Health and Safety for Workers, Students, and Families

Current Articles | RSS Feed RSS Feed

Warning: Noise hazard! High-volume MP3 players can cause hearing loss

  
  

MP3 earbuds

Many workplaces permit employees to listen to MP3 players—especially in factories or at work sites where noise volumes are hazardous or distracting. But using MP3 players (such as iPods) as noise-canceling devices can cause noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) if listeners crank up the volume.

Guidance on noise-induced hearing loss from the National Institutes of Health's National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders says that "repeated exposure to sounds at or above 85 decibels can cause hearing loss." Many experts cite 80 decibels as the danger level—roughly equivalent to the sound of heavy city traffic.

"I see employees wear MP3 players while working all the time, and I know they are listening to them at least 5 or 10 dB above background," says Elisabeth Black, certified industrial hygienist. "I think it is a major problem, the results of which won't become apparent for a while—until it is too late for many."

Noise-induced hearing loss is painless and is not immediately noticeable. Gradual loss can take place for years before people start to realize they can't hear as well as they used to—sounds are distorted or muffled. Speech becomes harder to understand. And noise-induced hearing loss is permanent. Hearing acuity, once lost, cannot be restored.  

A danger-awareness video called "My iPod Can Destroy My Hearing?? Say What??" from the Mountain and Plains Education and Research Center at the Colorado School of Public Health tells "how loud is too loud" and describes how to prevent MP3-induced hearing loss.

The video lists these prevention measures:

  • Use noise-canceling headphones or earbuds to block out ambient noise (so you won't have to turn up your MP3 player so loud).
  • Set a volume limit on your MP3.
  • At least every 45 minutes, take a break from listening to your MP3. 

A more immediate danger to MP3-listening workers, notes Elisabeth, is failure to hear work-site warnings or hazard communications.

For more information, Macworld.com offers an excellent overview of hearing safety and MP3 players.

Workers taking asbestos samples on roofs are not exempt from fall protection regulations, says L&I

  
  

 fall hazard sign

The Washington Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) recently clarified its internal enforcement policy concerning fall protection during asbestos surveys or inspections conducted by contractors, consultants, or other workers on roofs. L&I considers taking asbestos samples to be a work activity and not a roofing activity. Taking samples falls under the requirements of fall arrest/fall restraint—thus, the WAC 296-155-24515(2)(a) exemption DOES NOT APPLY.

Additionally, L&I considers the use of tools to do any destructive activity (including taking samples) to be "work activity" and thus falls under the requirements of fall arrest/fall restraint. Again, the WAC 296-155-24515(2)(a) exemption DOES NOT APPLY.  
  
Bottom line, AHERA Building Inspectors conducting asbestos surveys or inspections with or without sampling activity are NOT exempt from fall arrest/fall restraint requirements.

Argus Pacific is EPA-certified to provide Lead Renovator training

  
  

Argus Pacific has become one of only 120 trainers across the country certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to provide training in lead-safe work practices. As of April 22, 2010, the EPA requires contractors performing renovation, repair and painting (RRP) projects that disturb lead-based paint in homes, child care facilities, and schools built before 1978 to receive lead renovator training and become EPA-certified. Renovators also must follow specific EPA-designated work practices to prevent lead contamination.

Argus Pacific's EPA-Certified Lead Renovator Training is an 8-hour class that gives training in lead-safe work practices to renovators, remodelers, painters, maintenance personnel, and any other workers who are being paid to remove or modify painted surfaces in pre-1978 housing and child-occupied facilities. After the training workers receive EPA certification, which lasts for 5 years.

The class also teaches workers how to comply with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) Lead-Safe Housing Rule and satisfies the training requirements for the U.S Department of Energy's (DOE) Lead-Safe Weatherization guidance.

To register for Lead Renovator training classes call us at 206.518.6095.

Christmas tree fire safety: Preventing holiday hazards

  
  

Nothing brightens the Christmas holidays more than a beautifully decked-out tree. But without proper precautions, Christmas trees and lights can pose real fire hazards to homes, offices, and schools. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, there are hundreds of Christmas tree fires every year, resulting in deaths, injuries, and millions of dollars in property damage. Shorts in electrical lights or flames from candles, lighters, or matches start most tree fires.

Home fires caused by Christmas trees are relatively rare compared to home fires started in other ways, says the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), but they are more often deadly. For every nine home fires that begin with a Christmas tree, says the NFPA, one person dies—compared to one death in every 75 home fires unrelated to Christmas trees.

Here are a few fire safety tips to ensure a merry, healthy, and safe Christmas for your family, friends, co-workers, schoolmates.

Get a fresh tree

When choosing a tree, make sure it’s not dry. Bounce the tree trunk on the ground; a fresh tree will keep its needles. Test a tree’s freshness by bending a few needles, says the Live Safe Foundation. The needles should bend easily and not snap in half. Fresh needles are also not easily pulled from the branch. The trunk of a fresh tree is sticky to the touch from resin. Ask the tree seller to cut off a couple of inches from the bottom the trunk for optimal water uptake.

Keep the tree hydrated

Secure the tree in a stable base with a water capacity of at least 1 gallon. Replenish the water every day. Well-watered trees are not a fire hazard, says the U.S. Fire Administration. Dry, neglected trees, though, can be fire starters. A short fire-hazard video from the Building and Fire Research Laboratory of the National Institute of Standards and Technology shows how quickly fire spreads when a dry tree is ignited.

