Workplace Safety Tips for the Total Solar Eclipse

On August 21st, a total solar eclipse will be visible from North America for the first time in nearly 40 years. Many employers across the country will host viewing parties or may allow employees to take an extra break to observe the phenomenon, while those who employ outdoor workers can expect employees to have a front-row seat for the big event.

It is important to remember that such eclipses can expose workers to safety and worksite hazards, however. For example, outdoor workers should be sure to turn off any equipment or machinery before sun-gazing.

So what further information can employers pass on to reduce the risk of worksite and on-the-job injuries? NASA’s Total Solar Eclipse safety page suggests the following:

  • Never look directly at the sun.
  • If you are within the path of totality, remove your solar filter only when the moon completely covers the sun’s bright face and it suddenly gets quite dark. Experience totality, then, as soon as the bright sun begins to reappear, replace your solar viewer to look at the remaining partial phases.
  • Use eclipse glasses and handheld solar viewers verified to be compliant with the ISO 12312-2 international safety standard for such products.
  • Always inspect your solar filter before use; if scratched or damaged, discard it. Read and follow any instructions printed on or packaged with the filter.
  • Do not look at the sun through a camera, a telescope, binoculars, or any other optical device while using your eclipse glasses or hand-held solar viewer — the concentrated solar rays will damage the filter and enter your eye(s), causing serious injury.
  • Keep normal eyeglasses on, if normally worn, and place eclipse glasses over them.

Check out the map below to see if your business is in the path of totality for the upcoming eclipse:

total solar eclipse map

Water Scarcity Risk: Not Just a Local Political Issue

mining-and-water
There are few issues as politically charged as water, not only because people’s survival depends on it, but also because it is a critical component of so many industries. Agriculture, food and beverage manufacturers, refineries, paper and pulp companies, electronics manufacturers, mining operations and power plants—are of these rely on a continuous and reliable water supply.

When companies move into markets with weak infrastructure or questionable rule of law, drawing on these resources can quickly bring them into conflict with local citizens and, sometimes, the host government. Because of its vital importance, however, water scarcity has become much more than a local issue for businesses.

Water shortages can lead to conflict as competition grows for diminishing resources, as any scarce resource on which people depend is likely to become political at some point in time. One scenario that repeatedly unfolds is as follows: A mining operation depletes local water resources or has a tailings dam accident that contaminates a local river, a protest ensues and the host government intervenes in the project. Hydroelectric power projects can create a number of similar political risks and some different ones, including relocation of local villages.

In recent years, however, awareness has grown about how water scarcity risk affects political risk at the national and international levels, requiring a different type of analysis. The depletion of rivers, lakes and streams has led to more dependence on below-ground water. More than two-thirds of groundwater used around the world is for irrigating crops, and the rest of below-ground water is used to supply cities’ drinking water. For centuries, below-ground water supplies served as a backup to carry regions and countries through droughts and warm winters that lacked enough snowmelt to replenish rivers and streams. Now, the world’s largest underground water reserves in Africa, Eurasia and the Americas are under stress, with many of them being drawn down at unsustainable rates. Nearly two billion people rely on groundwater that is considered under threat.

What makes the problem particularly difficult to solve in the emerging markets is that small, often subsistence, farmers are doing the drilling for water. The U.S. military called climate change, including reduced access to water, a “threat multiplier,” potentially threatening the stability of governments, increasing inter-state conflict, and contributing to extremist ideologies and terrorism.

It is always difficult to establish causality with something as complex as politics, but there certainly is circumstantial evidence that water scarcity was a factor in the Syrian uprisings that led to the country’s civil war. In Yemen, some hydrologists warn the country may be the first to actually run out of usable water within a decade, and combatants are making a bad situation even worse by using water and food as weapons against opposing villages. In Sudan, desertification and water scarcity have been cited as having a strong link to the Darfur conflict.

