OSHA’s Six Foot Fall Protection Rule Just Got Teeth

Fall protection continues to be an area of controversy between California’s DIOSH and federal OSHA regulators. When tougher protection rules were initially introduced decades ago, the goal was to reduce the risk of falls (still a common cause of death and severe injury in the construction sector). In 2010, Fed-OSHA got serious about enforcement, and many states began phasing in compliance over the next couple of years. But the changes were far from easy.

Safety Rules Didn’t Always Fit with “Business as Usual”

According to John Caulfield’s article for Builder Magazine: “The new (2010) rule now mandates that all employees working six feet or more above the ground must use ‘acceptable’ fall-protection equipment such as guardrails, safety nets, or personal fall-arrest systems that can include full-body harnesses and deceleration devices. Depending on the job, other forms of fall prevention might also be required, such as warning lines and safety monitor systems for steeper roofs.”

Unfortunately, many companies in the construction sector encountered substantial compliance challenges. The use of slide guards (a ubiquitous safety measure in the roofing industry) did not meet OSHA’s requirements for acceptable fall protection systems. Construction companies were faced with completing more paperwork to request exceptions to the ruling or with spending significant sums on fall protection equipment that might, in some cases, create additional tripping hazards on low-pitched roofs.

California Held Back on Switching to Federal Guidelines

As a leader in workplace safety, California initially stood apart from the controversy with its own well-tested fall-protection program. However, OSHA has now announced that it is taking a hard line approach that no longer recognizes Cal/OSHA’s fall protection rules as ‘at least as effective as’ (ALEA) those at the federal level. Fed-OSHA’s Deputy Director for the Directorate of Construction, Dean McKenzie, is seeking a firm commitment from California to adopt the six foot rule to replace the state’s own regulations.

At this time, California remains the sole holdout on this front among all the states. OSHA has indicated that pressure may be brought to bear to force a change. Proposed actions might include withholding funding and stepping in to enforce the six foot trigger rule on California worksites.

Strong Opinions Can’t Hold Back Change

Opponents of Fed-OSHA’s stance report that the proposed changes could have negative impacts on the construction industry. Compliance could prove both costly and impractical—and OSHA has provided little guidance as to how the rules could be realistically applied on a typical construction site. Dissenters advocate forcing Fed-OSHA to take on full oversight for enforcing these regulations (a massive undertaking given the size of California’s residential and commercial construction sectors).

Yet California’s OSHA board has indicated that the state will indeed move toward compliance. They are hoping for a reasonable amount of time to phase in the regulations, understand the economic impact, and seek room for exceptions. This process may take a couple of years. As always, DKF Solutions will be monitoring the situation to understand when our clients need to make changes to maintain compliance.

Cybersecurity: Water Utility Security Part 8

Our series on cybersecurity for critical water infrastructure now focuses on how to ensure ongoing operation based on vendor agreements, procedures, and workflows. While details like contract negotiation and employee policies might not seem like a strong line of defense, they can make a big difference in whether a utility will remain up and running in a crisis.

Service Level Agreements

Although process control systems should be designed to run independently when necessary, the day-to-day operation of a water utility typically involves quite a bit of third party infrastructure. As with the majority of organizations today, public utilities rely on a range of providers for telecommunications, internet connectivity, power, network capacity, data storage, and other resources. The contracts that govern factors such as availability (uptime), bandwidth, and technical support are referred to as Service Level Agreements (SLAs).

Selecting an appropriate level of support is important for a utility. For critical infrastructure, guaranteed uptime and a fast response time in the event of disruption may be two areas of particular concern. As the AWWA points out, the bandwidth required to run PCS equipment is often not high. But it must meet minimum requirements. SLAs should be negotiated with each contracted vendor based on how emergencies might impact process control systems and related infrastructure. Agreements with third party integrators and companies tasked with servicing the PCS equipment itself should also be reviewed to ensure that the utility is appropriately prioritized as a preferred customer when it comes to response times. Limiting the total number of external vendors involved may help simplify this process.

Operations Security

OPSEC, the formidable acronym for Operations Security, can cover almost any area of procedures and workflows in an organization. Limiting access to information is one important aspect of cybersecurity. For example, a utility might have a social media policy that prohibits workers from posting information about internal procedures online. Such policies should be in writing and the accompanying training might give examples of the types of postings that might seem innocent to employees but that could reveal potential vulnerabilities to hacker or parties interested in doing harm. Cybersecurity training should alert employees to suspicious behaviors—such as people fishing for information about security protocols or other protected information (social engineering).

