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>Health & Safety Report

Volume 4, Issue 3 - March 2006

In the News
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Not Just For The Birds

Avian influenza viruses do not usually infect people, but there have been over 140 human cases reported between 2004 and early 2006 in Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, China, Turkey, and Iraq. Most are reportedly the result of direct contact with infected poultry or contaminated surfaces.

Among the avian influenza viruses that have affected people, the subtype H5N1 has been associated with very serious illnesses and death. Because the virus is new to humans, we do not have a natural immunity to it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than half of people infected with the virus have died.

How does avian flu spread to humans?
Disease specialists believe that although rare, avian influenza in humans is mainly caused by contact with:

  • infected chickens or other birds,
  • manure and litter having high concentrations of avian virus,
  • contaminated surfaces, and
  • contact with contaminated vehicles, equipment, clothing and footwear at farms where there are infected birds.

Currently, the virus does not spread easily from birds to humans. However, there have been very rare cases when the avian virus has spread from one ill person to another, but the transmission has not been observed to go beyond one person.

Influenza viruses have the ability to change - a reality that has disease specialists concerned. This current virus may eventually gain the ability to spread between people easily.

The symptoms of the avian flu in humans are similar to those of other flu viruses, and may include fever, cough, aching muscles, sore throat, eye infections and serious respiratory infections, including pneumonia. There is currently no vaccine.

Health authorities believe it is only a matter of time before the next influenza pandemic - an epidemic over a wide geographical area - occurs. They are concerned with the H5N1 virus, in particular, for two reasons:

  1. Most people have not been exposed to an H5N1 virus, and if a human version of this virus develops, everyone will be susceptible to infection. No one will have immunity, and the virus will be able to spread rapidly. Traditionally, an influenza pandemic occurs when a new influenza A virus appears.
  2. The H5N1 avian strain is highly pathogenic (easily causes disease) which means that it can easily cause serious illness or death.

Origins
Avian influenza has been around for over 100 years. It was first reported as "fowl plague" in 1878, when it killed a large number of chickens in Italy.

Since mid-December 2003, several Asian countries have reported H5N1 activity in poultry and wild birds. The disease has since spread to Europe and Africa. Otherwise known as the "bird flu," it has been mainly that - a disease spread by direct contact between infected birds and healthy birds. Infected birds can contaminate equipment or materials, including water and feed, with their feces or secretions from the nose or mouth. People can spread the virus indirectly from farm to farm by carrying it on their clothing, boots, or vehicle wheels.

There are different types of flu viruses. Type A, the only type that causes the flu in birds, can also infect people, pigs, dogs, horses, seals, whales and mink. Type B is usually only found in humans and can cause human epidemics. Type C, which is usually found in pigs and dogs, causes only mild symptoms in humans.

The average influenza epidemic, as we have seen during most Canadian winters, affects five to twenty percent of the population. A severe influenza A epidemic could affect thirty to fifty percent of the population.

Precautions
The World Health Organisation (WHO) and other health authorities are working hard to contain each new influenza strain, with the goal of averting a pandemic. Health authorities agree that the most important step to reducing the chance of infection is to wash your hands regularly, always with soap and warm water. It is also helpful to cleanse other surfaces and equipment - anything shared by several people. Some surfaces that can harbour viruses, in descending order, include phone receivers, light switches, door knobs and toilet flush handles.

For many, international travel is part of their work. According to WHO, travellers to areas affected by avian influenza in birds are not considered to be at greater risk of infection unless they have direct, unprotected contact with infected birds (including feathers, feces and under-cooked meat and egg products). Avoid unnecessary contact with domestic poultry and wild birds. This includes poultry farms as well as markets where live, free-ranging or caged poultry and slaughtered animals such as chickens and ducks are sold. Simply put, WHO advises travellers to avoid contact with high-risk environments in affected countries.

The Public Health Agency of Canada recommends that Canadian travelers get an individual risk assessment from their doctor four to six weeks prior to international travel, to determine their individual health risks and their need for vaccination, preventative medication, and personal protective measures.

The Public Health Agency of Canada maintains updated information on avian flu

Click here for the OSH Answers on avian flu

Click here for the OSH Answers on hand washing

Read Canada's Pandemic Influenza Plan that addresses preparedness, response and recovery, as well as the general principles of emergency response

Hazard Alerts
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Zap Electrical Hazards

An experienced electrician in the U.S. mine was showing other workers how to use a cable fault tester. This device, also known as a "thumper," is capable of producing a high-energy pulse at voltages up to 10,000 V. During his demonstration, the man inadvertently touched a part of the test unit that was energized. Unfortunately, he was not wearing safety gloves suitable for high voltages. The man received a fatal electrical shock.

