In the News
When we age, our minds and bodies are never as strong, sharp or nimble as when we were young. With the large number of 'baby boomers' now aging, the average working age will raise to 41 by the year 2008, up from 35 in 1980. This means workplaces must adapt by providing a work environment and workplace practices that accommodate older workers' needs, and help keep them safe and free from injury.
Today's older population, besides experiencing the personal and health issues that can come with age, have started facing additional challenges, including increased family responsibilities as they care for their families, spouses and elderly parents.
What happens when we age?
Our bodies are always changing. We reach full physical maturity or development at around the age of 25. Then, after a period of relative stability, our bodies begin to show signs of aging. We first notice most of these changes at ages 40 or 50, but changes can begin as early as age 20 or 25.
As we age, the body loses some range of motion and flexibility. In general, we may find it harder to maintain good posture and balance. We can't regulate sleep as well as when we were younger, and our bodies are less able to tolerate heat or cold. Both our vision and hearing change with age. We may work slower and not think as quickly as we once did, however, we often tend to be more accurate in our work and make more correct decisions than faster, younger co-workers. As workers in our 40s or 50s we may be able to perform the same tasks as younger workers can, but we may be working closer to our maximum level.
On another note, studies report that older workers generally have lower turnover, more dedication to the workplace, and positive work values. Older workers tend to have fewer accidents, but when they do get injured, their injuries are often more severe and may take longer to heal. This underlines the importance of preventing illness and injury in the first place.
Younger workers generally sustain more eye or hand injuries, while older workers who have been working for many years report more back injuries. Needless to say, a well-designed workplace benefits everyone, and workstations and job tasks that are matched to the needs of the individual employee are always best. Different conditions for different workers may be needed to meet the needs of any employee, not just one that is older.
Measures Can Be Taken to Accommodate an Older Workforce
To accommodate older workers' needs and help them better balance their responsibilities at work and at home, workplaces could offer:
- flexible hours in the form of reduced, compressed or extended work weeks;
- the option of job sharing, part-time work, or self-funded leaves;
- the option of working from home.
Adapt the work environment to better meet the needs and comfort levels of older workers by considering the lighting, heat, and ergonomics. Show flexibility in re-organizing tasks and re-designing jobs to help older workers work safely and comfortably.
When anyone, regardless of age, is pushed to work harder than they safely can, there is a risk for injury. Because older workers tend to have more severe injuries when they do happen, it's important to make adjustments to work stations or work patterns to make them as safe as possible. It's also important to make sure a person is suited for a particular task and is safely able to do it.
Stimulate employees' interests and creativity in their work by broadening the range of work experience. Workplaces can draw on employees' years of experience by encouraging them to mentor younger workers or facilitate training of other older workers.
Workplace wellness programs that give workers access to services such as Employee Assistance, fitness, and nutrition programs, have become very popular in recent years and will become increasingly important, as workers (and all of us) get older.
The workforce is aging. With an understanding of the accompanying issues and challenges, everyone stands to benefit. Employers, by being proactive in adapting the workplace to accommodate the changing needs of their older workers, will have a potentially solid, experienced, dedicated pool of employees, and the workers will have a work environment that embraces and meets their needs, to enable them to be comfortable and safe at work.
Recent incidents in two very different workplaces have brought to light two very real occupational hazards. Occupational health and safety authorities are urging Canada's workers to beware of bears and exploding tires!
Not all workers have faced dangers of the four-legged variety, but those who work in the great outdoors should know the risks of encountering wildlife. Last year, three workers at a mine in the Northwest Territories were attacked by a grizzly bear. One of them was seriously injured and required extensive medical treatment.
The Workers' Compensation Board of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut has issued a hazard alert to warn all workers and employers that bears can be a serious occupational hazard. Grizzly and black bears are often found near mine and exploration sites throughout most of the NWT and Nunavut. Polar bears are normally found near the coasts and the High Arctic.
Employers in any industry, in all parts of Canada, are required to take all reasonable precautions and adopt all reasonable techniques and procedures to ensure the health and safety of every person in his or her establishment. This includes workplaces where there is a possibility of workers encountering a bear. In the Northwest Territories, the Mine Health and Safety Regulations require employers to protect workers' safety by developing and implementing a bear safety program. Contact the WCB Safety division for detailed information about bears, how to avoid them or control them, how to survive a bear attack, and other camp safety guidelines.