Within the organization, OPSEC should also cover isolation of PCS functions from other business functions. This includes ensuring that the equipment’s interfaces are blocked from accessing the internet, email, and other remote systems—up to and including removable media. IT staff and other involved personnel should receive ongoing training in cybersecurity for PCS and water utilities in general to ensure best practices are kept up to date. As with all areas of security, change is inevitable.

In next month’s post, we’ll wrap up this series with a look at education and personnel security, since a water utility’s security is only as good as its employees. 

Shift Workers Face Increased Crash Risks

Although OSHA’s guidelines for safety and health don’t cover the commute home, employers would do well to consider ways they can assist workers who are at increased risk for accidents from drowsy driving. Getting behind the wheel while sleepy can impair reaction times and judgement in a way that’s comparable to being intoxicated or under the influence of drugs. Yet six out of ten Americans admit to driving drowsy each year (according to the National Sleep Foundation). More than one out of three admit to falling asleep while driving! Here’s a look at some of the troubling facts about this hidden danger.

How Big Is the Problem?

Car crashes caused by sleepy drivers are a persistent problem of incredible scope. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration suggests that drowsy driving is the primary cause of more than 100,000 accidents reported to the police each year (the actual number is likely much higher). More than 1,550 people die in such accidents each year, and more than 71,000 are injured. The billions of dollars in losses calculated probably don’t take into account lost productivity for businesses whose employees are involved in these tragic accidents.

Which Workers Are at Risk?

Shift workers are at a six-fold greater risk of accidents from sleepy driving compared to the rest of the population. Night shifts, rotating shifts, and double shifts are all linked to a higher risk of drowsy driving crashes. Commercial drivers covering long distances and young males (18-25) are also at greater than average risk of nodding off at the wheel.

In a recent study, 16 participants were given a two-hour driving test in a real vehicle while an observer rode along. Drivers were also monitored using special glasses to track eye movements and blinking as well as EEG electrodes to measure microsleep episodes. After an eight hour sleep with no shift work, none of the participants had a near crash during the test. But after a night shift (and being awake for about 13 hours), the participants experienced much more lane drifting, slow eye movement, and microsleep. Almost half of the participants had to have their tests halted before completion due to near crashes.

What Can Employers Do to Help?

Encouraging workers to drink caffeine before their commute isn’t necessarily helpful in the long run since it can disrupt the ability of shift workers to get to sleep once they arrive home. However, encouraging workers to take a 15-20 minute nap after they clock out may help them stay alert on the way home. Assisting with access to public transportation may also be a remedy. Finally, employers can provide educational resources to make shift workers aware of the facts about drowsy driving. Each individual should be equipped to recognize the signs and know safe ways to reduce the risk of crashes.

Do you want to learn more about ways to help your workers stay safe every day? Contact DKF Consulting to review your safety training resources.

Cybersecurity: Water Utility Security Part 7

This month, it’s time to take a look at both virtual and physical access for process control systems security. When both of these areas are addressed, infrastructure is better protected from on-site and remote attacks. The American Water Works Association (AWWA) offers guidance on these topics. Here’s a quick overview.

Telecommunications, Network Security, and Architecture

The wired and wireless aspects of network infrastructure come under scrutiny in this phase of cybersecurity. On a physical level, computer rooms, network server closets, and individual cables should be secure from tampering. Port level security can serve as a second layer of protection if physical security is compromised. It shouldn’t be possible for anyone to simply plug a device in to an open port and gain access to (and control over) the system.

In the virtual sphere, data must be secure as it travels from point A to point B. On the network level, using dedicated hardware, separate IP subnets, and virtual local area networks (VLANS) can make systems and processes easier to protect both within the server architecture of the organization and where the network must interface with field equipment and 3rd party systems. It may be wise to create an architecture that allows for critical equipment to continue operating in isolation (in the event that other parts of the network are compromised).

More about Physical and Network Security

In the words of the AWAA “Once physical access to a network device or server is achieved, compromising equipment or systems is usually a trivial matter.” That’s a chilling thought given the percentage of malicious security breaches that are carried out by internal parties (about 25% according to a 2014 Forrester survey). For critical infrastructure, it is vital that only authorized personnel have access to hardware—and only for needed activities. Control rooms, removable media, cabinets, ports, and communication pathways should all be hardened against intrusion.

