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Photo courtesy of Andreas Tille courtesy of  Wikimedia Commons

Photo courtesy of Andreas Tille courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean outdoor operations stop. In fact, many operations are busier during the year’s coldest months than they are in the spring and summer.

There are still orders to fill, supplies to be stored, inventory to be counted, and all the other responsibilities that are necessary for a successful business — including occasionally climbing up on a ladder.

Yet using a ladder in winter weather is much more hazardous than climbing one in warm, sunny weather. Rungs can be covered in ice and snow. Freezing temperatures mean workers are likely to be bundled in more clothing. And fast-moving winter winds can easily push a ladder over or cause a climber to tumble.

Employer Responsibilities

During the winter, ladder use should be limited to only those tasks that are absolutely essential. If there are other alternatives — such as using a cherry picker, scissor lift, or forklift equipped with a work platform attachment — these may be both safer and more efficient.

If you do require workers to climb up on a ladder outdoors in wintry weather, you may be held responsible if something goes wrong. According to the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration,  employers are required to protect workers from falls at any height higher than 4 feet for normal work, and higher than 6 feet for construction work.

Removing Snow Safely

One of the most common outdoor tasks requiring ladders in the winter is removing snow from products, supplies, shelving, roofs, and other areas. Snow can cause damage to property, especially if it is wet and heavy. Getting snow off materials provides more access. But it also lets customers and clients see products, supplies, and materials, which can help boost sales.

Before ordering any worker to climb up a ladder during winter, it’s important that they know what they are doing and are aware of the dangers. If necessary, you should supply the proper fall protection equipment. Depending on the height, this may include safety harnesses, guard rails, slip-resistant boots and ladder steps, or other gear.

Getting Up and Down Safely

Workers should be assigned to teams of at least two people so that one person is never climbing a ladder alone and unsupervised. If a fall should occur and the worker is caught by his or her fall protection system, the other worker can alert others for help and assist in getting their partner down safely.

Using ladders in the winter poses multiple hazards. Following best safety practices can help reduce accidents and injuries, as well as employer liability.



winterLike it or not, the snowy season is right around the corner. Heavy snows and winter storms can affect the productivity of any business, possibly even halting it altogether.

Clearing snow from parking lots, entry roads, docks, and other work areas can keep your business running even in during the harshest winter weather. Before the heaviest snow hits, it’s always a good idea to review some basic snow plowing essentials that can improve both the speed and effectiveness of your snow removal operations.

Prioritize Work Zones

Like anything else, the best way to deal with heavy winter weather is to have a plan in place before it hits. Identify the areas of your business that are critical to your operations. These can include driveways, docks, and other essential operational areas.

These are the places you need to clear first. Secondary areas like parking lots, sidewalks, and less essential spaces can often wait until later.

It’s also a good idea to mark items like speed bumps, shrubbery, water drains, pipes, fire hydrants, and sidewalk edges so that you can avoid plow damage. Place a tall flexible pole topped with a plastic flag on objects that will be hard to see after a heavy snowfall.

Forward Thinking

Plan the routes your snowplows should take, keeping in mind that plowing patterns should allow drivers to drive forward as much as possible.

If drivers need to put their vehicles in reverse, they should bring the plow truck to a complete stop before shifting. When in reverse, it’s a bad idea to rely solely on the vehicle’s mirrors, especially if snow is still falling. Instead, turn around and look in the direction the vehicle is moving.

Slow and Steady

While you want to remove snow as quickly as possible, driver’s shouldn’t drive fast. Vehicles fitted with snow plows should never exceed 40 mph when moving with their plow in the up position, or 14 mph when the plow is at ground level.

When plowing on dirt or gravel roadbeds, the plow should be fitted with plow shoes so that it doesn’t scrape the surface away altogether. Plow shows should be removed when plowing asphalt or concrete so that the plow can scrape as close to the surface as possible.

When the plowing job is finished, the plow blade should be lowered to the ground. This helps take stress off its hydraulics.

Winter is coming. Being prepared by having a plowing plan in place can help minimize its disruption on your business.

