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‘Workplace Health & Safety’ Category


Corporate Wellness – Investment or Expense

Hi! I would love to hear your weigh-in on Corporate Wellness programs. Do you consider them an investment or expense? Do you see the value of learning the tools of yoga and meditation to help manage the stresses of work/life balance?

Looking forward to your response.

Many HR and Business Professionals consider corporate wellness programs a valuable investment in employee health, morale, satisfaction, engagement and productivity while ultimately reducing company health care expenses.

The mental and physical ramifications of excessive stress are becoming more apparent and acknowledged in today’s workforce. Studies and basic observations continue to prove that excessive stress causes individuals to lose focus, commitment, and stamina which will inevitably decrease the individual’s ability to efficiently and successfully perform at work. Corporate wellness programs can change the mindset of employees to truly believe a healthy lifestyle will not only help them have a better work experience but also an improved overall well being.

Successful wellness programs depend on tailoring the program to company mission and culture while offering attractive initiatives to employees. There are many different programs to consider. Some are educational, action based, outcome oriented or all inclusive. It’s important to ascertain which programs will engage employees for the long haul and achieve both the company’s and individual’s goals.

It’s also important to be aware of the potential criticism of a wellness program. Depending on the type of program adopted employees may feel it’s too intrusive and be concerned with the confidentiality of their health information. Some employees may feel discriminated against or out casted by outcome based programs that reward employees for achieving unrealistic goals. Again, aligning the program with the needs and wants of employees will obtain the most participation and long term results.

Managing the stress of work/life balance through yoga and meditation may be beneficial to a lot of employees. Learning basic yoga poses and simple meditation techniques to use throughout the day can quickly alleviate common stressors. However, adopting a wellness program focused solely on these activities can ostracize employees who prefer other activities or are intimidated by the common misbelief that only a person in good physical shape can do yoga. So, offering a range of activities will ensure all employees’ interests are met. Consider surveying employees regarding their interest in a wellness program, specifically the activities and rewards that would engage them the most. Lastly, make sure whichever activities are offered can be adapted to meet various levels of physical ability.

Good Luck!

April 8th, 2014, 1:35 PM |  Posted in: Benefits, Workplace Health & Safety |
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Required hours between shifts

I have heard 2 different stories as to the amount of time employees must be given between shifts. One version is that legally there must be 8 hrs from the end of one shift to the beginning of the next shift. The other, that 10 hrs. is the requirement. What does the state law in Washington state require?

There is neither federal nor Washington state law establishing a set amount of time required between shifts. The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries specifically states that there are no regulations regarding when and how workers are scheduled.

There are certain industries that require a set amount of time between shifts. Such industries generally have safety sensitive positions, like airline pilots or commercial drivers. These standards are established by industry appropriate administrations.

Allowing employees eight hours of time off between shifts is a commonly used standard; however, there is no legislation requiring it for all workers.

Employers must consider the benefits of adequate time off between shifts. Employees need sufficient rest in order to avoid fatigue. Excessive fatigue can lead to health problems or workplace accidents, which will only increase employees’ time away from work. Not allowing employees ample time to rest will pose a safety risk as well as decrease productivity and employee morale.


Smoking area distance from Private employer building

I am a safety coordinator at an aerospace company in California and looking to find any laws which state a specific distance required to have smokers away from the building.

There is no law in California requiring private employers to ensure a specified distance of smoking away from their building. California Labor Code 6400-6413 addresses the need for employers to provide safe and healthful workplaces including prohibiting the smoking of tobacco products in enclosed places of employment, both private and public, with limited exceptions. The restriction extends to lobbies, lounges, waiting areas, elevators, stairwells, and restrooms that are a structural part of the building.

Public employees or members of the public are prohibited from smoking any tobacco product inside a public building, or in an outdoor area within 20 feet of a main exit, entrance, or operable window of a public building, or in a passenger vehicle owned by the state per California Government Code 7597.

There is no law in California prohibiting a private employer from restricting smoking on private grounds including outside of buildings and in parking lots.

If you chose to prohibit smoking outside of the enclosed workplace, be sure to update your no-smoking policy to specifically identify where smoking is prohibited. Communicate the new policy to all staff and post no-smoking signs where appropriate.