Physical locks and electronic access control help keep unauthorized personnel away from critical equipment while monitoring systems provide an alert of potential trouble. Security information and event management (SEIM) detection within the network can also report on anomalous activity in real time. In some situations, video surveillance may be beneficial for identifying unauthorized entrants. But bear in mind that prevention is always the primary goal. As with all monitoring programs, having personnel in place to evaluate and swiftly respond to incidents is essential.

Operational Security and Service Level Agreements are up for exploration next month!

Driver Performance Monitoring and Workplace Safety

It’s not just insurance companies that use vehicle monitoring to evaluate the performance of drivers. The technology to track speed, location, G-force, and other aspects of vehicle operation is now used by many employers as well. Since auto accidents remain a leading cause of work-related fatalities, implementing a monitoring program is worth consideration. Here’s a look at some of the pros and cons—along with tips for implementing a smart policy.

On the Plus Side

Examining the behavior of drivers operating workplace vehicles offers several benefits. First, knowing that a vehicle is monitored may give drivers a greater sense of accountability, increasing the likelihood that they will use good judgment on the road. This includes staying on schedule and not making unauthorized side trips or stops.

Second, regular evaluation of recorded data may provide insight into additional safety training (such as defensive driving) that is needed to increase the safety of employees on the road. Finally, if an accident does occur, it’s often hard for the people involved to recall precisely what happened. With monitoring, the events that immediately preceded the accident can be examined to discover the facts.

The Downside of Vehicle Monitoring

An improperly implemented program could violate employees’ right to privacy, leading to legal trouble for employers. A monitoring device that is installed in the wrong location in a vehicle may also create blind spots or other hazards, increasing the likelihood of accident or injury.

In addition, stored data that shows a pattern of unsafe driving on the part of workers might also be used against an employer in litigation. This is especially true if no corrective action was taken to curtail risky behavior.

Tips for Getting It Right

  • Know the purpose of your monitoring program (are you seeking to correct driving behaviors, make safe driving a part of employee evaluation, or have a record in case of an accident?)
  • Create a written driver performance monitoring policy that complies with federal and state law.
  • Disclose your driver monitoring policy to employees and explain its purpose as part of the overall workplace safety program.
  • Make sure the monitoring technology meets state requirements and does not interfere with safe operation of the vehicle (e.g., it should not obscure the driver’s view, obstruct windshield wipers, or be placed in the airbag deployment zone).
  • Follow up on any incidents of unsafe driving to take swift corrective action in accordance with agency policy.
  • Retain records on file as required by law since the monitoring data may be subject to subpoena in the event of litigation or workplace safety inspection.

Do you have questions about using technology to increase employee safety? Contact DKF to talk about health and safety in the modern workplace.

Cal/OSHA Reports a 13-Year Low for Injury and Illness

In the world of occupational safety and health, it’s easy to focus on hazards and disasters. After all, workplace injuries or fatalities affect hundreds of thousands of Californians and their families every year. Preventing and reducing these incidents is very important. But it is also good to know that the efforts of employers and workers across the state have made a significant difference.

This month, the Department of Industrial Relations posted the occupational illness and injury data from 2014. According to the survey results, rates of reportable workplace accidents and illnesses remain at a 13 year low. This holds true across all categories of lost work-time cases (incidents resulting in time lost from work, transfer, or restricted duty).

Quick Statistics for 2014

  • There were 460,000 reportable injury and illness cases
  • 265,000 involved lost work-time
  • 140,000 resulted in days away from work
  • 25,840 involved local government workers including over 3000 in the trade, transportation, and utilities sector.

Risk Factors for Workers

  • Latino workers continue to face disproportionate risks at work, accounting for almost 60% of days away from work. In jobs involving construction activities, 75% of injured workers who lost work days were Latino.
  • Teenagers and new workers (those on the job less than a year) are at particularly high risk for accidents.
  • Sprains, strains, and tears remain the leading causes of lost work-time.
  • Overexertion, adverse reactions to substances at work, slip & falls accidents, and equipment-related injuries are common.

Progress Can Still Be Made

The continuing reduction of workplace illness and injury is cause for hope. It clearly demonstrates that making positive changes in safety programs has a real effect on outcomes. Paying close attention to the factors involved in accidents and illnesses for at-risk groups and activities allows employers to identify hazards and adjust their workplace program accordingly. This is an ongoing process that can and should continue to be refined each year.