Photo courtesy of William Viker via Wikimedia Commons

Photo courtesy of William Viker via Wikimedia Commons

Gases stored in heavy steel cylinders are common in all sorts of industries. Hydrogen, helium, nitrogen, and even propane are among the gases typically stored in workplaces.

Because most gases are stored under high pressure, heavy steel is usually used for gas cylinder tanks. This makes handling and storing gas cylinders tricky and potentially dangerous.

Depending on their size, steel gas cylinders can weigh up to 50 pounds or more. Much of that weight is the cylinder itself, which has to be thick enough to safely contain the gas under any environmental conditions.

Dropping Tanks of Stored Gas

Tall, heavy gas tanks also are unstable and shouldn’t be left standing on their own. The slightest bump or vibration can cause them to fall over.

While the tanks themselves are tough and durable, the spigots at the top can easily break or crack. And if that happens, the pressurized gas inside can erupt, causing the heavy steel tank to jettison like a rocket through your work area.

Another risk is explosion or fire. The potential for sparking can add to the risk when accidentally dropping tanks of pressurized gas.

Storing Gas Cylinders Properly

Gas cylinders that are too heavy or can’t easily be lifted or maneuvered by hand are typically stored in a gas rack. These are made from heavy steel bars that hold the tanks in place — often with chains — until they are ready to be used. Some gas cylinder racks have sleeves at the bottom that allow forklifts to easily lift and transport them throughout a work space.

Lighter gas cylinders can be stored on their sides in gas cylinder cages. These helpful materials handling devices allow you to store multiple gas cylinders safely out of the way, reducing the risk of dropping, falling, or breaking.

Gas cylinders should never be left standing unprotected. Because they are so top heavy, it doesn’t take much to send them tumbling or rolling through your work area. Even if the gas doesn’t escape, a 50-pound gas cylinder rolling down an incline is a danger and could result in serious injury.

Chaining Gas Cylinders

If gas cylinder storage racks aren’t used, tanks should at least be held in place with chains, straps, or thick ropes that prevent them from falling over. Whatever is used to secure gas cylinders need to be strong and thick enough to handle the weight should they tip over or fall.

Gas tanks are common in many workplaces. Storing them safely improves both safety and productivity.


Proper use of an eyewash stationIf your business works with chemicals, it’s a good idea to have emergency eyewash stations located throughout your property.

In the event that a caustic chemical is accidentally splashed into a worker’s eyes, it can save their eyesight. It could even make the difference between life and death.

There are eight essential steps to properly using an emergency eyewash station. Training your employees on these steps will make your operation safer and minimize your risk.

Step 1 — Go Immediately to the Eyewash Station

When chemicals are splashed into the eyes, every second counts. Even if there is no immediate pain or irritation, it is essential that the injured employee head immediately to the nearest eyewash station.

Ideally, an eyewash station should be located with 10 seconds of any employee who works with chemicals.

Step 2 — Push the Lever and Activate the Eyewash Station

Emergency eyewash stations are designed to be used by people who can’t see. They typically have a single lever that can be activated with one single motion.

As soon as the lever is pushed, dust covers should pop off and the flushing liquid should begin to flow immediately from the faucet heads.

Step 3 — Flush the Eyes

The injured worker’s eyes need to be directly under the stream of flushing fluid. Even if it is painful, keep the liquid flowing over the eyes to remove as much of the chemical as possible.

Step 4 — Hold the Eyes Open

Using your fingers, hold your eyelids apart so that the maximum amount of flushing fluid can flow over the eyes.

Eyewash stations are designed to remain running so that injured workers can use both hands to perform this step.

Step 5 — Roll Your Eyes

To ensure that all of the eyes are flushed with the fluid, roll your eyes from left to right and up and down.

Step 6 — Flush Eyes for a Minimum of 15 Minutes

In order to fully dilute the chemical and wash it out of your eyes, keep your eyes under the running water for at least 15 minutes. Anything less than that is not enough to ensure that the chemical is removed.

Step 7 — Remove Contact Lenses

If you wear contact lenses, it’s important that they are removed while you are flushing.

The chemical agent can become trapped under the contact, preventing it from being removed during flushing.

