Hand-Washing: The Ten-Second Safety Sensation
Simply taking a moment to wash your hands can keep you and other people safe from the common cold, the flu, and gastrointestinal disorders. The spread of germs - a general term used for viruses, bacteria and other microbes - is an invisible but very real health hazard that happens rapidly, and unwashed hands are primary culprits.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hand washing is the most important way to prevent infection. It's a solution that's so simple, it sometimes gets overlooked.
In the wake of a health scare, such as Toronto's SARS outbreak, there's often a heightened awareness of health precautions such as hand washing. In August of 2003, the American Society of Microbiology conducted a survey on hand washing in airport bathrooms. Their findings revealed that as many as 30 percent of people observed in five major American Cities didn't wash their hands after using the bathroom. The survey also observed patrons at the Toronto airport who, in contrast, washed almost every time - a fact attributed to the greater awareness of hand washing brought about by SARS.
Hands can easily become contaminated with disease-causing germs, and pass them along just as easily. Five of the most common scenarios for the transmission of germs, according to the CDC, are "hands to food," "infected infant to hands to other children," "food to hands to food," "nose, mouth or eyes to hands to others," and "food to hands to infants."
We risk picking up germs whenever we use a washroom or change a baby's diaper. We are also at risk every time we eat, cook, drink, smoke, handle raw meat, handle garbage, visit someone who's sick, handle animals or blow our noses.
In the workplace, the spread of infectious diseases can be significantly reduced if everyone gets into the routine of washing their hands, especially after using the washroom. That means lathering up with soap and running water for a minimum of 10 seconds, or longer if the hands are visibly soiled.
Hazards On Land And Sea Claim Workers' Lives
Every unit in a tally of workplace accident statistics represents an individual whose life was affected, or ended unnecessarily, by hazards in the workplace. The recent deaths of two Canadian workers, like all other occupational fatalities, could have been prevented.
A man working at a golf course in British Columbia was using a hand-held, 5-inch angle grinder on a wrought iron gate. When the abrasive wheel broke, pieces flew off and one piece cut into the worker's thigh, severing a large artery. The worker collapsed from the blood loss and later died.
A subsequent investigation found that the abrasive wheel that broke was rated for a maximum of 6,110 rpm but the angle grinder was rated at 10,000 rpm. It also found that the abrasive wheel was larger than 5 inches in diameter, preventing the installation of the guard provided with the grinder.
The Workers' Compensation Board of BC has published an alert to reinforce the importance of matching the abrasive wheel to the diameter and speed rating of the grinder, as well as ensuring that machine guards are in place and that workers receive adequate training and wear adequate personal protective equipment and apparel.
Another tragic loss occurred when a ship's captain in New Brunswick, contracted to repair equipment on a salmon cage site, drowned. The deceased was not wearing a life jacket or Personal Flotation Device (PFD).
A man with more than 10 years experience with this type of work, he was familiar with the waters in the area and had worked alone that day, as was the custom for workers repairing equipment at cage sites.
An investigation by the Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission revealed that although the deceased had not been wearing a PFD, there were PFDs stored on the vessel. No emergency process of communication or notification was in place. The WHSCC's hazard alert cites a regulation under the province's Occupational Health and Safety Act that requires employers to establish of Code of Practice for employees who work alone. This should take into account any workplace hazards, the time between communications, and an emergency response plan. These and other safe work practices may have saved the sea captain's life.
The Medical Conundrum of Occupational Disease
Doctors are experts in diagnosing and treating diseases. It's what they do, and breakthrough advances in medicine continually support their work. With occupational disease however, there are many factors that can make recognition difficult.
Occupational disease can be defined generally as disease or disorders as a result of the nature of work, or caused by exposure to hazardous substances in the workplace. They can take many forms - for example: chronic lung disease from years of inhaling silica dust in a mine; cancer from exposure to various, difficult-to-pinpoint toxic substances in the workplace; Hepatitis B, contracted by a healthcare worker while tending to a patient who is infected.
Although it is generally recognized that occupational hazards can cause health problems in workers, there are challenges that can make it difficult to establish exactly if and what in the workplace is the source of illness in a person. Once the source has been identified, measures can be developed and taken to prevent and protect people from disease at work.
Occupational diseases can be difficult to diagnose
Without an understanding of the complex and varied hazards that exist in the workplace, doctors may not recognize a patient's work as a potential cause of his or her symptoms. One of the difficulties is that there could be many possible sources of disease within an occupation, and workers can be exposed to more than one agent simultaneously, or over a period of time. For example, workers in foundries may be exposed to any number of hazards such as heat stress, noise, carbon monoxide, metal fumes and respiratory irritants. In addition, factors such as therapeutic drugs, cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption and pre-existing health problems may influence a person's susceptibility to occupational disease. There is much to be learned to fully understand the impact of multiple exposures from both workplaces and the environment.
Reporting and data collection
In Canada, there is no systematic collection and reporting of occupational disease information, making statistical data scarce - data that could be analysed to show new associations between work and disease. Many occupational diseases are hidden in our general mortality statistics and hospital data on chronic diseases. This means that the occupational causes for some diseases may not be documented through clinical and laboratory observations and thereby not addressed from a prevention standpoint.
Some people get sick only years after leaving a job
While there are occupational diseases that are caused by exposure periods of less than five or even one year(s), the onset of other diseases, such as cancer, may not occur for twenty years, or even long after the exposure has ended. This time lag can add another layer of complexity in recognition of occupational disease.
In addition, people often have many different jobs and or careers in their lifetime, and can therefore experience many types of exposures, making it difficult to establish a connection between the employment and the illness.
Not all associated hazards are job-related
Some diseases have both occupational and non-occupational causes, making it difficult to determine which ailments are caused by which exposures. Lung cancer caused by asbestos exposure is no different from lung cancer caused by cigarette smoking. A comparison of a thorough work history with the clinical findings is required in order to establish if a disease is caused by or linked to occupational factors.
The goal of improved recognition is to prevent occupational disease from occurring in the first place.
Occupational disease in the limelight
A special forum, New Strategies for Recognizing and Preventing Occupational Disease, will address these very challenges in 2005. Presented by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), the forum will be held in Toronto on March 3 & 4, 2005.
This first event of its kind will bring together government, employer and labour representatives. It will also provide an opportunity for researchers, health and safety practitioners, healthcare personnel, and others to exchange ideas, discuss how to improve recognition of occupational diseases, and recommend strategies to prevent disease and control exposures to hazardous agents.
BC Program to Nip Forestry Accidents in the Bud
Tree fallers have one of the most dangerous jobs in BC's forests. As of this November, a new forestry safety initiative is addressing the problem by mandating that forestry workers be certified under rigorous industry standards. With the introduction of the BC Faller Training Standard and Certification Program, an estimated 4000 BC fallers will require certification by July 31, 2005.
According to statistics from the Workers' Compensation Board of British Columbia, 26 fallers in the province died from work-related causes between 1998 and 2003, and more than 1,400 were injured on the job.
The BC Faller Certification Program is part of the newly formed BC Forest Safety Council's program to eliminate fatal and serious injuries in the BC forest sector. The Council, which represents all major forestry organizations and the Steelworkers-IWA has partnered with the Workers' Compensation Board to make the Faller Certification Program a priority, and is moving ahead to implement it as quickly as possible.
This Program has been several years in the making and marks a significant milestone for the forest industry. Designed by representatives from industry, labour and the WCB, it focuses on the knowledge, skills and abilities a faller requires to work safely.
The Council is optimistic that the Faller Certification Program will have a significant impact on the injury rate of fallers and help keep them safe on the job.
The deadline for experienced fallers to be certified is July 31, 2005, and the cost of certification will rise as that date approaches. Beginning in 2005, new fallers will have to undergo a comprehensive training program in order to become certified. Fallers who are already certified will be required to renew their certifications on a routine basis.
For individuals considering a career in falling, training courses approved by the Council and the WCB will be available in the New Year. This comprehensive training is based on a new falling training standard developed jointly by the forest industry, the Steelworkers-IWA and the WCB.
CCOHS Strengthening Costa Rican Health and Safety Education
Costa Rica is a small, progressive country in the heart of Central America. They focus on improving communities and social development and have surpassed most other Central American countries in efforts to develop both strong and universally accessible education and health systems.
Costa Rican officials are striving for further improvements in reducing work-related injuries and fatalities. They realized that fostering a safety attitude at home, or during travel and recreational activities would be a further benefit to communities at large.
They contacted Canada with an idea: "Could we collaborate to develop a health and safety curricula for primary school children?" Costa Rican officials see educating youth as a way of forging a new safety culture across the country. Canada has, of course, made efforts to integrate health and safety education into its school curriculum in many parts of the country.
As a result, a special project was undertaken between Canada and Costa Rica through the work of the Office of Inter-American Labour Co-operation in Ottawa. Through their co-ordination, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) met, helped set strategies, and worked alongside two Costa Rican groups: the Labour Ministry's Council for Occupational Health and the National Ministry of Education. The goal was to develop a teacher's training resource manual for primary schools that promotes health and safety education and supports the existing related cross-curricular themes in this area.
The project was initiated with introductory meetings in May 2004 at which the team membership, responsibilities and capabilities were identified. Project development as a team occurred over two weeks during the mid-summer (rainy season) in San Josť, the capital of Costa Rica. With input from education specialists and CCOHS, draft materials prepared by the Council for Occupational Health were further developed and enhanced, training exercises and teaching tools were created, and images and exercises were designed. All of these efforts occurred using simultaneous translation during meetings. The manual was created directly in Spanish.
CCOHS specialists who had developed health and safety curriculum previously on different projects in Canadian settings quickly recognized that culture and environment made for some interesting differences between Costa Rica and Canada teaching objectives.
"Costa Rican education and workplace health specialists really took a big picture approach to health and safety. Educating youth about choking on foods or what to do during natural disasters was as important as home product safety and the impact of organization on work," said Jan Chappel, one of the workplace safety specialists from CCOHS.
Currently several dozen schools across Costa Rica are testing the teaching manual, the theme of which, Forging a Culture of Prevention and Safety, recognizes the goal of the project. The Education and Labour Ministries plan to fully release the manual countrywide once feedback and suggestions are received and integrated. CCOHS was proud to participate in this collaborative achievement to help promote a safety culture in Costa Rica.
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.
© 2013, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety