Sitting On The Job - And The Risks Of Deep Vein Thrombosis
What do taxi drivers, call centre professionals and office workers have in common? If they spend long hours in a seated position - not moving - they may share an increased risk of deep vein thrombosis. Deep Veinous Thrombosis (DVT) is a condition whereby a clot forms in a large vein after prolonged sitting. This condition, commonly associated with long haul air travellers, can cause discomfort or pain, or worse, a fatal heart attack or stroke.
As the old Gino Vanelli song goes, 'People Gotta Move.' A study carried out in 2005 by the Medical Research Institute of New Zealand found that a third of patients admitted to a hospital with DVT had jobs that involved sitting still at desks for long periods. Some office workers who developed clots sat at their computers for 14 hours a day, and some of them were going three to four hours at a time without getting up. The study also said that a family history of DVT was also a significant factor in getting the disease.
Sedentary workers in various occupations are at increased risk, because sitting impedes the blood flow. Having "fidgety legs" and feeling the urge to get up and move is not necessarily a sign of distraction. It's often our bodies telling us to recirculate the blood in our legs.
DVT affects mainly the veins in the lower leg and thigh. When a clot forms in the larger veins of the area, it can interfere with circulation. The danger occurs if the clot breaks off, travels through the bloodstream, and lodges into the brain, lungs, heart, or other area, causing severe damage to that organ or possible death from a heart attack or stroke.
While prolonged sitting is never a good idea, there are other risk factors that may increase the risk of DVT. People with an inherited or acquired blood clotting disorder, slowed blood flow in a deep vein (from injury, surgery or immobilization) and people with cancer and undergoing treatment are at higher risk. Pregnant women, or women who have had a baby in the last 6 months, may also be at risk. Other risk factors include being overweight, taking birth control pills or hormone therapy, having a veinous catheter, and being over 60. DVT can affect people at any age, however, anyone who is seated, immobile for long periods on a plane, on a long car trip, in a chair, or in bed.
The symptoms are similar to those for other conditions, making DVT difficult to diagnose without specific tests. Symptoms may include pain, tenderness or swelling in one leg, increased warmth of one leg, or redness in one leg. Half of all DVT episodes produce minimal symptoms or none at all.
If you experience any of these symptoms, see your doctor. If, however, you're experiencing chest pain, difficulty breathing, fainting, loss of consciousness or other severe symptoms, go to the emergency room or call for emergency medical services.
People who have already experienced DVT can prevent further episodes by taking the medication prescribed by their doctor and having regular follow-up appointments. The best way to prevent DVT in the first place is to be active and mobile, and to move around as soon as possible after prolonged sitting or lying down. If you are prone to blood clots or have had surgery, your doctor can prescribe medication to prevent or treat blood clots.
The bottom line to reducing the risk: if you work in a job that has you deskbound or seated for hours at a time, make sure to get up and move around every hour to get that blood circulating!
Close Encounters of the Extreme Kind
Recently published hazard alerts from WorkSafe BC and the Workplace Health and Safety and Compensation Commission of New Brunswick tell the stories of one group of people who narrowly escaped serious harm - and another that could have significant long-term health consequences from well-known occupational hazards.
What Lies Beneath
Workers were refurbishing a classroom in Lower Mainland secondary school in British Columbia. They had to remove linoleum flooring and vinyl floor tile, unaware that these materials contained asbestos. The workers weren't wearing any personal protective equipment, and no controls were in place as the work proceeded. Eight construction workers were exposed to asbestos, and nearby teachers complained about the dust that was contaminating other rooms in the school. Some teachers experienced respiratory problems.
Short-term exposure to asbestos is not expected to have significant health effects. However this incident could have significant long-term health consequences for those involved. Asbestos-induced diseases like lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma have a long latent period. Therefore, the effects on the health of these people won't be fully known for 20 years or so.
According to WorkSafe BC, more than 380 workers in B.C. died from asbestos-related disease between 1996 and 2005. Most cases of asbestos exposure happen in the construction industry.
Health and Safety laws require that workplaces keep a current inventory of all materials containing asbestos, and that they identify asbestos areas or materials with signs, labels or other effective means. These records must be maintained for at least 10 years. This also applies to schools. Before any demolition or renovation takes place, school authorities must carefully review asbestos-related information and alert workers to any risk of exposure.