Step 8 — Seek Medical Care

After you have flushed, seek out medical care to ensure that nothing more needs to be done to save your vision. If there are other injuries or the eye injury is severe, have a co-worker call 911.



Bahrns offers a complete line of safety cans and caddiesIn just about every homeowner’s garage, sitting next to the gas-powered lawn mower is a red plastic gas can with a long spout. This ubiquitous gas cans typically cost about $5 and can be found at most home improvement stores, gas stations, and discount stores.

But should they be used at businesses that use equipment powered by gas engines? The answer is usually “no”.

OSHA Requirements

The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulates workplace safety and typically holds businesses to a higher standard than homeowners.

The OSHA standard regarding the use of gas cans is 29 CFR 1926.152(a)(1), which states: “Only approved containers and portable tanks shall be used for storage and handling of flammable and combustible liquids. Approved safety cans or Department of Transportation approved containers shall be used for the handling and use of flammable liquids in quantities of 5 gallons or less.”

That’s government speak for, “Don’t use home gas cans at your business.”

Approved Safety Cans

Instead, businesses are supposed to use safety cans, which are a lot more sophisticated than the typical red plastic gas can and contain important safety features.

A safety can that is approved for use in businesses by OSHA is a closed container with a capacity of fewer than five gallons that has a flash arresting screen, a spring closing lid, and a spout cover. Safety cans are specially designed to relieve internal pressure when subjected to fire exposure.

Safety cans for business also need to have the seal of approval from a nationally recognized testing laboratory, such as Underwriter’s Laboratory. Look for the “UL Listed” stamp on the bottom or sides of the can. If it says “UL Classified”, this is not the same thing and the can is not approved for business use.

Department of Transportation Approved Containers

Notice that the OSHA standard refers to either “approved safety cans of Department of Transporation approved containers”.

Gas cans approved by the DOT will have a sticker or other markings that state that the produce adheres to the federal transportation agency’s stringent requirements. If the safety can or gas can you use has either UL Listed or DOT approved written on them, or both, it’s approved for use in commercial businesses. If it has neither, it should not be used by a business.

Using the right safety can is important for maintaining a safe and responsible work environment. It also can protect your business from prosecution if an accident occurs in your workplace.




Avoiding back injuries in the workplaceA small investment in ergonomic support products for employees can often pay huge dividends down the line for businesses.

Workers who are free of pain are more productive, less likely to quit, and happier in their jobs, creating a more efficient business environment. Fewer work-related injuries also can reduce the number of costly workmen’s compensation claims.

Happy and Healthy Workers

Most ergonomic support equipment is relatively inexpensive, especially when compared with the potential costs of exposing workers to long-term injuries as a result of their job duties.

Companies have the option of purchasing the equipment themselves or allowing employees to buy it on their own. Some business will reimburse workers for some or all of the cost of ergonomic support equipment.

It’s often a good investment for businesses because it can help streamline operations, prevent the number and severity of workplace injuries, and help create a happier and healthier work environment.

Types of Ergonomic Support Equipment

There are many different types of ergonomic support equipment, each of which is created for the prevention of a particular type of workplace injury caused by repetitive motion, lifting heavy loads, standing in the same spot for long periods of time, and other potential workplace hazards.

Standing mats provide a cushion between employee’s feet and hard surfaces, like concrete or cement. They help reduce the amount of stress that is put on the calves, thighs, and lower back and can help workers feel comfortable even when standing for hours at a time. Standing mats usually are made of plastic, rubber, or other softer surfaces.

Back and abdomen braces are removable devices that can be worn by workers whose job includes lifting heavy objects, such as cases of products or equipment. They squeeze the lower back and abdominal muscles, preventing them from shifting when they are stressed by the force of lifting.

Office Ergonomic Support Equipment

Even workers who never leave the office are not immune from the threat or workplace injuries. People who type a lot are susceptible to carpal tunnel syndrome, which can cause soreness and permanent injury to the wrist and forearm muscles.

Wearing wrist supports and providing keyboard mats can help prevent the development of carpal tunnel and keep people working in front of computers more comfortable and more productive.