Another incident was reported in Alberta, where a young, healthy worker was seriously injured when his co-workers, in an act of horseplay, applied the leads of a megohmeter to his hands. Workers in the electrical industry sometimes use this method of "zapping" the hands of a worker - usually a first-year apprentice - as an initiation joke. This dangerous act is not worth the risk.

A megohmeter or "meggar" is an instrument used to measure the resistance of electrical insulation. It generates high voltages with a small current. During this incident, the electricity travelled from one hand of the worker to the other, passing through his heart. The worker was hospitalized and treated for symptoms similar to those of a heart attack victim. He was discharged from the hospital, but continued to have cardiac problems and was later re-admitted. His doctor confirmed that the condition was the result of the small electric current that had travelled through his heart. Follow-up with a cardiologist confirmed that a small current of a high voltage can result in heart problems.

Under occupational health and safety law, employers have a legal responsibility to ensure the health and safety of all workers, and workers are equally accountable for their own safety, and for the safety of their co-workers. This means taking all necessary precautions against workplace hazards.

For anyone working with electrical devices, the US Department of Labour's Mine Safety and Health Administration recommends these best practices:

  • No one should operate a high-voltage testing device except a qualified electrician, thoroughly trained in the use of that specific model of tester.
  • The operator must follow the manufacturer's instructions and keep the owner's manual with the device at all times.
  • When operating an electrical testing device such as a "thumper," always wear suitable high-voltage electrical gloves.
  • Before turning on an electrical testing unit, connect the provided frame-grounding cord/connectors to a proper grounding medium.
  • All workers should be informed that instruments that test and measure electricity are capable of storing and delivering a lethal electrical charge.
  • Store such devices in a secured location, accessible only to qualified, trained electricians.

Read the alert from the US Mine Safety and Health Administration

Read the bulletin from Work Safe Alberta

Read the OSH Answers - Basic Electrical Safety

Find out more about CCOHS' Electrical Hazards e-course

OSH Answers
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A Stand-Up Job

There is no single, ideal body position for working. The best position is a variety of positions, where the worker equally distributes loads on different parts of the body but causes no physical strain. The reality in many workplaces, however, is that workers often sit or stand for long periods of time. Any prolonged position can hurt your body, and standing is no exception.

Anyone whose job requires them to be planted on their feet for hours on end (salesperson, machine operator, assembly-line worker) can attest to the physical discomforts they may experience. These may include: sore feet, swelling of the legs, general muscular fatigue, low back pain, and stiffness in the neck and shoulders.

There are a variety of health problems that may be caused by prolonged and frequent standing. Without some relief by walking, blood may pool in the legs and feet. This can cause inflammation of the veins that may progress over time to painful varicose veins. Excessive standing also causes the joints in the spine, hips, knees and feet to become temporarily immobilized or locked. This immobility can later lead to rheumatic diseases due to degenerative damage to the tendons and ligaments.

If you are on your feet for a good part of the workday, you can reduce the ill effects on your posture. Ask yourself these questions:

Where do I stand?
Any stand-up workstation should be adjusted according to the worker's height, using elbow height as the guide. For example, precision work, such as writing or electronic assembly, requires a work surface that's 5 cm above elbow height; the worker's elbows should be supported. Light work, such as assembly-line or mechanical jobs, require a work surface that is 5 to 10 cm below elbow height. Heavy work, demanding downward forces, requires a surface that is 20 to 40 cm below elbow height.

How do I stand?
If you work in a standing position, always face what you're working on, keeping your body close to the work. Adjust the workspace so that you have enough space to change working position. Use a foot rail or portable footrest to shift your body weight from both legs to one or the other leg. Use a seat whenever possible while working, or at least during rest breaks. Avoid over-reaching behind or above the shoulder line, or beyond the point of what is comfortable. Instead of reaching, shift your feet to face the object.

If you must stand to work, take frequent rest breaks. Find ways to change position as much as possible while you work.

What am I standing on?
If your feet are not comfortable, nor are your legs, hips and back. The comfort of your feet depends largely on your footwear. Choose CSA-approved footwear with the proper ratings for the hazards in your workplace.

