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>Health & Safety Report

Volume 1, Issue 7 - July 2003

In the News
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A venomous occupational hazard

It's difficult to work outdoors without sharing some space with bees, wasps, hornets and other venomous stingers. Most people experience a sting at least once in their life but only about one percent of the population will experience a life-threatening reaction to the venom.

A few common sense measures will keep most bees, wasps and hornets at bay - a fine enough plan for the vast majority of us who only feel discomfort from a sting. Indeed, research has found that people without hypersensitivity to the insect venom can survive 50, 500 even 1,000 stings.

But, how do you know if you are severely allergic if you've never been stung before?

A simple allergy test can help determine the severity of any allergy you may have. The method can be a blood or a skin test administered by a medical professional, which involves pricking the skin with a needle dipped in venom. Professional treatment can lessen the severity by building up immunities.

Stings are unquestionably a concern for outdoor workers. People with a hypersensitivity to venom can experience anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis affects the whole body and appears within minutes as a person's antibodies try to combat the venom.

Symptoms may include:

  • Hives, itching, and swelling in areas other than the sting site
  • Swollen eyes and eyelids
  • Tightness in the chest and difficulty in breathing
  • Hoarse voice or swelling of the tongue
  • Dizziness or a sharp drop in blood pressure
  • Unconsciousness or cardiac arrest

People who have experienced this type of severe allergic reaction have a 60 percent chance of a similar or worse reaction if stung again. Those who have experienced this type of reaction - even one time - are probably allergic to bee or wasp stings. They must speak to their doctor are usually prescribed epinephrine to carry with them in a syringe or "Epi-Pen®' - medication that may save their life during an anaphylactic reaction.

Employers and at least one co-worker should be notified if an outdoor worker is in this risk category. Employers should also question their outdoor workers about their allergies and the effects of any previous stings. Outdoor workers should carry cell-phones and know how to spot a severe allergic reaction. If you have never been stung before and you experience a severe allergic reaction for the first time, call or have a co-worker call 911 immediately and get medical help.

Co-workers should know where their anaphylactic colleague carries their EpiPen® and how to administer this life-saving medication. In the event their colleague is stung, the epinephrine should be administered immediately; a call made for medical assistance and/or the victim immediately transported to an emergency care facility.

Those not allergic to venom can suffer a normal localized reaction to a sting: pain, itching and slight swelling. It can be soothed with an application of ice, Novocain spray and an antihistamine. (If the stinger is in the skin, flick it away with a clean fingernail; try not to pull it out as this spreads the venom.) Some people experience swelling in an area broader than the sting site. This mild allergic reaction lasts a few days. While it is sore and uncomfortable and should be watched for infection, it is short-lived.

You can find stinging insects anywhere:

  • Yellowjackets and bumblebees have ground level homes;
  • Hornets and paper wasps build nests on walls and in hedges and
  • Honeybees have hives usually in trees or beekeepers' apiaries

Workers who must work around wasp and hornet nests should report these nests and have professional exterminators deal with them.

All bees can sting you only once because they leave their stinger stuck in your skin whereas wasps and hornets withdraw their stinger and so can repeat the damage.

Remember most bees and wasps won't attack unless provoked.

  • Don't swat at them or cause a fuss. Instead, gently blow them away.
  • Always wear shoes when working outdoors. Work gloves too.
  • Avoid brightly coloured, flowery or black clothing. Khakis, beiges, blues apparently are non-provocative colours.
  • Odours of food and flowers attract insects so use perfumes, hair product and fragrant soaps sparingly, if at all. Put food scraps in sealed garbage containers and be cautious around open garbage bins.