Anti-glare screens are another inexpensive solution that can help make office workers more productive. They can be affixed to practically any computer or laptop screen and reduce glare by as much as 70 percent.


Fire ExtinguisherOne of the most important pieces of equipment at any business is one that is never used, at least if everything goes right.

In most workspaces, fire extinguishers are something that are always there waiting for the moment that hopefully never comes. But when you need to use it, you want to make sure your fire extinguisher is fully charged, unexpired, and ready to be put to use.

Checking Your Fire Extinguishers

Most fire extinguishers found in office or warehouse settings contain compressed chemical flame suppressants that can easily put out most ordinary workplace fires, as long as they are not too big or out of control.

But the pressure holding these chemicals in place can slowly dissipate over time. That’s why most fire extinguishers are inspected and have an expiration date. This is usually the latest possible date that the fire extinguisher can be used with confidence that the chemicals will spray out as designed.

Using an expired fire extinguisher can be disappointing, to say the least. If the pressurization is lost, when you pull the trigger you likely will get a dribble rather than a spray … if you get anything at all.

Fire Extinguisher Inspections

As a result, fire extinguishers need to be inspected according to a regular schedule. Those that are approaching their expiration date need to be either replaced or recharged.

Because the equipment used to recharge fire extinguishers can be costly, many businesses use a service that provides them with a fresh supply of newly charged fire extinguishers on a regular basis. Fire extinguisher companies also can handle the inspection and replacement process. Usually, they will come to your business according to a regular schedule, such as monthly or quarterly.

But companies that have a lot of fire extinguishers or use the equipment in multiple locations might consider investing in a recharging unit. This includes an agent, an air compressor, and a basic understanding of how to recharge fire extinguishers.

Checking the Pressure Gauge

Just because a fire extinguisher has a tag that says it isn’t expired, that’s no guarantee that it’s going to work when you need it. Regardless of whether you maintain your own fire extinguishers or hire a fire extinguisher service to do it for you, it’s a good idea to train your employees to know how to read its pressure gauge.

Generally, when the needle on the gauge is in the green, the fire extinguisher has enough pressure to work properly. But if the needle is in the red area, it may not work when you need it.



The Sound Level Meter app (Photo via National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health)

The Sound Level Meter app (Photo via National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health)

If you think that the noise levels at your workplace are at unsafe levels, but you aren’t sure how to measure them, a federal agency has created a new smartphone app that anybody can use.

The Sound Level Meter app was created by the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health so that anybody can instantly measure the decibel levels in their place of employment.

Each year, more than 22 million US workers are exposed to potentially hazardous noise levels while at work. The new app, which utilizes the built-in microphones already found on most smartphones, measures noise levels and tells users when they are at potentially hazardous levels.

Dangers of Too Much Noise

Being exposed to high noise levels for a prolonged period of time can cause permanent hearing loss.

NIOSH’s new Sound Level Meter app can be downloaded for free at the Apple Store and uses an iOS based sound level meter that measures and characterizes occupational noise exposure just like costly, professional noise meters.

The app automatically tells users if noise levels are too high, based on a standard scale for most common workplaces based on three criteria:

  • the A-weighted equivalent sound level (LAeq)
  • The maximum Level measured during the current run time
  • The C-weighted Peak Sound Pressure Level (LCpeak)
  • And the Time-Weighted Average (TWA) and Dose.

The app also includes some basic information on noise and hearing loss prevention.

Reducing Noise Levels in the Workplace

Noise levels of about 80 decibels are enough for workers to have to raise their voices in order to be heard at a distance of one meter. Noise levels of 90 decibels are enough for workers to have to shout to be heard at a distance of one meter.

If workers are exposed to potentially hazardous noise levels, they should use hearing protection devices such as earplugs, noise-reducing earphones, or other types of personal protective equipment (PPE).

The Control of Noise at Work Regulations of 2005 mandate that employers take action if daily or weekly exposure to noise exceeds Exposure Action Levels.

Whenever possible, excessive noise should be eliminated at the source by controlling exposure to noise. Besides PPE, this can include adding noise mufflers or baffles on noisy equipment.

