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Volume 2, Issue 3 - March 2004

In the News
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Young and New Workers

It's that time of year again when school breaks and the youth hit the job-hunting trail. While getting and starting a new job may be foremost in a young or new worker's mind - getting injured is often farthest. Young workers in particular just don't expect it to happen; yet too often it does. Eighteen-year-old James Wright fell 50 feet from a ladder at work and became permanently paralyzed from the waist down. Lauren Barwick lost the use of her legs at 24 when a bale of hay fell on her and broke her back, during her job at a ranch that supplied horses for movie shoots. Tim Hickman was fatally injured at his job at an arena when an ice-resurfacing machine exploded.

One in seven young workers are injured on the job in Canada. There were over 68,000* loss-time injuries involving 15 to 24 year olds in this country in 1998, and 57* fatalities. Why are young workers particularly vulnerable to occupational injury or illness? The reasons vary. Young people may sometimes be unrealistic about their own mortality. They are eager to impress and accept new challenges. And as inexperienced workers, they may not know or understand the hazards in the workplace or how to avoid injury, and may be reluctant to ask questions.

Young or new workers - things you need to know
Know that all workers have a legal right to a safe work environment. Your employer has a responsibility to protect you, and knows it! So when you start a new job, understand your rights and don't be afraid to ask questions:

  • What are the dangers of my job?
  • Are there any other hazards (noise, chemicals, radiation) that I should know about?
  • Will I receive job safety training? When?
  • Do you have safety meetings?
  • Is there any safety gear I'll be expected to wear? Will I receive training in how to use it? When?
  • Will I be trained in emergency procedures (fire, chemical spill)? When?
  • Where are fire extinguishers, first aid kits, and other emergency equipment located?
  • What do I do if I get hurt? Who is the first aid person?
  • What are my health and safety responsibilities?
  • Who do I ask if I have a health or safety question?

Employers can help keep young and new workers safe
Workers new to the workplace need to be trained before starting any job. They need clear, frequent instructions over the first few weeks. Some new workers may be overwhelmed with instructions at first and need to hear the information repeated more than once.

In addition to providing training, employers must make it clear to young workers that if ever they don't know or are unsure of something, it's perfectly okay to ask. The sooner everyone starts thinking about the job in a safety-minded way, the better.

Employers should consider whether a job is suitable for a young worker before assigning it. Jobs that require long training times, a high degree of skill or a great deal of responsibility, or risky tasks - such as working alone or with hazardous chemicals - are usually better suited to more experienced workers.

Sometimes, due to a lack of understanding, a young worker may decide to "help out" another worker during slow times or make changes to a job in unexpected and possibly risky ways. While they may mean well, young workers need close supervision to ensure they stick to established - and safe - work procedures.

There are resources available for young workers, parents, employers, or teachers that provide information that can help everyone to understand why it is important to work safely, and to help keep new and young workers safe on the job:

Hazard Alerts
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Respiratory Exposure to Food Flavourings May Be Recipe for Lung Disease

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has issued a hazard alert to the food industry. The alert recommends that employers limit employees' respiratory exposure to food flavourings and flavouring ingredients, in workplaces where these substances are made or used. Exposed workers may be at risk of lung disease, according to the NIOSH data.

The alert follows an investigation at a microwave popcorn packaging plant where NIOSH learned of the occurrence of bronchiolitis obliterans, a severe lung disease, in workers. Similar lung disease has occurred at other plants that use or manufacture flavourings. Health Hazard Evaluations by NIOSH suggest that symptoms result from inhalation exposures to high airborne concentrations of some flavourings or their ingredients in the form of vapours, dusts or sprays. Animal tests reveal that inhaling vapours from a heated butter flavouring used in microwave popcorn production caused severe injury to airways.

Bronchiolitis obliterans is characterized by inflammation and scarring in the smallest airways of the lung. The disease can lead to severe and disabling shortness of breath on exertion. Other reported symptoms include cough (usually without phlegm), fever, night sweats, weight loss, irritation to the eyes, skin, nose and throat, and in some cases, chemical eye burns. Symptoms tend to be gradual in onset and progressive, however severe symptoms can occur suddenly and don't always respond to medical treatment. In cases where a worker has ceased to be exposed to the chemicals for many years, the cough may gradually decrease, but shortness of breath on exertion persists.

Chemical mixtures used in food flavourings are often complex. And while there is safety data on these chemicals, any existing standards or exposure limits are intended for humans consuming small amounts in food. None currently address the industry workers inhaling the chemicals.

NIOSH is requesting assistance in preventing lung disease and other health effects in workers who use or make flavourings. It recommends control measures including substitution, engineering controls, administrative controls, education, personal protective equipment, and monitoring of exposure and worker health. The NIOSH Alert: Preventing Lung Disease in Workers Who Use or Make Flavorings outlines these and other practical guidelines for recognizing and reducing potential occupational risks.

OSH Answers
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Violence in the Workplace

While the term "workplace violence" may conjure up images of physical assault, it is a much broader problem. It includes any incidents in which a person is abused, threatened, intimidated or assaulted in their workplace or as a result from work (that may occur away from the work premises). An example of this would be a salesperson receiving a threatening call at home from a client.

Workplace violence is a problem that can be disruptive to the workplace and devastating to the victims. Whether the "violent" act is physical, verbal, psychological or sexual, its consequences can be immediate and long term.

The perpetrators may be co-workers, clients, or people with no direct relationship to the workplace. Their motivation for violence may range from personal or work-related stress, feelings of personal inadequacy or discriminatory attitudes toward others.

While it may not be possible to predict another person's behaviour, there are ways to minimize the risk of workplace violence.

What you should know
Certain work-related factors may increase the risk of violence, such as:

  • Working with the public;
  • Handling money, valuables or prescription drugs;
  • Carrying out inspection or enforcement duties;
  • Providing service, care, advice or education;
  • Working with unstable or volatile persons;
  • Working in premises where alcohol is served;
  • Working alone, in small numbers, or in isolated or low traffic areas;
  • Working in community-based settings or a mobile workplace; and
  • Working during periods of intense organizational change.

The risk for violence is greater at certain times:

  • Late hours of the night or early hours of the morning;
  • Tax return season;
  • Overdue utility bill cut-off dates;
  • Christmas;
  • Pay days;
  • Report cards or parent interviews; and
  • Performance appraisals.

What employers can do
The most important step is for management to state its commitment to violence prevention in a written policy. The policy should include a definition of "violence" and examples of unacceptable behaviours (even if incidents have not occurred in the workplace) and working conditions. It should also specify the consequences of making threats or committing violent acts, outline the company's preventive measures, encourage reporting of any incidents, and offer full management support.

Assess the risk by identifying factors listed above, and by reviewing any history of violence in the workplace and in similar places of employment.

Ensure that all employees are educated on the issue of violence and know the company's policies and procedures.

Review the workplace design to consider workplace layout, use of signs, locks or physical barriers, lighting, building security and electronic surveillance.

Modify administrative and regular work practices to reduce the risk. While workers should never enter any situation or location where they feel threatened or unsafe, preventive measures such as using a back-up, and improved monitoring and communication systems are good precautions to take.

Partner News
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Safety and Health Risks at Work Different for Women

The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work has highlighted substantial differences in the working lives of women and men in European countries and how these differences affect their well-being. To support its findings, the Agency produced a report last November, Gender issues in safety and health - A review , which examines gender differences in workplace injury and illness, gaps in knowledge and the implications for improving risk prevention.

On the launch of the report, European Commissioner Anna Diamantopoulou said one goal of the European Union (EU) is to significantly increase the participation of women in employment, and to improve the quality of women's jobs. "This report shows how important it is to consider gender in risk prevention," she said, "and include occupational health and safety in gender equality activities in order to improve the prevention of work-related risks for both men and women."

According to the report, work organization and design are often based on the model of the "average" man, despite the fact that the principle of matching work to workers is enshrined in EU legislation.

The report makes other key conclusions:

  • More women are concentrated in low-paid, unsteady or casual work, and this affects their working conditions and the risks they are exposed to.
  • Women still carry out the majority of unpaid housework and caring for children and relatives, even when working full-time. This adds considerably to their daily work time and puts extra pressure on them.
  • There are numerous risks to which women are more prone than men because of higher exposure.

While women in general suffer more than men from work-related stress, infectious diseases, upper limb disorders, skin diseases as well as asthma and allergies, men tend to incur more accidents, back pain and hearing loss. The report stresses that these and other key differences between men and women in the workplace must be taken into account in all areas that address occupational health and safety.

"Our study documents that the traditional gender-neutral approach to prevention can result in underestimation and even negligence of the real risks, especially to the health of women," said Hans- Horst Konkolewsky, Director of the Agency. "Risk assessment and prevention need to be more gender- sensitive and, in general, take into consideration the ever-increasing diversity of the European workforce."

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Be Ready!

If workplaces have learned anything from recent tragedies involving terrorist attacks or biological hazards, it's that an emergency response plan is far too important to collect dust on a shelf. The unfortunate 9/11 attacks in New York, SARS outbreak and Anthrax scare have many businesses scrambling to learn more about preparing for such emergencies in future, to minimize their potentially devastating effects.

An emergency response plan addresses how to deal with unforeseen situations such as fires, chemical spills, explosions, floods, injury, illness and other crisis situations. It lets employers and employees know what to do in the event of an emergency situation to ensure everyone's safety and minimize property damage. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) has just released a pocket- sized handbook, the Emergency Response Planning Guide, which outlines ways of developing an emergency plan tailored to a specific workplace and how to implement the plan.

A disorganized and unprepared approach to dealing with emergencies may result in confusion, loss of lives, injury, financial or business losses, and property damage. An emergency plan takes the guesswork out of preparedness, with detailed procedures on exactly how to do the following:

  • Alert employees;
  • Report emergencies;
  • Evacuate the premises;
  • Designate assembly locations;
  • Contact people and their telephone numbers;
  • Get first aid and medical assistance;
  • Clean up, and resume business operations;
  • Ensure business continuity;
  • Train employees;
  • Test the plan by conducting drills; and
  • Communicate with media, community and employees and their families.

Emergencies affect everyone. Senior managers need help in deciding how comprehensive the emergency plan should be, and how it can be continually improved. Individuals who have emergency-related responsibilities in the plan need to know exactly what is expected of them. Occupational health and safety committees should be allowed to make informed recommendations regarding an organization's existing response plans.

The new pocket handbook from CCOHS addresses the concerns of all workplace parties. It offers guidance on how to conduct risk assessments, evaluate potential losses, identify potential emergencies, develop comprehensive emergency policies and programs, and conduct effective emergency drills. It also deals with follow-up issues such as business continuity and recovery plans, and how to follow up on incidents and learn from them.

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.

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