The laws also require that asbestos-containing materials be left undisturbed or, if they are to be removed, only be removed by workers who have the necessary training and proper safety measures in place before working with the materials.
The above incident happened because a senior operations manager did not read the asbestos hazard report carefully, and did not alert the workers to the danger. The school district was fined $75,000.
Just Under the Wire
In another close call, the owner/worker of a small mechanical logging company in New Brunswick had just completed his cutting operations and was moving his machinery to another block of forestry land. It was getting dark out. When the operator loaded the delimber onto his trailer, he did not place the boom in the transport position. While he drove, the boom came into contact with power lines. It pulled down three power lines and broke off the poles. Two sawmills and an entire town lost power for several hours. Fortunately no one was hurt.
This type of incident can be prevented by avoiding building roads under power lines, and by placing reflective signs wherever power lines cross a roadway. Drivers and operators need to know where power lines are located.
Though no one was seriously hurt in these two recent incidents, the very same hazards have been known to kill. To help keep yourself or your workers safe, read the full alerts:
Health And Safety Committee Checklist
Most companies have some form of Health and Safety Committee, which is required by law in most companies. The committee represents the interests of both management and workers. With the right support and commitment, and when run efficiently, these committees can positively impact a company's safety record and culture. How does yours measure up?
Here's a checklist you can refer to when assessing the effectiveness of your health and safety committee.
Clearly defined purpose, authority and reporting
Here's a tip: occupational health and safety legislation for your jurisdiction already defines what a health and safety committee is - and should do. It's a good idea to summarize the committee's mission in a few words, such as "Promote an awareness of health and safety issues and an atmosphere of cooperation between management and workers."
Everyone should have a clear understanding of how much authority health and safety committee members have in the workplace. Determine committee members' rights, such as the right to discuss health and safety concerns with any supervisor, and put them in writing. Your written record of the committee's roles should also make it clear that committee members are not the only people in the company with some responsibilities for health and safety. Everyone has responsibilities under OH&S legislation - employers, managers and supervisors, and all employees.
The health and safety committee should report to someone who fully understands and supports the occupational health and safety program, and who will promptly follow-up on the committee's recommendations, ideally a member of senior management.
Meeting time, place and frequency
To keep its momentum, your committee should meet on a regular basis every month or as specified in occupational health and safety legislation. Schedule meetings well in advance, always on the same weekday and time if possible. Demonstrate your commitment to health and safety by sticking to these meeting times, postponing only in emergency situations.
Choose a quiet, well-equipped location for your meetings. A conference room with flip charts, chalkboards or other presentation equipment provides a perfect setting.
Time well spent
Do your health and safety committee meetings run like a well-oiled machine? Signs of lack of commitment, or of generally not-so-efficient meetings include late starts, low attendance, frequent postponing and rescheduling, and frequent interruptions. On the other hand, meetings that stay on track indicate a strong commitment to health and safety and have a much greater chance of producing results.
The CCOHS OSH Answers document has more detailed advice on what committee meetings should and should not be used for.
Prepare an agenda for each meeting and distribute it to all members in advance. The agenda should include priority issues to address. Be careful not to spend valuable meeting time deciding on the next meeting's agenda; leave the decision to the committee's labour and management co-chairs.
Items on a typical meeting's agenda are as follows: Roll Call; Introduction of Visitors; Approval of Minutes; Business Arising from the Minutes; Reports; New Business; Educational Session; Time, Date and Place of Next Meeting; and Adjournment.
Keep brief minutes of every meeting, and post the minutes to show everyone in the workplace what the committee is working on.
With any issue, the committee should investigate problems thoroughly and try to determine their root causes. A great committee is much more action than talk. Generally, your health and safety committee should reach decisions by consensus (rather than voting). The committee's main function is to put forward recommendations to improve health and safety in the workplace. Every discussion item should conclude with a specific recommendation for action, and a deadline.
You might be dealing with newly reported hazards, existing hazards not effectively dealt with in the past, or safety measures that cost a lot of money and need to be referred to senior management. Whether these issues are minor or potentially life saving, a well organized and committed health and safety committee is best equipped to get the job done.
