hearing conservation.

There are many ways to provide training or educational programs to employees. This column covers areas where Goodhue County employees receive training.

Other businesses may have different or additional mandates from OSHA for their employees. If your business is covered by OSHA, your company's safety coordinator should be available to assist your employees with questions.

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