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>Health & Safety Report

Volume 2, Issue 9 - September 2004

Inquiries Service
In the News
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From the Obvious to the Obscure - Workplace Health and Safety Questions are Answered

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), Canada's national resource tucked away in Hamilton, Ontario is known in the OSH world and on the international stage for serving Canada and the world with its impressive collection of services and resources, innovation and contributions to worldwide health and safety initiatives. What may not be as widely known is the one service CCOHS offers exclusively to Canadians, to make access to reliable information freely and widely available to all who need it - The Inquiries Service!

For over 20 years CCOHS' Inquiries Service has been a person-to-person information service available to all Canadians, answering questions in English and French, on the many health or safety concerns people have about the work they do, how they do it and the environment in which work is performed.

The service is used by people from all walks of life - workers and their families, employers, health and safety professionals, and government officials - to get answers to questions that can cover anything from chemicals and hazardous materials to ergonomics, diseases and disorders, and indoor air quality. The service is confidential; the names of inquirers are not revealed to anyone or any agency. There have been cases of both worker and manager submitting questions separately to the Inquiries Service. If they submitted the same question, both would get the same answer - unbiased, authoritative information - to which all workplace partners have equal access. That is the beauty of the Inquiries Service.

Twenty-plus years and tens of thousands of questions later, the Inquiries Service has dealt with it all! Sometimes the questions are what one may expect:

  • The air in my office/ factory/ shop is awful. What can I do about it?
  • Do I have to make a new MSDS for a chemical product I'm importing from overseas?
  • Do I need to organize a joint health & safety committee? If so, how do I do it?

There have also been questions that fall into the "not-so-typical" category:

  • How do I safely store shotgun shells that are used for cleaning inside boilers?
  • Could I have got TB through sexual abuse?
  • Do cross-border X-ray installations pose a long-term hazard to truckers' health?

Every inquiry gets answered, and when questions are received that are not directly relevant to occupational health and safety - such as whether meat can be cured with road salt or if chipmunks transmit rabies to dogs - the Inquiries Team make an effort to recommend other resources and steer the inquirer in the right direction.

Inquirers have the option of submitting questions by telephone, fax or email. In response they receive unbiased information considered relevant to workers, employers, unions and governments alike from CCOHS specialists with occupational health and safety and information retrieval expertise. Generally, written answers are provided to the inquirers in the event that they want to share the information with co-workers, joint health and safety committee members, doctors or other health practitioners, or if they need written documentation for other purposes.

Anyone - in Canada and the world - can access inquiry-based information themselves on the CCOHS website, through OSH Answers. This global service contains question-and-answer documents on more than 600 health and safety topics and is available in English, French and Spanish. People are encouraged to check here first for their answers before contacting the Inquiries Service.

The secret is out! Ask and you shall be answered!

Hazard Alerts
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Urgent Health and Safety Advisory: Clostridium difficile

Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) is a bacteria that causes Clostricium difficile-Associated Disease (CDAD), an outbreak of diarrhea that affects patients or residents in health care facilities. The Ontario Ministry of Labour recently released an urgent health and safety advisory to inform the public as well as address health care worker safety and control of cross-patient infection.

Patients who take antibiotics, or who have serious health conditions, may be at risk of contracting C. difficile. It is the most frequently identified cause of antibiotic-associated diarrhea.

The symptoms of the disease are watery diarrhea, fever, loss of appetite, nausea, and abdominal pain/tenderness. C. difficile is most often spread from person to person on the hands of health care personnel who have had contact with contaminated patients or their feces. It may also be spread from contact with contaminated environmental surfaces or equipment.

Some patients may become carriers of C. difficile and never develop symptoms, while others who become carriers may not have symptoms until they start taking antibiotics. Diarrhea can occur within one week of starting antibiotic therapy. Antibiotics destroy the normal bacteria of the intestine, allowing C. difficile to overgrow in the gastrointestinal tract.

How to prevent and control CDAD
Employers in health care facilities, in consultation with their joint health and safety committee, should evaluate the risk of C. difficile in their facility and take measures to protect employees and residents.

Health care workers should not eat food or consume beverages in areas where patients are being cared for and must wash hands before eating. Other recommended precautions for health care workers follow. Take proper "contact precautions" in addition to routine infection control precautions when caring for symptomatic patients:

  • Wash your hands frequently between entering patients' rooms.
  • Wear gloves when entering patients' rooms, and wear gowns if direct contact with patients, their soiled clothing or environmental surfaces of their rooms is likely.
  • Dedicate equipment whenever possible.
  • Even after the patient's diarrhea has resolved, continue to take contact precautions for 72 hours.
  • Pay special attention to environmental cleaning, and use an approved hospital grade disinfectant.

For further information about CDAC, contact an infection control professional in your health care facility or the Health Care Health and Safety Association of Ontario, or refer to the Health Canada Guidelines.

OSH Answers
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Slips and Trips Cause the Majority of Falls

In Canada, some sixty thousand workers fall and get injured every year. Falls represent about fifteen percent of the time-loss injuries accepted by our workers' compensation boards or commissions. While falls from ladders, scaffolding and other heights are a significant safety concern for Canadians, statistics show that 60 percent of falls happen from ground level, resulting from slips and trips.

Wherever there is too little friction or traction between their footwear and the walking surface, workers are at risk of slipping. Spills, wet or oily surfaces, wet or icy outdoor conditions, unanchored rugs or mats, and flooring with different degrees of traction in different areas are all common causes of slips that can lead to falls.

Other conditions place workers at risk of tripping over objects. These include obstructions or poor lighting that prevent the worker from seeing where he or she is going, clutter, wrinkled carpeting, uncovered cables, bottom drawers that are left open, and uneven steps, thresholds or other walking surfaces.