NAOSH Week Puts Workplace Health and Safety in the Spotlight
Mark your calendars, and as the theme goes, Start Today! During North American Occupational Safety and Health (NAOSH) Week 2007, May 6 to 12, the health and safety of workers takes centre stage. With Safety and Health: A Commitment for Life - Start Today! as the theme for 2007, NAOSH Week strives to focus the attention of employers, employees, the general public, and all workplace safety and health partners on the importance of preventing injury and illness in the workplace, at home and in the community. The NAOSH website offers a variety of tools, suggestions and resources to help you and your organization participate in, and create your own NAOSH events. Visit the NAOSH site at www.naosh.org.
CCOHS' Webinars Help Spread the Message
As in previous years, CCOHS is celebrating NAOSH Week by producing a series of free, live webinars on current health and safety topics:
- May 7: Pandemic Planning 1 - 2 PM EDT
Learn about a new, free service from CCOHS that includes the most relevant Pandemic Planning resources available! Project lead Jan Chappel will provide a guided tour of the portal and show you how to use the posters, checklist, and toolkits for planning and preparing for a pandemic.
- May 8: Violence Awareness 1 - 2 PM EDT
Glenn French, President and CEO of the Canadian Initiative on Workplace Violence (CIWV), will help clarify and provide focus on the many issues associated with workplace violence ranging from recognition to prevention.
- May 9: Global Harmonization System (GHS) Update
1 - 2 PM EDT
This presentation will provide an overview of the status of GHS today both globally and nationally and where GHS is expected to go over the next four to five years.
- May 10: e-Learning as a Training Tool 1 - 2 PM EDT
Many organizations are using e-learning programs to meet OSH education needs. We will discuss the advantages and disadvantages for learners, organizations and trainers, based on CCOHS' extensive experience developing e-learning courses.
The full NAOSH Week webinar program is posted on the CCOHS website: www.ccohs.ca/education/webinars/default.html.
Steps for Life - Walking for Victims of Workplace Tragedy
This annual fundraising event sponsored by Threads of Life kicks off NAOSH Week on Sunday May 6, 2007. The Steps for Life 5 km walk raises the awareness that injuries are preventable and life-altering workplace injuries, illness and deaths can be eliminated. This is a non-competitive event and open to everyone -- families, professionals and partners.
This year Steps for Life is being held in three cities - Toronto, Hamilton, and Thunder Bay. All proceeds raised will be donated to Threads of Life's family support programs and services. As a national, not-for-profit organization, Threads of Life is dedicated to helping Canadian families along their journey of healing after they have experienced a workplace tragedy.
More information including donation and registration forms are available on the Threads of Life website.
About NAOSH Week
NAOSH Week is an annual initiative led by the Canadian Society of Safety Engineering (CSSE) in partnership with the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) and Human Resources and Social Development Canada (HRSDC). NAOSH Week continues to be a truly continent-wide event, celebrated in Canada, along with North American partners in the United States and Mexico.
Portal Fills Need for One-Stop Pandemic Planning
Recent times have given the world a glimpse of how widespread the harm can be from an infectious disease. Outbreaks of SARS and avian flu have shown how poor planning or a lack of knowledge can lead to employee illness and fatalities, public uncertainty and fear, loss of tourism business, reduced economic activity, and chaos in the home and workplace.
A new web portal, the first of its kind, provides Canadians with practical information on exactly what they can do to prepare for an influenza pandemic.
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) launched the Pandemic Planning portal to provide Canadian employers, employees and practitioners with the understanding and knowledge, tools and resources they need to keep their workplaces healthy in the event of an influenza pandemic. The portal provides guidance materials developed by CCOHS to help companies plan for a pandemic, protect workers from influenza exposure and minimize the pandemic's effects on business and workers.
In the workplace, the portal can benefit workers, employers and practitioners. Workers can easily access practical information on how to help protect themselves from influenza at home and at work, as the "At Home" and "At Work" sections offer specific suggestions. Employers can help ease panic or fear in the event of a pandemic, and offer solutions to promote the health and well-being of employees. The portal is also useful to practitioners, who will find detailed information on how to establish a business continuity plan and prepare for and maintain a viable business during a pandemic. There are development resources and tools geared especially to practitioners.
The portal also includes a "My Community" section, which lists ways that schools, sports facilities, recreation facilities and social clubs can also do their part in preventing or planning for a pandemic.
While no one can say when a pandemic will arrive, it is estimated that there will only be about 3 or 4 weeks between when human-to-human transmission of a new virus is confirmed, and its arrival in Canada.
It is important to be informed and prepared.
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.
© 2009, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety