Health and Safety Report
Volume 6, Issue 2 - February 2008

In the News

Rules of Thumb Useprint this article

People are doing it everywhere -- on the train, at the mall, in the restaurant, at the airport, and in meetings. Just about everywhere you look you will see people talking or texting on very small cell phones, busily typing messages with their thumbs on their handheld computers and personal organizers or scrolling through music on portable media players.

As electronics get smaller, more portable and therefore more heavily used, we may be risking injury from overuse of wrists, fingers, and thumbs that we use to operate and type on these miniature keyboards. Repeating these tasks for hours at a time may cause painful repetitive strain injuries. Although there are no national statistics on how many people suffer from these types of injuries, some ergonomic experts feel there is cause for concern given the number (tens of millions) of handheld electronic devices on the market, and the heavy, extended use of them.

The American Society of Hand Therapists (ASHT) recently re-issued an alert to raise awareness of the potential risks. People who combine prolonged grips with repetitive motion on small buttons and awkward wrist movements are susceptible to carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis and other hand, wrist and arm ailments. It is important to take preventative measures. The ASHT released a list of guidelines and exercises to help users of portable electronics avoid these types of injuries.

Tips to help prevent injuries

  • Don't overdo it. Avoid overuse by taking a break every few minutes or switching to another activity. Stop using the device if you feel pain or discomfort. You can also give your hands a break by frequently switching hands, and by not always using the same finger or thumb to type, tap or scroll.

  • Use a neutral grip when holding the device. Keep your wrist straight, not bent in either direction.

  • Give your eyes a break by looking away from the screen and focusing on a distant object every few minutes.

  • Sit comfortably. Your chair should support your back and allow you to rest your feet comfortably on the floor. To avoid looking downward and straining your neck, place pillows in your lap and rest your arms on the pillows, or support the device on a desk or tabletop. Your arms should be supported.

  • Watch your posture. While focusing intently on handheld devices, people are often unaware that they are slouching or leaning in unnatural, uncomfortable ways. Be on the alert for discomfort, especially a feeling of poor circulation in the arms and hands.

  • Warm up the muscles in the thumbs, wrists and elbows to help reduce the risk of injury from using personal handheld devices. This should involve only gentle stretching, never pain.

Remember the rule of thumb - don't overuse it! Limit your usage of handheld devices and listen to your body. That stiffness and soreness is reminding you to vary your routine and avoid repeating the same motion over and over. With some simple changes you can be a comfortable and healthy user of handheld electronics.

Education alert from the American Society of Hand Therapists (ASHT)

Hazard Alerts

PPE for Pole Climbingprint this article

The science of personal protective equipment (PPE) has come a very long way, but the equipment will always have limitations. PPE should always be the last method chosen for hazard control, after elimination, engineering control and administrative control. PPE doesn't last forever. It needs to be inspected and maintained. The people using it must be properly trained.

Fall protection for linemen

The Occupational Health and Safety Division of the Nova Scotia Department of the Environment and Labour has issued a hazard alert that urges employers to make sure their fall protection systems are safe. In a recent incident, a worker was injured when using a fall restricting device for wood pole climbing - a fall arrest system with a pole belt that adjusts to cinch the pole to an employee's climbing belt. In this case, the system failed to protect the worker.

At every shift, employees must carefully inspect the tightening mechanism before using it. At first sign that the equipment might fail, employees should immediately stop using it and bring it to the attention of their supervisor.

Linemen who climb poles must be properly trained in climbing, anchoring, and using the pole belt and climbing belt to avoid falling. Employers have a responsibility to make sure the user tightens the belt to the pole as directed by the manufacturer. Improper use of the equipment or lack of training may result in equipment failure, falls and serious injury.

Manufacturers of fall arrest systems suggest that employers implement a regular maintenance and inspection program. This is also highly recommended by the Nova Scotia OH&S Division.

Always remember not only to use appropriate PPE, but also to get the training required to properly use, inspect and maintain it.

Read the full alert from the Occupational Health and Safety Division of the Nova Scotia Department of the Environment and Labour

Practical information on PPE use from CCOHS

OSH Answers

MRSA - Stubborn Staphprint this article

First there was Staphylococcus aureus, a bacterium that continues to cause illness. Overprescribing of antibiotics helped change it into a "superbug" that eventually defeated methicillin, the drug that had been most effective in fighting it. This new strain was called methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and became common in hospitals. Only a few antibiotics are effective against some hospital strains of MRSA infection.

Meanwhile, in the 1990s, staph took on yet another form, community-associated MRSA (CA-MRSA) - infections in healthy people who had not been hospitalized nor had a medical procedure such as dialysis or surgery within the past year. Several drugs continue to work against this strain, but this strain of staph could also become drug-resistant in time.

What are the symptoms?

It's possible to carry the staph bacteria for years without becoming sick. Sometimes it causes a minor skin problem by infecting a cut or wound. The first sign of a staph infection is usually an outbreak of small red bumps on the skin, which can soon become deep, painful abscesses that need to be surgically drained. Other signs of infection are headache, fever and lack of energy.