With 2016 approaching, it’s a great time for a review of your safety program. With your participation, DKF is dedicated to making each year safer than the one before. If your organization hasn’t yet scheduled a consultation, we encourage you to contact us today. 

Cybersecurity: Water Utility Security Part 6

The issues surrounding cybersecurity in the water utility industry become more complex and technically demanding as the focus becomes more granular. This month, we continue the shift from overarching “big picture” best practices that remain fairly stable to a moving target of security and encryption protocols that may change on a monthly basis.

In fact, application security and encryption can’t be pinned down perfectly because there are too many variables to consider—and hackers are always looking for new ways to penetrate online systems. For this reason, cybersecurity measures in these areas must be subject to ongoing testing and review with resources committed to frequent fixes, updates, and upgrades. Any other approach makes it simply a matter of time until a breach occurs.

Application Security

Securing an application begins in the design phase and continues through testing, deployment, monitoring/maintenance, and through to obsolescence. One common area of vulnerability is Insufficient Transport Layer Protection that fails to protect network traffic, leaving data and session IDs exposed. Knowing enough to ask the right questions is essential during vendor selection to avoid these risks. Software vendors and system integrators must demonstrate that their applications and processes have an appropriate level of integrity. There are also actions that can be taken at an administrative level within the organization to promote better application security.

Examples of current smart practices: Each PCS user should have their own login (username and strong password). This login should be different from the user’s login for other business apps and provide access only to those program capabilities required for the user to perform their job. Administrator privileges should be given only to administrators, and all application usage should be logged, monitored, and reviewed regularly.

No application can be guaranteed to be entirely secure, but the level of security is enhanced with constant vulnerability monitoring to identify weak points and address them quickly.

Encryption

In simple terms, encryption is about keeping information away from prying eyes through the use of cryptography (codes). Data must be protected both in storage and during transmission from one point to another. Encryption schemas may include compression algorithms, Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), and other components to provide well-rounded security. The appropriate type and level of encryption should be applied to databases, laptops and computers, mobile devices, wireless and wired communication, removable storage devices, and so forth. The best practice is typically to use the highest level of encryption available for a given piece of equipment or system.

Encryption keys themselves should be treated with special care throughout the lifetime of the keys and the data they are intended to protect. They must be backed up and managed to prevent loss, theft, or unintentional destruction. Key vaults and similar environments with restricted access and redundant storage capacity may provide a solution.

Above all, water utilities should ensure that encryption is more than window dressing. According to the AWAA, Weak encryption schemes are particularly dangerous because they provide little protection and create a false sense of security and complacency. Proprietary encryption schemes should be avoided since they typically have not gone through comprehensive testing and often contain flaws. Also, only encryption schemes that are referenced by appropriate standards and use keys of proper length should be considered secure.” Encryption only works if it addresses real world risks.

Next up, Telecommunications, Network Security, Architecture and more!

Cybersecurity: Water Utility Security Part 5

This month, we’ll take a look at some technical and administrative aspects of cybersecurity for the network systems that keep a water utility going. The goal of these AWWA guidelines is to maintain the confidentiality, integrity, and availability (CIA) properties of the computing resources used by a water agency.

Server and Workstation Hardening

Application, web, and database servers as well as the individual workstations they support offer many potential openings for attack. There are a wide variety of best practices for hardening these resources against intrusion.

Workstation hardening begins with physically securing the client-side devices (for example, ensuring locations where workstations and control consoles reside are protected using an electronic access control system.) On the IT side, here are some more security measures:

  • Patching/upgrading vulnerable apps and services
  • Prohibiting addition of new services without IT review and approval
  • Eliminating unused, unnecessary, and non-secure programs and services

Similarly, it’s important to keep up with hotfixes and patches on the server side. It may be wise to disable unnecessary network services, registries, executables, and test scripts that are known to be insecure. Properly restricting permissions for files, services, end points, and registry entries is also smart. Of course, the specific security measures vary based on operating system and require careful review to ensure functionality isn’t compromised.

Access Control

Here are some basic security steps for access control to water utility networks:

  • Restrict permissions for files and data according to end-user roles
  • Automate user provisioning (and de-provisioning) to standardize and streamline the process, reducing the risk of errors and delays
  • Use dual-factor authentication such as a passcode and a chip-enabled card or fingerprint scanner for critical systems
  • Audit access on a regular basis so you know who is accessing which resources

The most obvious step in access control is ensuring that user passwords throughout the system are strong and difficult to guess. As a next step, implementing Single Sign On (SSN) gives users access to multiple applications without re-entering their information. Making it simple to sign in supports the best practice of signing out whenever a person is away from their workstation. However, the AWWA points out that SSN shouldn’t be used to allow users to access both process control systems and enterprise systems. As always, shielding PCS is the key to safeguarding critical infrastructure.