Currently, the app is only available on iOs devices, such as Apple smartphones because they are optimized for audio applications. Android devices, which are made by multiple manufacturers, have different requirements and specifications for microphones, audio/signal procession chips, and software tools, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention news release announcing the app’s release.




Fire ExtinguisherThrow water on a grease fire and it will get bigger. Use a fire hose on an electrical fire and you could put everybody in the vicinity in danger of an electrical shock.

Knowing how to extinguish different types of workplace fires does more than just cut down on property damage. It also could prevent small fires from turning into major disasters.

Here are the proper ways to distinguish several different types of fires you may encounter in the workplace.

Electrical Fires

If a fire erupts in an electrical breaker box or a piece of electrical equipment starts burning, the first thing you want to do is cut the power source, if possible.

For breaker boxes, try to cut the main power supply. For appliances and other electrical equipment, pull the plug. Then try to smother the fire using a blanket or a Type C fire extinguisher, which is rated for electrical fires.

Cooking Fires

One of the most common locations for workplace fires is the community kitchen. If a pot or pan catches fire, shut off the stove or oven then smother the flames with a lid. Don’t turn on the exhaust system because this can pull the flames up into the hood.

If there isn’t one available, you can use salt or baking soda to smother small oil fires. Or you can use a Type B fire extinguisher.

The last thing you want to do is to throw water on an oil fire. The flash point of water is lower than that of most oils, so this can cause the water itself to erupt in flames.

Ventilate the area only after you are sure all the flames are put out.

Gas Fires

If a gas fuel source such as propane or natural gas catches fire, shut off the gas supply. You can try to smother the flames with a rug, blanket, or class B extinguisher, or cool with water.

In some cases, it is better to let gas fires burn rather than try to extinguish the fire because this can cause the gas to fill the room or building, creating a higher explosion hazard.

For larger fires that can’t easily be controlled, evacuate people from the building and call the fire department. Your local firefighters are trained on how to combat any type of fire, explosion, or gas leak.

Remember that the lives and safety of your employees are always more important than property. You can replace things, but you can’t replace a lost human life.



protective eye gearWhile the biggest construction contractors often have teams of safety and health specialists on staff to help identify and eliminate safety hazards, smaller-scale contractors who make up the majority of construction businesses are generally on their own.

Until now, that is. The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently issued a new guide designed to help small to medium sized construction companies develop their own proactive safety programs that can improve workplace safety and reduce the amount of workplace injuries.

The guidelines are outlined in a new PDF document entitled “Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs in Construction”, which can be downloaded for free HERE.

Keeping Workers Safe

The idea is for contractors to use the document to create health and safety programs using simple steps that anybody can follow, including training workers on how to identify and control hazards themselves, inspecting job sites together with line-level workers to identify potential problems with equipment and materials, and developing effective responses to emergency scenarios before they happen.

The benefit of the new OSHA guide is that it can be scaled to fit practically any sized construction business, from the smallest two-person operation working on short-term projects to larger companies with dozens of employees working on multi-year jobs, according to Dr. David Michaels, assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA.

“The recommendations outlined in this document will help contractors prevent injuries and illnesses on their construction sites and make their companies more profitable,” Michaels said in a news release announcing the release of the guide.

Benefits of Increased Workplace Safety

Implementing the recommendations outlined in the new OSHA guide will do more than just reduce workplace injuries and make job sites safer. It also can help improve productivity and quality, improve employee morale, and even improve employee recruitment and retention.

Small- to medium-sized companies that institute better workplace safety standards can benefit from a more favorable image and reputation among clients, suppliers, and peers within the industry. And as any contractor can tell you, your construction business is only as good as its reputation.

Even if contractors already have a safety program in place, it’s a good idea to review the recommendations because there are always new construction techniques, materials, and equipment being introduced into the industry.

There’s also more diversity today in the overall construction workforce. So people from different backgrounds — who often speak different languages — are often working side by side. Plus, the aging workforce and the rise of a sedentary lifestyle means that more workers than ever before are a higher risk for work-related injuries.