Since water does not respect political borders, the conflicts can become international.  One of the most high-profile disputes has been Ethiopia’s damming of the Nile River for hydroelectric power, potentially threatening Egypt’s ancient water source. In 2013, Egypt’s then-president said he did not want war but he would not allow Egypt’s water supply to be endangered by the dam. Fortunately, in 2015, Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan signed an agreement allowing dam construction, provided that it did not cause “significant harm” to downstream countries. But the studies into how much harm it could do have not even been completed yet, and the dammed water could be diverted to uses other than power. Thus, the political risk surrounding the Nile River is far from over. Since 1975, Turkey’s construction of dams for irrigation and power have cut water flow into Syria by 40% and into Iraq by 80%, setting off disputes there.

Companies are accustomed to building water into their business plans in developing countries. Environmental impact assessments and proactive community relations programs can bring potential problems to the surface before they start, helping companies manage water in an environmentally and socially prudent manner. The geopolitical risks around water scarcity can be more difficult to manage, however. In this area, companies should consider building water scarcity into their political risk management and forecasting frameworks, factoring it in when making investment and supply chain decisions. If governments cannot find ways of sharing this limited resource, political violence risk may become even more of a factor for international businesses to consider.

This article previously appeared on Zurichna.com.

NYC Crane Collapse Part of a Troubling Trend

NYC Crane Collapse

Last week’s crane collapse in Lower Manhattan, which killed one person and injured three others, has heightened focus on crane safety, resulting in stricter rules for operators. The 565-foot crane toppled as it was being secured against high winds as a safety precaution.

More than 140 firefighters responded to the disaster in addition to police officers and utility workers who were there in case of gas leaks or other damage caused by the impact.

Mayor Bill de Blasio called for an investigation and instituted new safety policies effective immediately, while ordering that 376 other crawler cranes and 53 larger tower cranes currently operating in the city also be secured. The new rules require crawler cranes to cease operations and go into safety mode when there is a forecast for steady wind speeds of at least 20 miles per hour, or gusts of at least 30 m.p.h. Previously, cranes were allowed to operate until measured wind speeds reached 30 m.p.h. or gusts increased to 40 m.p.h.

“I want people to hear me loud and clear: We’ve had some construction site incidents that are very troubling,” de Blasio said at a news conference. “We have more and more inspectors who are going to get on top of that. We’re going to be very tough on those companies.”

He added, “We’ll send advisories to crane engineers when wind conditions warrant it, and engineers will be required to certify that they will indeed cease operations. If we don’t receive this certification, we will be issuing violations and we will raise the base penalty for failure to safeguard a site from the current $4,800 to $10,000.”

While construction in the city has increased over the past two years, the New York Times reported that the rise in deaths and injuries has exceeded the rate of new construction, that supervision at building sites was often lacking, and that preventative safety steps were not being taken.

Indeed, the list of incidents involving cranes has grown to eight since 2008, according to ABC News and the Associated Press.

— March 2008: A nearly 200-foot-tall crane fell as it was being lengthened in a neighborhood near the U.N. headquarters, demolishing a townhouse and killing six construction workers and a tourist. The crane rigger was tried and acquitted of manslaughter. An inspector accused of falsely saying he had checked the crane days before it toppled was acquitted of charges related to the collapse but convicted of falsifying inspection records related to other cranes.

— May 2008: A tower crane snapped, fell apart and crashed into a Manhattan apartment building, killing the crane operator and a construction worker on the ground. The crane owner was acquitted of manslaughter. A mechanic pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide. Together, the 2008 collapses prompted the resignation of the city buildings commissioner and a bribery case in which the city’s chief crane inspector pleaded guilty to taking payoffs to fake inspection and licensing exam results. The collapses also led to new safety measures, including hiring more inspectors and expanding training requirements and inspection checklists.