More to come: Next month, we will explore application security and encryption. 

California Workers Death Prompts Criminal Charges

Late in 2012, a 51 year old San Francisco worker fell to his death at a worksite. Fines in the amount of more than $25,800 have been assessed against Versaggi Construction for serious violations. But the bad news for the construction company doesn’t stop there. As Cal/OSHA’s lengthy criminal investigation progressed, the regulatory agency coordinated with the District Attorney’s office to file felony charges. The two people being held responsible for the death of the construction worker are the foreman at the site (John Fitt) and the owner of the construction company (Salvador William Versaggi). Both men pled not guilty to manslaughter charges and labor code violations last month.

What Happened at the Site?

Jose Plancarte was given the job of working on a window frame opening about 18 feet above ground level. His employer did not provide fall protection, although the working height was more than twice the height at which fall protection measures should have been put in place according to OSHA regulations. Mr. Plancarte created his own makeshift scaffold (with no guardrails) out of some planks, brackets, and nails to access the work area. Predictably, one misstep led to a fatal fall to the concrete floor below.

Cal/OSHA’s investigation determined that the employer failed to provide adequate protection and that the foreman knew of the unsafe scaffold built by the worker. OSHA and the DA’s office are attempting to hold both men accountable for failing to prevent the foreseeable death of an employee.

Current Case Echoes Similar Fatality in 2008

The fatal fall of Plancarte occurred just a few years after another worker, Antonio Martinez, fell 40 feet from an apartment roof to a concrete sidewalk. The employer in this case also failed to institute proper safety measures. The worker was not wearing fall protection and the employer did not provide railings or barriers to protect the employee from venturing too near the edge of the roof.

Shockingly, the Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) discovered two more employees working in the same location without fall protection the day after their coworker fell to his death. Apparently, the foreman on site told investigators that he believed fall protection was not necessary when working on a flat roof. The owner of California C&R later pled guilty to four felonies including involuntary manslaughter. He was sentenced to a year in jail.

These tragic deaths offer insight into the importance of fall protection for all at-risk workers. These cases also demonstrate that OSHA is serious about jail time for employers who fail to take proactive steps to safeguard their employees. 

California Wastewater Employee Accidents: Part 3

In the final blog post of this series, we’ll look at a few more incidents that show how quickly things can go wrong in seemingly routine situations.

Slipping out for a Bite

Two employees using a Hydro-Vac sewer cleaning truck worked past the lunch hour to get a job done and stopped on the way back to the company yard to get carryout food. When the worker on the passenger side exited the cab with the bag of food in one hand, he twisted around to grab a handrail with the other. As he turned, his foot slipped off the first of three narrow steps that formed a ladder down the side of the truck. He fell 35” to the ground fracturing his right elbow and bruising his face.

Takeaway: A fall of less than three feet hospitalized this worker. Failure to follow the “three points of contact rule” as he climbed down from the truck may have played a role in this accident. Ensuring workers have the time to take regularly scheduled breaks may help them feel less rushed, reducing the risk of accidents.

An ATV Ride Ends Badly

An employee was riding on the left rear fender of an all-terrain vehicle that was towing a bucket truck used to clean sewer lines. As ATV and bucket truck crossed a small canyon, they formed a sharp V with each other and the employee was crushed between the vehicles. She suffered fractured ribs and was hospitalized.

Takeaway: Moving vehicles that are connected may form an unexpected pinch point with a great deal of force when traveling over uneven terrain. Even on straight roadways, employees should never sit anywhere but in an approved seat.

Bouncing Down the Hill

An employee was setting out traffic horses during the installation of a sanitary sewer. The worksite was on a steep hill. The worker lost his footing and fell downhill into the trench. He landed on his right shoulder and bounced off an existing water line before falling to the bottom of the trench. He was hospitalized for a dislocated collarbone, broken shoulder blade, facial bruises, and cracked ribs.

Takeaway: The depth of a trench itself is only one factor that makes it hazardous. The grade of the surface leading down to the trench increases the risks of a fall, and protrusions in the trench can cause additional injuries on the way down.

What steps are you taking to review routine safety precautions and prevent injuries? DKF Solutions can help by bringing a fresh perspective to your safety program.