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>Health & Safety Report

Volume 2, Issue 6 - June 2004

In the News
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Too Much Of A Good Thing - The Hazards Of Summer Heat

The human body is usually good at maintaining its ideal temperature of 37°C. At any time of year and in various circumstances, the body produces heat from muscle use and prevents overheating by sweating. In extreme temperatures however, when the air is as hot or hotter than the body, the cooling mechanisms don’t work. When the body can no longer cool itself properly, a number of heat-related health problems may occur.

Heat stroke and heat exhaustion are the most serious health illnesses caused by hot environments, and a real danger to people who work outside in the summer. Without immediate medical attention, heat stroke can be fatal. In previous years, people have died at work of heat stroke in occupations ranging from agriculture workers to football players. Heat exhaustion and fainting are other less harmful heat-related health risks that can cause temporary illness.

Know the warning signs Heat stroke victims usually don’t recognize their own symptoms. Their survival therefore depends on their co-workers’ abilities to detect symptoms and seek first aid and medical help immediately.

While the symptoms vary from person to person, they include dry, hot skin (due to failure to sweat), a body temperature often exceeding 41°C, and complete or partial loss of consciousness.

Signs of heat exhaustion (caused by loss of body water through excessive sweating) include heavy sweating, weakness, dizziness, visual disturbances, intense thirst, nausea, headache, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle cramps, breathlessness, palpitations, tingling and numbness of the hands and feet.

How to prevent health problems from overheating

Avoid sun exposure: Move some tasks indoors or into the shade. When that’s not possible, erect a temporary shelter. Take frequent breaks in a cool or well-ventilated area to get out of the sun and heat.

Don’t be afraid to sweat: Sweating is the body’s most effective cooling mechanism. The cooling occurs as sweat evaporates. In some cases a fan can be used to move cool air into a room and help keep body temperatures down.

Become acclimatized: Don’t take on strenuous activities too soon if you’re not accustomed to the heat. It can take six to seven days for the body to fully adapt (or acclimatize) to a new thermal environment. Ease into your tasks gradually, taking frequent breaks from the heat as needed. It is advisable to assign about half of the normal workload to new employees or those back from vacations or illnesses on the first day of work and gradually increase day by day.

Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water - frequently (equivalent of about one litre every hour) - in hot weather conditions whether you feel thirsty or not to replace the fluid loss. Avoid consuming caffeine and alcohol, which can dehydrate you.

Clothing: For protection from the sun and heat when working outside, cover up as much as possible with loose-fitting clothes made of a light fabric that “breathes”. When you work in the sun without a shirt or hat, the sun dries your sweat too quickly and prevents it from cooling the body. Clothes give sweat a chance to cool the body, and help protect the skin from the sun’s harmful rays.

Emergency Action Plan: An emergency plan should include procedures for providing affected workers with first aid and medical care. Workplaces where heat stress can occur should monitor conditions and ensure that workers get specified rest periods dependent on the measured heat levels. The Threshold Limit Values for Heat Stress and Strain, produced by the ACGIH (American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists) offers guidelines to determine when the weather should have no effect on outdoor workers, when caution should be exercised and when work should be discontinued.

Health effects of heat stress from CCOHS

Provincial regulations concerning heat

Heat stress for outdoor workers (Health Canada – Farm Family Health)

Hazard Alerts
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Human versus machine - how to avoid injury from mechanical, moving parts

There was a time, long ago, when the term “hard labour” meant heavy, backbreaking work that had to be done by humans. With the age of automation came ingenious, labour-saving machines in factories, sawmills and other industrial workplaces, freeing the worker to work more comfortably and safely.

Unfortunately, those very machines that are designed to help workers can also seriously injure or kill them. Each year, workers lose limbs and lives because of a lack of instruction on how to work safely with machinery, or because protective measures such as lockout and guarding weren’t taken.

Here are just a few examples of recent workplace accidents involving conveyors:

In a bakery, a worker was working on the bread line when he noticed that dough balls were sticking at the in-feed chute of the overhead proofer. He removed a cover panel on the proofer without turning off the power to the machine. He then reached through the pinch point of the conveyor chain and the drive sprocket. His arm was caught, resulting in broken bones and severe cuts.