The bacteria may remain confined to the skin, but in more serious cases, they can go deep into the body, causing potentially life-threatening infections in bones, joints, surgical wounds, the bloodstream, heart valves and lungs. MRSA has also been known to cause urinary tract infections, pneumonia, toxic shock syndrome, and even death.

As a precaution, as soon as a pimple, insect bite, cut or scrape on the skin becomes infected, see your doctor. Rather than asking for antibiotics, ask to be tested for MRSA. Drugs that have no effect against MRSA could lead to serious illness and more resistant bacteria.

How is it spread?

MRSA is usually spread through physical contact - not through the air. The risk factors for hospital and community strains of MRSA are different because they generally occur in different settings, however both strains are spread in the same way, mainly through person-to-person contact or contact with a contaminated item.

Who is at risk?

People who are currently or have recently been hospitalized, or live in long-term care facilities are at risk of hospital-acquired MRSA. Older adults and people with weakened immune systems, burns, surgical wounds or serious underlying health problems are vulnerable as are those on dialysis, who are catheterized, or have feeding tubes or other invasive devices. MRSA is transmitted most commonly by hands (especially health care workers' hands), which may become contaminated by contact with infected patients, or surfaces and medical devices that are contaminated with body fluids containing MRSA.

Community-associated MRSA can be especially dangerous to children, whose immune systems are not yet fully developed or who don't yet have antibodies to common germs. Elderly people and those weakened by pre-existing health issues are also susceptible, as are people whose immune systems are compromised.

Amateur and pro athletes have been known to contract CA-MRSA from cuts, abrasions, skin-to-skin contact, shared towels or athletic equipment, or shared razors. Outbreaks have been also seen among prisoners, military recruits, daycare attendees, and injection drug users. People who have lived in crowded, unsanitary conditions, or have had close contact with health care workers, should be alert for symptoms of CA-MRSA.

Help prevent MRSA skin infections

To prevent infection from MRSA and other strains of staph, it is important to follow good hygiene (hand washing) practices. If you are a healthcare worker the best way to prevent the spread of germs is to take standard infection control precautions that include washing hands frequently, properly disinfecting hospital surfaces and taking other precautions such as wearing a mask when working with people with weakened immune systems. Visitors and healthcare workers caring for infected or colonized (bacteria are present but not causing an infection) patients placed in isolation may be required to wear personal protective equipment and garments and to prevent the spread of the bacteria.

To prevent infection from CA-MRSA - in addition to practicing good hygiene - don't share personal items that may be contaminated (towels, razors, clothing, etc.). Closely monitor skin irritations, keep cuts and scrapes clean and covered with bandages until healed, and seek medical attention at the first sign of skin infection. When using a prescribed antibiotic for an illness, finish the entire prescription, even if you're feeling better. This way you will increase the chance of killing every last germ instead of leaving the few surviving ones to gain new resistance to medication.

More about MRSA and precautions for healthcare workers from CCOHS

Infection Control Guidelines: Hand Washing, Cleaning, Disinfection and Sterilization in Health Care, Health Canada

Community-Associated MRSA Information for the Public from CDC

Information About MRSA for Healthcare Personnel from CDC

Partner News

Manual Materials Handling - All in a Day's Workprint this article

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are painful - and costly. Most of the 2.3 million Canadians experiencing MSDs are hurt at work. In Ontario alone MSDs represent more than 40% of all lost-time compensation claims. In Canada the economic costs are estimated in the billions of dollars annually.

Left unchecked, MSDs threaten both worker health and safety and economic performance. However, preventing MSDs can help workplaces to reduce costs, boost productivity, improve product and service quality, and stimulate innovation.

The event

Manual manuals handling, and its contribution to MSDs, is a complex and multifaceted problem that demands knowledge, from fundamental, basic research to applied workplace-based intervention research. As part of this knowledge-seeking process, CCOHS and the Centre of Research Expertise for the Prevention of Musculoskeletal Disorders (CRE-MSD) have teamed up to co-host "Pushing, Pulling, Lifting, and Lowering", a workshop on manual materials handling.

The workshop takes place in Mississauga, Ontario, on March 4, 2008, from 8:30 am - 4:00 pm, and the $150 fee includes workshop materials, resources, lunch, and refreshments. Certification points have also been applied for.

You will have the opportunity to learn about manual materials handling in-depth, with leading experts, and from a range of perspectives, in this special all-day event.

The program

The workshop is highlighted by a keynote presentation from Dr. Tom Waters, certified professional ergonomist and Senior Safety Engineer at NIOSH, renowned internationally for his work on the revised NIOSH lifting equation - the most commonly used tool to measure if workers are exerting too much effort to lift or lower. Tom will provide his insights on developing transferable tools in manual materials handling for multiple end users.