Hazard Alerts
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White fingers - the woodworkers' curse

It's a stealthy disease, one that creeps up on woodworkers and others exposed to equipment vibrations. And, at its worst, Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome causes skin to die, gangrene in fingertips and impacts entire hands and arms. Education remains the best defense. Workers need to be trained on the hazards of vibrating tools and learn to allow the tool or machine to do the work. Vibrations are particularly hazardous, if:

  • Proper damping techniques are not applied
  • Machines are not maintained
  • Tools are not alternated
  • A worker uses a vibrating tool for consecutive hours during a workday

Failure to address the issue can have consequences. White fingers, or Raynaud's Phenomenon, is a disease of the hands in which the blood vessels in the fingers collapse due to repeated exposure to vibration. The skin and muscle tissue do not get the oxygen they need and eventually die. HAVS is a more advanced condition, and the entire hand or arm may be affected by exposure to vibration.

Early signs of HAVS are infrequent feelings of numbness and/or tingling in the fingers, hands, or arms, or numbness and whiteness in fingertips when exposed to cold. As the disease progresses, a worker experiences more frequent attacks of numbness, tingling, and pain and finds it difficult to use his or her hands. A worker with advanced HAVS may be disabled for a long time.

  • Maintain machines in proper working order. Unbalanced rotating parts or unsharpened cutting tools can give off excessive vibration.
  • Arrange work tasks so vibrating and non-vibrating tools can be used alternately.
  • Restrict the hours a worker uses a vibrating tool during the workday. Allow employees to take 10 - 15-minute breaks from the source of the vibration every hour.
  • Train workers about the hazards of working with vibrating tools. Instruction should include the sources of vibration exposure, early signs and symptoms of hand-arm vibration syndrome and work practices for minimizing vibration exposure.
  • Instruct workers to keep their hands warm and dry and to not grip a vibrating tool too tightly. Workers should allow the tool or machine to do the work.

OSH Answers
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Improving the lives of shift workers

Shift work isn't going to disappear anytime soon from the Canadian employment landscape. In fact, it is a reality for 25 per cent of North American workers. But organizations, and individual workers, can take measures to ease the effects on health, family and social life. Shift work is a particular concern because of the human circadian rhythm, our internal clock that uses clues like time of day to adjust blood pressure, activity level and body temperature. Research has shown that the optimum mental performance level for workers occurs between 2 and 4 p.m. and maximum general awareness is between 1 and 7 p.m. Performance levels are lowest between 3:30 and 5:30 a.m.

Shift work can also:

  • Impact energy levels through sleep deprivation
  • Cause disorders of the gastrointestinal and cardiovascular systems
  • Make existing disorders worse

Some experts also blame these disruptions for increases in accidents, although this is not firmly established and is disputed by some studies.

Shift schedules, education and improved facilities can make life easier for workers. And individuals can focus on sleeping better, eating healthier and taking steps to reduce stress.

Optimizing shift schedules is the most effective way of reducing health and safety problems. It is a complicated balancing act to find the best compromise for personal, psychological, social and medical concerns. Science has yet to determine the best timing for shift rotations. One study, however, did find that changing rotating shifts to a forward direction (days to afternoons to nights) significantly decreased the levels of several coronary risk factors in one study.

Shift workers can also take matters into their own hands. Among the suggestions:

  • Maintain regular eating patterns as much as possible.
  • Sleep on a set schedule to help establish a routine and to make sleep during the day easier.
  • Take leisure seriously

Partner News
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A new standard for workplace violence education

Ms Brody gets a phone call at home from an irate supplier. His tone and his words are abusive as he tries to push through a purchase order. Brody politely and apologetically tells him the delay is due to a new quality standards process. "Don't give me this standards crap!" the caller yells. "Get off your ass and process the order tomorrow or the crap is really going to fly!"

This fictional employee may have received the phone call at home, but the abuse qualifies as workplace violence. While a natural reaction to this type of call is to be helpful and polite - this is an example of a situation where that strategy won't work. During an abusive telephone call, there are steps that can be taken to try to change the tone of the conversation or to quickly end the call. A new website, with an extensive multimedia component, offers effective strategies and responses.