Your shoes should be as wide as your feet, leaving room to move your toes. They should have arch supports to prevent flattening of the feet, and a heel with a firm grip to prevent slipping. Lace-up shoes are best, because they allow you to tighten the instep of your footwear, keeping your foot from slipping inside the shoe or boot. The footwear should have heels that are not flat, but are no higher than 5 cm (2 inches). Wear padding under the tongue if you suffer from tenderness over the bones at the top of the foot. And if you work on a metal or cement floor, cushion your foot with a shock-absorbing insole.

The floor you stand on also greatly affects your level of comfort. Wooden, cork or rubber-covered floors are far preferable to concrete or metal, but if you must stand on hard floors, stand on mats. Floor mats should have slanted edges to help prevent tripping. They must be dense enough to cushion the feet, but not too thick. Too much cushioning, from thick foam-rubber mats, for example, can cause fatigue and increase the hazard of tripping.

Remember that the ideal position is one that changes frequently. You can reduce the risk of injury by being aware of hazards and following the above recommendations.

Read OSH Answers on working in a standing position

Partner News
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Wanted: Health And Safety Solutions

Workplaces struggle to solve health and safety issues. Once solved, they've earned their bragging rights. But where can they go to share their wisdom and the fruits of their labours so that more may benefit? The new Prevention Practices Database from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) provides the perfect place for workplaces to showcase their innovations and effective health and safety solutions.

The WSIB created the website with the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) for easy sharing and finding health and safety information and best practices. It's one way that the WSIB is helping Ontario workplaces become the safest and healthiest. The website helps workplaces:

  • Find solutions to health and safety challenges;
  • Share workplace illness and injury prevention ideas;
  • Connect to valuable prevention resources.

Finding solutions is easy; visitors can browse by topic, industry or use the search engine. Topics address specific hazards, work processes and control measures. The database also provides information on health and safety program topics like workplace inspection, accident investigation, worker orientation and workplace health promotion. Each database record includes a short description of the practice along with information about its source, why it is effective and the topics it addresses. In many cases contributor contact information is also provided so workplaces can go straight to the source for more information.

Sharing solutions is also easy using the site's online submission form. The resource section provides links to other useful health and safety websites.

Prevention Practices recently received a boost with many new links to resources on preventing musculoskeletal disorders (MSD).The WSIB is working closely with the Ontario Ministry of Labour and other partners on a strategy to prevent MSD. By adding new sources of information and best practices to the site, they hope workplaces will find the answers they need to eliminate the hazards that cause these painful disorders.

The WSIB is always looking for new submissions of best practices on any health and safety topic, from all industries. "We want to create a collection of health and safety best practices that visitors to our site will find helpful and effective. We've made plans to enhance the site and promote it to both those sharing their health and safety practices and to those looking for them," explains Frank Mabrucco, Manager, Best Practices Branch at the WSIB.

Visit the Prevention Practices Database: www.preventionbestpractices.org

CCOHS News
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What Happened? How To Investigate a Workplace Accident

Workplace accidents are an employer's worst nightmare, not to mention the terrible effects on the victim, the victim's family, and the entire workforce. After the fact, employers are required by law to conduct a thorough accident investigation. It might seem like a big job, but the investigation serves an important purpose: to determine the cause of the accident and make sure it won't happen again. "Accident Investigation" a new e-course from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), presents a practical approach to investigating workplace accidents.

After an accident, the law requires that employers conduct a thorough investigation. Legal compliance, however, is not the only good reason to investigate. An accident investigation identifies any areas where the workplace has failed to comply with safety regulations and uncovers the root cause of the accident and makes effective recommendations to prevent similar occurrences from ever happening again. Done right, an accident investigation can result in a much safer work environment.

The "Accident Investigation" e-course from CCOHS is an introduction for beginners, and an excellent reference and refresher for anyone already familiar with the process. The course outlines how to investigate and why. It explains how to be prepared by having an up-to-date policy and procedures, an investigation team and an investigation kit in case the unexpected happens.

The course tells participants what to do immediately after the accident (provide medical care and deal with the immediate risk). It explains the steps of the investigation itself - how to secure and evaluate the accident scene, collect evidence, gather facts and interview witnesses. The course also teaches participants how to analyze the data and find the root cause of the accident, and how to complete the process by reporting the accident and following up later on.

Subject specialists from CCOHS develop all of their e-courses to provide accurate, current information written in clear language that will be easily understood by the learners. To ensure that the course content is credible and unbiased, each course is reviewed externally by representatives of government, employers and labour.

"Accident Investigation" takes about 50 to 60 minutes to complete. It includes quizzes throughout and a final exam to measure learning. When learners pass the exam, they receive a certificate of completion.

Pricing and registration information

OSH Answers has more information on accident investigations

More on the benefits of e-learning




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