Protect Your Employees and Your Business from Wildfires

FireDriving through Bastrop County in Central Texas, it’s hard to miss the charred remains of the 2011 wildfire that ravaged the area. The blaze claimed two lives, racked up more than $300 million in property damage, destroyed thousands of acres in Bastrop State Park, and went down as the worst wildfire in Texas’ history.

Experts point to unusually strong winds and a record drought as the fire’s primary causes.

Texans have enjoyed a bit of a reprieve from those blistering conditions during the past two years. Still, this week’s blaze in Smithville serves as a sobering reminder that wildfires can strike suddenly, without warning.  Texas Mutual recommends these tips for protecting your business and your employees.

Make a plan
Having a response and evacuation plan in place before a wildfire occurs can help avoid confusion and prevent injuries. Knowing when to stay and fight a fire and when to evacuate can mean the difference between survival and serious injury or death.  Protecting property is never worth placing people in danger.

A thorough evacuation plan should include:

  • Conditions that will activate the plan
  • Chain of command
  • Emergency functions and who will perform them
  • Specific evacuation procedures, including routes and exits
  • Procedures for accounting for personnel, customers and visitors
  • Equipment for personnel
  • Review the plan with workers

In the aftermath of a wildfire, workers may be involved in response and recovery operations. Some operations, such as utility restoration, cleaning up hazardous material spills, and search and rescue, should only be conducted by workers who have the proper training, equipment and experience.

Know what to do during a wildfire
If there is not enough time to evacuate, or if workers are caught in circumstances where they cannot follow the evacuation plan, the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) offers guidance on what to do during a wildfire. The site includes tips on what to do if you are in a vehicle, in a residence or out in the open:

  • FEMA Texas Regional Office: (940) 898-5104
  • Texas Division of Emergency Management: (512) 424-2138

Cleanup Hazards
Wildfire cleanup operations carry their own hazards. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration website addresses common hazards associated with wildfires and highlights precautions for workers:

Respiratory protection may be necessary in all phases of fire cleanup. Regardless of the task performed, use only filter masks and respirators approved by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health for ash, soot and other particles common during cleanup.

Chemicals and other hazardous materials present during cleanup  may require a higher level of respiratory protection. Cleanups with potential lead, asbestos or mold contamination typically require a class 100 filter with a negative pressure respirator or a powered air purifying respirator with high-efficiency filters. OSHA has specific respiratory requirements for lead and asbestos that define respiratory selection criteria.

Resources
OSHA’s Wildfire page: http://www.osha.gov/dts/wildfires/index.html

Additional Resources: http://www.osha.gov/dts/wildfires/additional.html

Texas Mutual Pays $175 Million Policyholder Dividend

Dollar BillsTexas Mutual Insurance Company announced today that it has begun distributing $175 million in dividends among approximately 40,000 policyholders. Dividends reward loyal policyholders who share the company’s commitment to preventing workplace accidents and helping injured workers get well and back on the job.

This is the 15th consecutive year Texas Mutual has paid dividends, bringing the total to almost $1.4 billion. The company has paid the majority of that total – $1 billion – since 2007.

“Texas Mutual is a policyholder-owned company,” Bob Barnes, chairman of Texas Mutual’s board, said. “Our focus is on delivering benefits to our policyholder owners and taking care of their injured workers. Dividends are part of our long-term strategy for helping Texas employers control their workers’ compensation costs.”

Texas Mutual President and CEO Richard Gergasko said the company’s dividend track record reflects its permanent commitment to Texas businesses.

“Texas Mutual is more than a workers’ compensation provider,” Gergasko said. “We are a business partner to Texas employers, and we understand the importance of these dividends to our policyholders. This money goes back into the Texas economy and helps employers build their businesses for the future.”

Gergasko noted that Texas Mutual cannot guarantee future dividends, and the Texas Department of Insurance must approve all dividends

Drivers and Cell Phones – a Dangerous Combination

distracted driverTransportation-related accidents are consistently the leading causes of on-the-job fatalities. Many of these incidents could be prevented if drivers kept their focus on the task at hand.