But effective responses to workplace violence don't come naturally to everyone, and workplace violence policies and preventative practices don't materialize out of thin air. It is this premise that provides one of the driving forces behind the new website, with content based on CCOHS' " Violence in the Workplace - Prevention Guide". The multimedia, interactive learning tool endeavours to provide the most comprehensive and engaging user experience on the topic. The goals are to create highly informed managers and staff, and provide access to practical tools, which will assist in identifying risk factors, developing workplace violence programs and responding to workplace violence incidents.

The site, Preventing Workplace Violence (PWV), will also have the facility to create and provide an online membership forum with access to an entire library of information on issues of importance to their organizations.

PWV will include a number of specialized tools such as forms and legislation, articles and news, frequently asked questions, a moderated discussion platform, links to other important sites and key learning modules.

The website (and eventual CD-ROM version) uses videos, transcripts, questions and answers as well as informational pieces to spread the message. The project is a collaboration between CCOHS, Triune Productions Inc. and Random Access Multimedia. Funding for the first phase came from the National Crime Prevention Centre, Business Action Program, Department of Justice Canada.

A prototype, with access to a limited number of topics, is available online. Visitors can play an important role in the development of the final product by providing feedback on the site in an evaluation form, available on the website. Ultimately, PWV will provide both free information and services to the public and fee-based training.

The full, final version is anticipated to be ready in 2004.

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Faster, friendlier searching for CCOHS clients

What do a Librarian, an Industrial Hygienist, a Safety Manager and a Human Resources Manager all have in common? They are all classic "client types" that CCOHS studied in order to transform our CCINFOweb into the new Web Information Service. These "typical clients" opened our eyes to the unique ways people look for information on our website and how we could provide more value to them. The results, coming this September:

  • Easier, more comprehensive searching across all databases that still ranks by relevance,
  • A friendlier search results page
  • User-oriented improvements to the databases, including a special tool to mark and file the most pertinent articles and records

Start from the beginning

Our new Web Information Service Page shows the array of searchable collections. Unlike our previous service, we recommend you start searches from this page. This will let you know in one step which of our web collections offers pertinent information. So, even if you don't subscribe to all our collections, you will be able to view the titles on the Search Results for every resource found. (You still need a subscription to view the actual Database Records or Legislation Documents.) From this page you may also choose to search a single collection only by clicking directly on the link - e.g. OSH References.


We have changed the way searching works to make it user-friendlier. You can now use one or more words or use quotes to find a complete phrase like "indoor air quality". Also, instead of searching just one field (like chemical name) you will be searching the entire database record or legislation document. While this may generate more results, the most relevant results will always be near the top of your Search Results page. Advanced searching of both databases and database collections will also be available and will allow field-specific searches.

Other searching features include automatic stemming of words - so when you type in the word inspect - you will get other word forms automatically like inspections and inspecting.

Also included:

  • Wildcard capability
  • Boolean searches
  • Find terms NEAR each other
  • Find terms within the same SENTENCE
  • Allowance for misspellings with the TYPO operators

Search Results

Our new Search Results page is designed to give you easy access to results on your search topic - wherever they are on our service. You can find results in Collections (tabs across the top) and to Databases within that Collection (tabs on the side bar). From this page you can also:

  • Mark database records and put them in your Marked Record folder (available while you search)
  • Sort database results using the Score header or other headers
  • Modify the search strategy and generate new Search Results

Database Records

  • A Contents feature allows you to re-display the database record to show only selected sections for viewing
  • A Highlight feature highlights search terms in your database records
  • A Help feature displays "small balloon help" or links to information for various database fields

Marking Records

A special tool has been created to help you keep track of the best articles and records. You can "mark" records and they will be added to a special folder called Marked Records. These records will be available as long as you are on our system (during a single browser session). You can choose to print or save all your marked records, unmark records, clear all marked records and mix records from different Web Collections.

A Public Beta Test is planned for this August. Check it out at and let us know what you think.

The Health and Safety Report, a free monthly newsletter produced by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), provides information, advice, and resources that help support a safe and healthy work environment and the total well being of workers.

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