In three separate accidents involving conveyors in sawmills, one worker had a leg amputated, one young worker lost his arm, and another worker’s hand was broken.

In a fish processing plant, a worker’s glove was caught on the moving belt conveyor, resulting in cuts when his hand was drawn into a shear point.

A worker was removing debris from the tail drum of a chain conveyor in a rubber recycling plant. When the conveyor was started from the control station, the worker’s foot was pulled around the tail drum, resulting in crushing injuries to the leg and foot.

Safe work practices to prevent accidents and injuries involving conveyors

  • Make sure that workers who work near conveyors receive training and safe work procedures that include clearing debris and lockout.
  • Do not remove guarding, such as panels that protect workers, from moving parts while the machinery is in operation.
  • On conveyors, install guards or devices to prevent inadvertent contact with pinch points.
  • Do not wear loose clothing or jewellery when working near machinery.
  • Shut down and lock out moving parts before servicing or cleaning machinery or doing maintenance and repairs. To clear jams, use a tool – not your hand!

OSH Answers
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West Nile Makes Tiny Critters Giant Pests

While mosquitoes may be mere nuisances, West Nile, the disease that they carry – is a serious health hazard. At the very least it’s an extra reason to cover up and protect ourselves with bug spray before treading into mosquito zones at work, in the backyard or at the cottage.

A relative newcomer to North America, West Nile is a virus commonly found in humans, birds and other animals in Africa, Eastern Europe, West Asia and the Middle East. Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on infected birds. Humans can contract West Nile from the bite of an infected mosquito.

The symptoms of West Nile virus infection usually begin three to 15 days following the mosquito bite. Most infections are mild and cause no symptoms at all. In some cases, however, people may experience flu-like symptoms, such as fever, headaches, and body aches. Some may also develop skin rashes and swollen lymph glands. Doctors use blood tests to confirm West Nile infection.

The elderly and people with weak immune systems may develop a more severe infection that affects the brain (encephalitis) or the lining of the brain or spinal cord (meningitis). In these cases, possible symptoms include headache, high fever, neck stiffness, vomiting, disorientation, muscle weakness, coma, and in some cases, death.

Recent findings on the West Nile virus:

  • There have been confirmed cases of West Nile virus transmission through blood transfusions and organ transplants.
  • Pregnant women can pass the virus to their babies. Breast milk is one possible form of transmission.
  • Laboratory workers can get the West Nile virus through needle stick injuries.
  • Some people with serious symptoms and health effects recover completely from West Nile. Others experience prolonged health problems, such as muscle weakness, fatigue and headache, confusion, depression, problems with concentration and memory loss.

The better news:

  • There have been no indications that the West Nile virus is transmitted from person-to- person contact.
  • No person has contracted the virus from handling infected birds or other animals, however it’s still a good idea to avoid barehanded contact with dead animals. If you must handle a dead bird, wear gloves and double-bag the bird. Thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water afterward.

Persons whose occupation may place them at risk for West Nile virus infection include:

  • Outdoors workers
  • People involved in collecting dead birds
  • Veterinarians
  • Laboratory workers

How to protect yourself from the West Nile virus
An important preventive step is to stop mosquitoes from breeding where you live, work and play. The best way is to eliminate stagnate water on pool covers, in birdbaths or other containers. Cover groundwater barrels, change bird bath water twice a week, and chlorinate the water in swimming pools or ornamental ponds.

Other precautions:

  • Stay indoors during peak mosquito biting times — dawn, dusk and early evening.
  • If you are outdoors at these times, wear light-coloured (less attractive to mosquitoes), long sleeved shirts and long pants. Spray clothing with insect repellent containing DEET to prevent mosquitoes from biting through thin clothing.
  • When using insect repellant, always read the entire label and follow the directions.

More from CCOHS’ OSH Answers

West Nile Virus Fact Sheet, Health Canada

Partner News
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Newfoundland and Labrador Launch Safe Work Campaign

Just as the “Don’t drink and drive” message is well ingrained in everyone’s consciousness these days, a public education campaign in Newfoundland and Labrador is aiming to achieve the same consciousness towards workplace health and safety.