The Alberta Forest Products Association has issued a hazard alert after an incident that caused property damage and could have seriously injured a worker if anyone had been present at the time.
During a scheduled post trip inspection of a logging truck, the driver of the unit identified a bulge on a tire. A Heavy Duty Mechanic on shift inspected the tire and decided to remove and replace it with a tire in good condition. Once this was completed, the damaged tire and rim were rolled to the neighbouring shop bay and placed, bulge side down, on the floor by the tire repair area.
While resting there, untouched, the tire exploded. The exploding tire broke a fluorescent dual tube light assembly 10 feet above floor level, and cleared work tools and parts off a nearby workbench. Fortunately, no worker was in the area.
An investigation revealed that the 4" by 2" bulge in the sidewall of the tire, as well as inadequate procedures for dealing with it, were the root causes of the incident. It further revealed that a boot had been used on the inside sidewall of the rethreaded tire; that the shop area where the tire had been placed, bulge side down, is heated via in-floor heat; and that the outside temperature at the time of the explosion was approximately -15 C.
When tire pressure is approximately 100 psi (as this one was) and the air in the tire is warmed, the air will expand, causing even greater air pressure in the tire. If the tire is warmed to a temperature of 20 C, the pressure in the tire could be as much as 112.5 psi.
To prevent tires from exploding, the Alberta Forest Products Association recommends that employees be authorized and trained in servicing and repairs of wheel and rim assemblies. They should wear appropriate personal protective equipment and stay out of the direct line of escaping air. Before removing a tire from a vehicle, workers should deflate the tire by removing the valve core and draining it through the stem. The tire should be rendered unusable once it has been demounted.
MRSA stands for Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus. MRSA has become an increasingly common cause of disease in Canada since the first outbreak reported in 1981. The common bacterium staphylococcus aureus (SA), sometimes referred to simply as "staph", can live harmlessly on the skin but if it gets into the body it can cause a minor infection such as boils or pimples, or a serious infection such as pneumonia or an infection of the blood.
Methicillin (a type of penicillin) is an antibiotic drug that is commonly used to treat staph infections and is, in most cases, very effective. Some staph bacteria, unfortunately, have developed a resistance to methicillin and can no longer be killed by this antibiotic. The resistant bacteria are called methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. It's all about survival of the fittest! How many of us have ignored the doctor's advice to always to finish the entire course of antibiotics, even if we start to feel better? When we don't finish the course, there's a chance that even though most of the bugs will be killed, the ones that survive are likely to be those that are most resistant to antibiotics.
MRSA rarely infects healthy people. It usually infects hospital patients who are elderly or very ill, or people who have had frequent, long-term, or intensive use of antibiotics. Intravenous drug users and persons with long-term illnesses or who are immuno-suppressed are also at increased risk. The infection can develop in an open wound such as a bedsore or when there is a tube such as a urinary catheter that enters the body.
The skin will appear red and inflamed around wound sites. Symptoms in serious cases may include fever, lethargy, and headache. MRSA can cause urinary tract infections, pneumonia, toxic shock syndrome, and even death.
MRSA is usually spread through physical contact. If you are a healthcare worker, you should use standard infection control precautions. Never touch blood, body fluids and contaminated items without wearing gloves. Wash your hands immediately after removing your gloves, between patient contacts and between tasks and procedures. Wear a gown, as well as a mask and face shield, during procedures that are likely to generate splashes or droplets of blood and body fluids. Always properly clean, disinfect and sterilize patient care equipment to limit the transmission of organisms. And when you handle, transport, and process used linen soiled with blood or body fluids, be careful to avoid skin exposure, contamination of clothing and transfer of microorganisms to other patients.
Good things come in nano packages. You might not be aware of the goods produced by the nanotechnology industry - they're easy to miss because they're microscopic - but it's an industry that's growing and thriving. Manufacturers of khakis, ties and dress shirts treat their fabrics with "nano-whiskers" to ward off stains. The creators of certain sunscreens use nanoparticles, which absorb ultra-violet light more effectively than other sunscreens, spread more easily and cover better. The ability to control or manipulate structures, devices and systems on the atomic scale is changing the face of industry.