Common driver distractions

Talking

If you have field employees, chances are they communicate primarily by cell phone. Does your drivers’ safety policy address cell phone use? If it doesn’t, it should.

If one of your employees is injured, it doesn’t matter whether they’re driving a company or personal vehicle. As long as the employee is on company business, and the employer required or understood that the employee was talking on the cell phone while on business, the company could be held liable.

Using hands-free devices

Hands-free devices are not necessarily safe alternatives to cell phones. Research has shown that hands-free devices distract drivers. Instruct employees to turn off their cell phones and put them away where they won’t be tempted to answer.

Text messaging

Text messaging requires us to take our eyes off the road. At 40 mph, your car travels approximately the length of a football field in five seconds. Those few seconds could cost an employee or another driver their life.

What can employers do?

  • Implement a drivers’ safety policy that includes basic safe driving rules, cell phone policies, seat belt requirements, and other safe practices to eliminate or minimize drivers’ distractions.
  • Before you allow employees to drive for the company, check their driving records to ensure they meet your standards. Recheck driving records at least once a year.
  • Remind employees not to answer cell phones while driving. If they must make a call or send a text, instruct them to pull off the road to a safe location.

What can employees do?

  •  A little planning can help you avoid distractions, such as talking on the cell phone, text messaging, changing the radio station and eating while driving.
  • Only use your cell phone when you are safely stopped. If you must take a call, use a hands-free device, and pull off the road to a safe location to finish the call.
  • Obey driving laws, and practice safe driving habits.

Free resources

Anyone can visit safehandtexas.org for free driving safety materials. Texas Mutual policyholders can access more free materials in the safety resource center at texasmutual.com. The site includes an online video titled “Lasting Consequences of Distracted Driving.”

Put a Safe Spark in Your July 4th Celebration

FireworksFireworks are a staple of America’s Independence Day. Unfortunately, while fireworks can produce a nice visual, they can also present safety hazards.

According to the National Council on Fireworks Safety, between 7,000 and 11,000 people are injured in fireworks-related accidents each year. In addition to physical injuries, more than $36 million in property damage is reported annually. Many of these accidents can be prevented.

Carelessness and misuse of fireworks are the most common causes of injuries and accidents. Here are some tips that will help ensure a safe and happy Fourth of July celebration:

  • Most municipalities ban discharge of fireworks within city limits.  Avoid an unplanned discussion with law enforcement by checking on the restrictions in your area.
  • Only buy fireworks from licensed retail outlets.
  • Never experiment with homemade or altered fireworks.
  • Carefully read and follow all of the directions on the package.
  • Only use fireworks outdoors, away from buildings and dry grass, and on a flat surface.
  • Keep wet towels, a water hose, a bucket of water or a fire extinguisher nearby.
  • Light one firework at a time, and then move away quickly.
  • Never shoot fireworks from a glass or metal container.
  • Never point roman candles, bottle rockets or other shooting fireworks at people or animals.
  • Do not hold lit fireworks.
  • Never position any body part over lit fireworks. 
  • Never point or throw fireworks at animals or people.
  • Always have emergency contact information available and an emergency plan in place.
  • Do not try to reignite malfunctioned fireworks.
  • Wear protective clothing, such as gloves and goggles. 
  • Keep spectators and pets a safe distance away.
  • Don’t overestimate a child’s ability to handle fireworks. Always make sure there is adult supervision.

In Texas, high temperatures and dry conditions create another concern for fireworks users. It’s important to know if there is a fire danger in the area before planning a fireworks spectacle.

There are plenty of resources to find out what condition county and city grounds are in or if there is a burn ban in the area. Watch the local news, visit the city website, or call the local police department or city office for information.

The most important safety tip is to use common sense when lighting fireworks. Follow safety procedures, and closely monitor children. Better yet, leave the fireworks to the professionals.

Many communities host events that provide large-scale fireworks shows in a controlled environment.

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