The Workplace Health and Safety Compensation Commission of Newfoundland and Labrador has launched a major public education campaign called SAFE WORK.

The goal of the campaign is to prevent workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths, and to change people's attitudes and behaviors when it comes to safety in the province.

“Similar to how drinking and driving is no longer acceptable, our goal is to foster a culture whereby workplace accidents are also unacceptable.” said Ann Marie Hann, Commission CEO.

The campaign will dovetail with existing Commission prevention initiatives and features the following easy-to-remember slogan “SAFE” as an acronym for:

Spot the hazard.
Assess the risk.
Find a safer way.
Every day.

The Commission intends to broadcast this simple but critical prevention message wherever people might see or hear it — on television, on the radio, and in print advertising, to promote safety at work and in all walks of life.

Joan Burke, the Minister responsible for the Commission, stresses the importance of safety becoming a priority for all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. “Workplace injuries have a ripple effect, and their toll can extend far beyond productivity and economics,” she says. “When a worker is injured, it affects colleagues, family, the community and our province as a whole.”

Phase One of the campaign will focus on raising public awareness of accident prevention — a reminder that accident prevention is everyone’s responsibility, in every aspect of life.

Phase Two will continue to reinforce the prevention message, but with a focus on soft-tissue injuries which account for nearly 59 percent of all workplace injuries in the province. From 1999 to 2003, more than 18,000 lost-time injuries occurred in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The SAFE WORK campaign follows other recent efforts by the Commission to promote occupational safety. In the Fall of 2001, the Commission set a new direction for health and safety training in Newfoundland and Labrador by developing the Occupational Health and Safety Certification Training Program. Since that time, the Commission has approved more than 100 training providers and 150 trainers, and issued more than 12,000 safety training certificates to workers and managers. It’s a good start towards improving the safety culture of everyone in the province - a necessary next step for long-term results.

As the Board’s Chairperson J. Wayne Trask says, “The driving force behind this campaign is that lives can be saved. If one life is saved, if accidents are prevented, or if worksites across the province are safer, we have done our job.”

CCOHS News
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Occupational disease forum a healthy start

Occupational diseases cause hundreds of deaths in Canada each year and pain and disabling illnesses to many thousands more. Occupational diseases are caused by a wide range of workplace factors, such as exposure to asbestos, silica, pesticides, beryllium, as well as to infectious agents or other workplace hazards.

Despite the fact that occupational diseases have such an important human and economic impact on Canadians, they continue to be under-recognized as an important workplace issue. Statistics are difficult to collect as many workers and their physicians are unaware of the connection between the workplace and disease. Compensation statistics may reflect only a fraction of the cases occurring annually through this lack of recognition. In a survey of a cross-section of workplace health and safety stakeholders, occupational disease was identified as an important area for discussion and development.

On March 3-4, 2005, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) is hosting a national event in Toronto to focus attention on this important issue, "New Strategies for Recognizing and Preventing Occupational Diseases: The Canadian Forum on Occupational Health and Safety". This pan-Canadian forum will not only bring together government, employer and labour representatives – it is also an opportunity for researchers, health and safety practitioners, healthcare personnel, workplace representatives, and others to share ideas, discuss how to improve recognition of occupational diseases, and recommend strategies to prevent disease and control exposures to hazardous agents.

Topics on the agenda include work-related neurological and respiratory illnesses, cancers, infectious diseases, as well as musculoskeletal and stress-related disorders. Leading experts in a variety of occupational disease fields will share their expertise and discuss:

  • Canadian occupational disease recognition and compensation
  • International developments, such as stress as an occupational disease
  • Emerging occupational diseases of the 21st century
  • Lessons learned from SARS as a workplace occupational disease

In addition there will be a "Mock Judicial Inquiry", workshops on recognition, prevention and control strategies, plus a tripartite – government, employer and labour lead panel that will discuss where Canada should be moving to identify knowledge gaps and goals for the future to focus our efforts.

Finally, CCOHS will invite all Canadians to participate by providing feedback to a National Forum website which will share ideas and recommendations.

CCOHS and its partners anticipate a successful, worthwhile symposium next March 2005 and invite anyone with an interest in occupational disease to attend.




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