The encouraging news is that slips, trips and their resulting falls are easily preventable, in large part by something very simple: good housekeeping.

When it comes to protecting workers from slipping or tripping, these little chores can reap big rewards:

  • Clean all spills immediately. Mark spills and wet areas to warn pedestrians who might approach.
  • Mop or sweep debris from floors.
  • Keep walkways free of obstacles and clutter.
  • Secure mats, rugs and carpets that do not lie flat.
  • Always close file cabinet or storage drawers.
  • Cover cables that cross walkways. Keep working areas and walkways well lit.
  • Replace used light bulbs and faulty switches.

Common-sense rules such as these can keep workers out of the hospital.

Specialty flooring and footwear are the next level of protection against slips and trips. They make it easier to walk on sure footing by increasing comfort and support and making the walking surface less slippery. Increased safety awareness, through special training on safe walking and safe falling techniques, are also helpful, but these and any other preventive measures will never be fully effective without good housekeeping in place.

To help slash the rate of workplace injuries in Canada resulting from slips, trips and falls, eliminate hazards and remember what your mother always said: Cleanliness is next to godliness.

Partner News
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Canada and Europe Spotlight Workplace Health and Safety in October

European countries have been preparing for their health and safety week since last April when the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work launched its campaign in Dublin. With "Building in Safety" as its slogan, this year's campaign (the largest OSH event of its kind in Europe) focuses on the 902 billion Euros-a-year construction industry that employs 12.7 million people, as well as many more, unofficially. This industry has a higher-than-average rate of occupational injury than that of the European Union, killing approximately 1,300 workers a year. It is hoped that raising awareness of and promoting OSH activities will help make both the construction industry and all of Europe safe and healthy places to work.

The organizers sent out information packages in every language of the EU Member States and acceding countries. As part of the campaign they distributed posters and leaflets, created a multilingual website with examples of recommended safety practices, and sponsored the European Good Practice Awards for organisations that have most successfully dealt with health and safety in construction.

All of these efforts will culminate with the European Week for Safety and Health at Work, October 18-22, 2004. The agency is encouraging workplaces everywhere to plan activities for the week and help contribute to spreading the OSH word.

Canada's own Healthy Workplace Week takes place October 25-31 with the theme: People Focus. This will be a time to increase awareness of and promote healthy workplaces to improve and sustain the health of Canadian organizations, their employees and their work environments.

Employers and employees across Canada are being invited to participate with their own unique brand of health, prevention and wellness initiatives. Even small businesses with just a few employees can make an impact.

The website is a year round resource to make it easy for groups and organizations to get started with personal and organizational planners, planning guidance and activity ideas, as well as the Resource Well for links to other health and wellness sites, books, articles and reports; everything one could think of to help keep the message of workplace safety alive.

Organizations and individuals alike have a role to play and are encouraged to participate in Healthy Workplace Week in any way they choose. They may take the opportunity to conduct special audits and risk assessments in the workplace, provide training, distribute information to workers about health risks and solutions (particularly in high-risk industries such as construction) or launch a new workplace policy. They may find willing partners in other organizations, businesses or sub-contractors, and organize their activities as a team.

Canada's Healthy Workplace Week was founded by the Health, Work & Wellness Conference Inc., and has been managed by the National Quality Institute and the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety since 2002, under the overall direction of the Canadian Healthy Workplace Council.

The European campaign has the backing of all member States, EU acceding, candidate and EFTA countries, the Irish and Dutch EU Presidencies, the European Commission and Parliament, trade unions and employers' federations.

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HS-Canada is 8 Years Old and Going Strong

When the HS-Canada electronic mailing list was launched in August 1996 to serve Canada's health and safety community, it was considered to be an innovative and progressive use of the still-fledgling Internet. Its creators at the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) assumed it would catch on - and they were right. Last month HS-Canada celebrated its eight-year anniversary and has grown to more than 1550 participants.

HS-Canada is free to anyone with Internet e-mail. Since its release, it has opened the channels for easy exchange of OH&S information and has been hailed for its tremendous potential as a networking tool.

A subscriber can post a message, have it read by everyone on the list - which might include health and safety professionals, chemical experts, safety product manufacturers and health and safety committee members coast to coast - and receive several responses within days or even hours.

In the words of one participant:

"I recently posted a question about the efficiency of ozone-generating air purifiers. I received several responses within two hours of posting my message, including sources of relevant studies. This almost instant access to health and safety related information means I can give my recommendations back to concerned employees quickly... I can now solve some problems in a day which used to require a week's worth of sifting through documents and playing phone tag with the experts."

... and another:

"I have found the HS-Canada mailing list the most valuable OH&S resource on the Internet... Although the Internet provides an incredible resource for researching information, the ability to network with other safety professionals via HS-Canada is invaluable."

On average, 5 to 15 messages are posted every day. They focus on a broad range of topics, including biosafety, emergency response, hazardous materials, health and safety programs and policies, industrial/occupational hygiene, Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs), occupational medicine, noise, radiation and other physical hazards, and regulatory information. Responses, as well as questions, are read by everyone on the list and often generate some interesting discussions!

Besides posting questions, participants may also use the forum to announce upcoming conferences, meetings and courses, post ads for OH&S-related jobs, or share non-commercial information about health and safety products.

Subscribers may choose to post messages, or to simply read what other participants are discussing. They also have a choice between receiving each posting as a separate e-mail message or subscribing to the "digest version" of HS-Canada. The digest version is a time saver, sending links to all of that day's messages in one e-mail, allowing users to read the list of topics and click on those that interest them.

The more people who subscribe, the richer the content and the greater the access to information and contacts that can help Canadians improve health and safety in the workplace.

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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