However, Comptroller Scott Stringer said in a 2014 audit that the city Department of Buildings hadn’t fully implemented safety recommendations on cranes and other issues, and Stringer reiterated his concerns Friday. The Department of Buildings disputed some of the audit’s conclusions, but spokesman Joe Soldevere said the agency had implemented many of the comptroller’s recommendations and “there is more oversight of cranes in place than ever before.”

— October 2012: A crane’s boom nearly snapped off and dangled precariously over a block near Carnegie Hall during Superstorm Sandy, as winds gusted to an estimated 80 to 100 mph. No one was injured, but people in a nearby hotel and other neighboring buildings had to flee in the midst of the storm as engineers scaled 74 stories to make sure the crane wasn’t in danger of falling.

— April 2012: A mobile crane’s boom fell and broke apart while hauling rebar at a subway station construction site, killing a worker. The site was exempt from most city construction safety rules because it belonged to a state transit authority.

— January 2013: A crane’s 170-foot-long boom fell and pulled down part of the wooden framework of an apartment tower under construction in Queens, injuring seven workers. Three workers had to be extricated from beneath fallen machinery.

— April 2015: Hydraulics malfunctioned on a small crane mounted on a truck while a worker was inspecting it in Manhattan, causing the boom to collapse and fall on him, killing him. The device wasn’t subject to the same regulations and inspections as larger cranes.

— May 2015: A mobile crane dropped a 13-ton air conditioning unit being placed atop a Manhattan office building. The air conditioning equipment fell 28 stories into the middle of an avenue. Ten people were injured by debris, and part of the building facade was shattered.

The Top 10 Construction Risks

More than 800 construction workers die and another 137,000 are seriously injured on the job each year in the United States, according to the Department of Labor. Its a tragic number and the worst part is that so many deaths and injuries are preventable. Aside from simply being deadly, however, the industry is imperiled by as many risks as any other industry.

Aon recently documented as much in its report on the state of risk management in construction. The broker surveyed industry professionals and received at least one encouraging result: overall preparedness for the threats identified as the top 10 risks has risen from 60% in 2009 to 67% in 2011.

What are those risks? These.

Aon points out one major change over the past two years.

Damage to reputation/brand has risen significantly in ranking from 11th in 2009 to third in 2011. This change is likely to be caused by the challenges that the industry is facing in maintaining a client base in an increasingly competitive environment. Where construction firms are working hard to replace diminished backlogs, the temptation to bid work at or below cost increases. With these practices, the risk of completing the job on time and on budget also rises. This can have a negative impact on reputation. This is not indicative of the entire sector, but the pressures on margin and the ability to remain viable as the economy continues to falter will have a negative impact.

By and large, preparedness has increased across the board. With one notable, major exception: capital availability/credit risk. That isn’t so surprising, however. The industry has been crippled by the housing collapse, so profits and, thus, cash holdings are going to be low.

Perhaps more troubling is the other risk that companies are now less prepared for than they were two years ago: third party liability. I’m not smart enough to deduce the reasoning for this drop-off, nor does Aon offer any analysis, so I’ll leave it to you to speculate. Not a positive trend obviously, though.

In an ideal world, this improvement would be coming solely because everyone is finally realizing just how wonderful risk management is. But theoretical value only has so much utility in changing behavior. Instead, the economy and pressure from customers and regulators have been the driving force.

Oddly, however, construction respondents say that “natural weather events” are less of a factor than other industries do. Perhaps this is because the construction industry is more experienced when it comes to disaster losses? And it has already addressed disaster preparedness and is now “past” catching up more so than other industries? They learned the lessons of Katrina and the 2004 hurricane season and they adjusted?

I don’t know. But it strikes me as odd that construction companies haven’t felt increased pressure of late to improve in this regard following the most devastating first-half disaster-year in history. 8% seems low. But, again, I guess the economic factors trump everything.

For those that still have more preparedness to do — hint, everyone —  the Department of Labor is here to help. To promote safety, it developed a series of safety videos.

The one below centers on not getting backed over by a giant truck. Don’t let that happen is, I believe, the takeaway message they’re going for.