Occupational health and safety authorities are keeping an eye on this cutting-edge field to assess health and safety risks it may pose for workers. In Quebec, the Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail (IRSST) recently joined forces with NanoQuébec, a not-for-profit corporation involved in the structuring and planning effort in nanotechnology in Québec. The organizations are partnering to develop and disseminate knowledge with the aim of preventing accidents and occupational diseases in the nanotechnology field, even before this technology has reached it full development potential.
Nanotechnology is a relatively new field of study for occupational health and safety experts. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in the U.S. is currently conducting research to find more about the effects on the worker working in nanotechnology-related industries.
- Are workers exposed to nanomaterials (and if so, how much) in the manufacture and use of nanomaterials?
- Are there potential adverse health effects of working with nanomaterials?
- What work practices, personal protective equipment, and engineering controls are available; and how effective they are for controlling exposures to nanomaterials?
Nanomaterials that can be inhaled or ingested or can penetrate the skin will likely raise questions of potential health effects. Processes that lead to airborne nanometer-diameter particles, respirable nanostructured particles (typically smaller than 4 micrometers) and respirable droplets of nanomaterial suspensions, solutions and slurries are of particular concern for potential inhalation exposures.
Workers within nanotechnology-related industries have the potential to be exposed to uniquely engineered materials with novel sizes, shapes and physical and chemical properties, at levels far exceeding ambient concentrations. There is no conclusive data yet, however, on how engineered nanoparticles may affect a worker's health.
The IRSST and NanoQuébec will begin by collaborating on developing a good practices guide. They are also considering a review of the literature on health and safety risks, as well as the establishment of a nanomaterial strategic watch mechanism. The partnership agreement also provides for the dissemination of knowledge to companies, researchers and other stakeholders interested in nanotechnology-related applications.
What immediately comes to mind when you think of Human Resources, also referred to as HR?
For many of us, HR is associated with hiring, firing, and paycheque issues. But for some Human Resources professionals, these job responsibilities represent only the tip of the iceberg. The range of issues and responsibilities they deal with are broad and often complex. They may include everything from developing workplace policies to developing skills in their employees, as well as ensuring that programs are in place to keep those same people safe and healthy at work.
The managers, specialists and coordinators in Human Resources have a unique vantage point within the organization. They know the workplace, the employees, and their job demands. While they are not always expected to know the technical aspects of workplace health and safety, they have an important role to play in the development and implementation of health and safety policy and programs. In order to meet their health and safety responsibilities, the HR staff must:
- Understand the health and safety responsibilities of employers, managers, supervisors and employees within the organization;
- Develop and implement human resources management policies to ensure that everyone in the workplace is aware of his/her responsibilities;
- Establish effective ways of meeting health and safety responsibilities; and
- Ensure that the employer, managers, supervisors and employees fulfill their health and safety responsibilities as outlined in the organizational policies and programs.
Help is Here!
Health and Safety Guide for Human Resources Professionals, published by CCOHS, is an essential pocket-sized handbook packed full of practical information. Written in non-technical, plain language, the 150-page pocket guide is designed to assist human resources professionals in fulfilling their occupational health and safety responsibilities effectively, and according to the applicable health and safety legislation.
The guide covers all aspects of integrating workplace health and safety in human resources management practices, including:
- Preventing work related injuries and illnesses;
- Fostering a workplace safety culture in which employees and their supervisors work together
- Establishing administrative procedures that encourage employees to report unsafe conditions and unsafe practices without fear of being disciplined;
- Ensuring that the health and safety policies and procedures conform with the applicable occupational health and safety legislation and accepted best practices in similar organizations;
- Establishing procedures for enforcing company safety rules;
- Maintaining records of injuries, illnesses and workers' compensation;
- Coordinating first aid training and the provision of first aid to employees;
- Providing advice to employees and the employer in matters of occupational health and safety.
Have an Idea for a New Guide?
CCOHS is always looking to develop new guides that meet the needs of the Canadians we serve. If you have a topic that would help meet your health and safety needs, feel free to pass your suggestion to our Client Services department: firstname.lastname@example.org
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© 2017, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
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