March 12th, 2014, 10:55 AM |  Posted in: Labor Laws, Workplace Health & Safety |
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OSHA Toilets- shared and single bathrooms

We are a food manufacturer with 3 separate but connected processing and warehouse areas. We are doing some construction and need to know what is an acceptable way to upgrade our restrooms. Total workers 85. 60:40 M:W ratio. Currently we have:

Main production area (45 workers) which includes cafeteria (holds 20) = 2 single bathrooms (1T each sex)

2nd production (20 workers)= 1 shared both sexes (1T)

warehouse (15 workers)= 1 shared both sexes (1T)

If we added an additional shared bathroom (1T) to the main production area, would that suffice? Are there any rules to having more bathrooms where the are cafeterias (i.e production going + lunch = 65 people


The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sanitation standard for general industry, 29 CFR 1910.141(c)(l)(i), requires employers to provide their employees with toilet facilities. Toilet facilities in toilet rooms generally must be separated for each sex. The number of facilities needed is based on the number of employees of each sex for whom the facilities are furnished.  If toilet rooms cannot be occupied by more than one person at a time, can be locked from the inside, and contain at least one water closet then separate toilet rooms for each sex is not required. A water closet is basically an enclosed room containing a flushable toilet bowl.

OSHA provides the following table regarding the number of water closets needed based upon the number of employees. Remember if a toilet facility doesn’t meet the requirements for being used by both sexes, the number of employees, for the purpose of reading the table, must be considered for each sex.

Number of employees

Minimum number of water closets1

1 to 15


16 to 35


36 to 55


56 to 80


81 to 110


111 to 150


Over 150


1Where toilet facilities will not be used by women, urinals may be provided instead of water closets, except that the number of water closets in such cases shall not be reduced to less than 2/3 of the minimum specified. 21 additional fixture for each additional 40 employees.

Based on the information provided and assuming the toilet rooms for both sexes meet the requirement for such: the main production area must have three water closets, the second production area must have two water closets, andt he warehouse must have on water closet.

Employers are also required to provide lavatories with hot and cold running water or tepid running water. Hand soap or similar cleansing agents and individual hand towels of cloth or paper, or air blowers must be made available as well.

OSHA doesn’t state the need for additional water closets in cafeterias. The chart above is based on the number of employees “for whom the facilities are furnished.” So, the main production area where the cafeteria is located would need to have the appropriate number of restrooms for the number of employees working there, not necessarily the number of employees that may be present during any given time of the day. The assumption would be that the employees visiting the cafeteria would have access to restrooms near their normal work areas. Of course, it never hurts to provide more restrooms than what is minimally required.  

February 26th, 2014, 8:55 AM |  Posted in: Workplace Health & Safety |
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Employee return to work

I have an employee who has been off for surgery and has provided documentation from his surgeon clearing him for full duty with no restrictions. The employee has beef in to see the company physician for a return to work evaluation. To which our doctor evaluated him as unable to do the job. The employee has filed a grievance against the company. What are my options

It can be a tumultuous situation for an employer when the employee’s doctor permits him to return to work after medical leave with no restrictions but the company’s doctor says otherwise. The employer must be careful in its determination since such situations are often the cause for lawsuits.

An employer may require a medical exam of an employee by its own provider at its own expense when an employee returns from medical leave as long as the exam is a business necessity and relates to the employee’s job. For example, it would be feasible to require a warehouse worker who was on leave for knee surgery to be examined to ensure he is still able to lift heavy boxes, an essential function of his job. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), if a medical examination demonstrates that an employee is not able to perform the essential functions of his or her job, with or without reasonable accommodations, then the employee will not be entitled to reinstatement under the FMLA. However, if the condition is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the employee may be entitled to a reasonable accommodation such as restructuring his job or supplying equipment to aid the employee in performing job functions. Also, it’s important to be aware of any applicable state legislation since some states offer additional protection for disabled workers.

Reviewing your options is difficult without knowing the full scope of the situation and what specifically the employee has cited as the reason for the grievance. Follow the normal grievance procedure as outlined by company policy or collective bargaining agreement. Make sure your policies, practices and all communication with the employee are clearly documented, especially the practice of requiring employees returning from medical leave to be cleared by the company’s doctor. Hopefully, you have proof that the employee was aware of such policies. Be ready to prove your policies/practices have been uniformly applied in the past and in this case without discrimination. Understand specifically why the company’s doctor didn’t approve for the employee to return to work and be prepared to defend his determination against the opinion of the employee’s doctor. Lastly, be prepared to explain why the employee’s impairment makes him unable to perform the essential job functions.

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