Other presentations will ensure an information- and resource-packed day.

Bawan Saravanabawan from Human Resources and Social Development Canada will share federal initiatives to reduce MSDs, while Don Patten, a consultant with the Industrial Accident Prevention Association, will speak about the difficulties in bringing management and labour on board to make necessary changes.

The challenges of implementing changes in manual materials handling programs in the workplace will also be discussed - from both a worker's perspective (Wyatt Clark from Chrysler) and management's perspective (Woodbridge Foam's Dan Dubblestyne).

The workshop also features interactive, small group discussions, where participants will divide into groups to discuss how they could potentially apply solutions to their own workplaces and problems. The groups will be lead by the speakers in an effort to brainstorm strategies and actions that will help to reduce the occurrence of MSDs in the workplace.

A seven-person panel on manual materials handling, including the workshop speakers, Liz Scott from Organizational Solutions, and Catherine Fenech from RSI Awareness Day, is expected to be informative and revealing.

Can't attend in person?

If you are unable to travel to the workshop, you can still participate. The event is also being delivered live over the Internet. All you need is a computer, Internet connection, and a telephone. You'll hear all the speakers over the phone, and see the presentation slides on your computer screen, plus have the opportunity to ask questions and submit comments directly to the presenters, for a fee of only $50. You can invite as many people as you like into a meeting or boardroom to view it with you, for the one low price.

Registration is still open for Pushing, Pulling, Lifting, and Lowering. But hurry - space is limited.


Transporting Dangerous Goods Safelyprint this article

Learning on the Move

Whether by road, rail, water or air, goods move across Canada every day. MTS Allstream is one of those movers.

As an integrated national provider in Canada, MTS Allstream's core businesses include its Enterprise Solutions Division, which offers a portfolio of solutions tailored to the needs of medium and large businesses - Internet protocol-based communications, Unified Communications, voice and data connectivity services.

The Division includes field technicians and operations personnel across Canada who are involved with the handling of batteries, compressed air, nitrogen, diesel fuel, and other goods classified as dangerous under Canada's Transportation of Dangerous Goods (TDG) Act and Regulations. Each person, whether they are drivers, consignors, consignees or employers, has specific responsibilities that he or she must understand.

Fred Riddle, CCEP, has served as a certified TDG trainer for MTS Allstream since 1990, and has been involved in TDG Regulations and instruction since 1984. During these years, he has completed training or re-certification 8 times, or every 3 years.

"A new learning approach to TDG is welcome," Fred chuckled.

In reviewing CCOHS' newest e-course offering, Transportation of Dangerous Goods*, he came away impressed. The eight modules of this course provide a detailed description of all aspects of the TDG system for managers and everyone with TDG responsibilities.

"The program is comprehensive and includes a good awareness component, with the right mix of information and illustrations. I enjoyed the interaction with the quizzes immediately following the instruction slides, to reinforce what I just learned."

The TDG course begins with the TDG:Overview, a 1.5hr module that reviews the TDG system for managers, employees and others who need to know about TDG and their responsibilities under the system. Terms and concepts and the requirements of the Canadian TDG Regulations are clearly explained, with links to definitions and the appropriate Regulations and useful resources provided throughout.

Fred encourages anyone involved with TDG, directly or indirectly, to take the course. "The Overview module is the best general description of TDG that I've seen. There's excellent information for health and safety committees, administrators and managers. Frankly, if any part of your business is involved with TDG, then you should take this Overview - it's a must for all your employees."

The other seven modules of the TDG course provide greater detail on critical aspects of the TDG system, and are available in several packages depending on specific TDG roles: consignor/consignee, carrier, and manager.

Consignors and consignees must be fully qualified and trained for their work in shipping and receiving dangerous goods. The five modules in the TDG for Consignees/Consignors course provide a detailed description of the parts of the TDG Regulations that they must know. This includes classification, documentation, safety marks, and means of containment.

Carriers, who transport dangerous goods and may load and unload shipments, must also be fully qualified and trained for their work. The six modules of the TDG for Carriers course covers documentation, safety marks, means of containment, emergency response, and special cases for road transport.

The comprehensive Transportation of Dangerous Goods course, comprising of all eight modules, is recommended for managers, supervisors, business owners, and personnel responsible to ensure that all work involving dangerous goods is properly done.

MTS Allstream's employees will be taking CCOHS' TDG courses as part of their TDG training and re-certification requirements. Many will be taking the comprehensive course relative to their TDG duties and responsibilities.

Debbie Harrington, Safety Officer at MTS Allstream, appreciates the convenience of the web-based course. "We have multiple locations across the country, from BC to the Maritimes. We're trying to go with as much e-learning as possible because it's difficult to get all our employees in one physical place for training. The fact that it is online means that TDG training and instruction is accessible to all our employees, plus it's more cost-effective."

* Reflects the new amendments to the TDG Regulations published in the Canada Gazette on February 20, 2008

For further information or to register, visit the TDG course page.

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