Place the tree in a safe location

Keep the tree at least 3 feet away from heat vents, space heaters, radiators, baseboard heating, and fireplaces. Avoid room corners—fires that start in corners get hot quickly and spread faster than those near a flat wall. Also, the tree should never block exits from the room.

Avoid electrical mishaps

Nearly half of Christmas tree fires are caused by electrical malfunction, says the NFPA. Don't overload outlets. Connect no more than three strands of lights to a single extension cord. Don't run extension cords under rugs, across doorways, or near heaters. If possible, use a surge protector. Use only UL-listed lights designed for indoor use; inspect each strand for frays or exposed wiring. Trying to repair damaged strings isn't worth the risk—just retire or recycle them. Keep lights and cords away from the water in the tree stand, and from flammable materials like curtains. Unplug lights before leaving the house or going to bed.

A few more safety tips

  • Never use decorate your tree with candles.
  • Try your best to keep small children and pets away from the tree. Consider putting up a fence or child gate.
  • Test the tree needles regularly. As long as they remain flexible when bent, the tree is likely safe.
  • Don't burn dry trees, tree parts, or wrapping paper in your fireplace. They might suddenly ignite, causing a flash fire that your fireplace can't contain.
Photo credit: wolfsavard

Food safety awareness: Tips for a healthy Turkey Day

  
  

 

turkey-safety

Preparing Thanksgiving dinner should be a fun and festive way to begin the holiday season. Are you this year’s chef? Sure, you want your holiday to be happy and warm—but try to keep your cool. Don’t let all the excitement push you to cut corners that might promote food hazards.

Improper cooking, serving, and storage of food can promote growth of harmful bacteria that can cause food-borne illnesses. Chefs, the following tips will help raise your safety awareness of food-borne health hazards that are a particular danger on Turkey Day.

How to safely defrost a turkey

First, never defrost a turkey on the counter. Why not? Because room temperatures promote active bacteria growth. Frozen turkey can be thawed three ways: in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave oven. Refrigerator thawing is the best way to avoid bacteria growth and will likely taste better.

 

Refrigerator. A whole turkey takes about 24 hours per four or five pounds to thaw in the refrigerator. Thus, a 16-pound turkey would take three to four days to thaw. Keep the frozen turkey in its original wrapper. Juices that leak as the bird thaws can cross-contaminate other foods, so put the turkey on a tray to catch all juices. A thawed turkey can stay in the fridge (at a temperature of 40 degrees F or below) for one to two days before cooking. A turkey that has been properly refrigerator-thawed can be refrozen.

 

Cold water. Submerge a turkey that is securely wrapped (no tears or holes) in cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes to keep it cold and bacteria-free. Allow about 30 minutes defrosting time per pound of turkey. Cook immediately after thawing. Do not refreeze a cold-water-thawed bird.

 

Microwave. This method works only for small, unstuffed turkeys or turkey parts. Consult the owner’s manual for the turkey size that will fit in the oven, the cooking time per pound, and the proper power level. Remove all wrapping—packaging materials might contain chemicals that could be transferred to the food. Put the turkey on a microvave-safe dish to catch juices. Turkeys thawed in the microwave cannot be refrigerated or refrozen. They must be cooked immediately after thawing.

Keeping clean

Before and after handling the turkey, wash your hands with warm water and soap. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that you sanitize countertops and cutting boards with a solution of one tablespoon of unscented chlorine bleach per gallon of water.

Stuff it!

After thawing, remove the neck and giblets from turkey cavities, and store them in the refrigerator (if you’re using them). For optimal food safety, the USDA recommends you not stuff a turkey, but instead cook the stuffing separately in a casserole dish. Use a food thermometer to make sure the stuffing reaches an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees F. If you choose to stuff the turkey, prepare stuffing right before the turkey is put into the oven. Stuff the turkey loosely. (Use about ¾ cup of stuffing per pound of turkey.) After stuffing, put the turkey in the oven immediately.

Take the temperature

“The most critical food safety practice when preparing a whole turkey is using a food thermometer,” says USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Jerold Mande. “The minimum internal temperature must reach 165 degrees F for safety.” Turkey meat, even if it’s pink, is safe to eat when it reaches at least 165 degrees F. Using a food thermometer, check the internal temperature of the thigh, wing, breast, and the stuffing. For detailed information on measuring turkey temperature, go to eatturkey.com.

 

After removing the bird from the oven, let it stand for 20 minutes so the juices will set, making carving easier. Remove all stuffing from the cavity.

What to do with leftovers

  • When dinner is over, carve the remaining turkey from the carcass. Cut the meat into small pieces.
  • Do not leave turkey, stuffing, or other food out for more than two hours.
  • Refrigerate stuffing and turkey separately. Use shallow, covered containers two inches deep or less so food will cool rapidly and evenly. Arrange items for free circulation of cold air; do not crowd the refrigerator.
  • Use an appliance thermometer to make sure that your refrigerator is 40 degrees F or below.
  • Instead of refrigerating all leftovers, you can freeze cooked turkey and stuffing for three to four months. 
  • Eat refrigerated leftovers within three to four days.
  • When reheating leftovers, bring the foods to 165 degrees F, or until hot and steaming. Bring gravy to a boil.

For more information

  • U.S. Food and Drug Administration: 1-888-SAFEFOOD: For questions about safe handling foods for holiday meals, including eggs, dairy, fresh produce, and seafood.
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture: Meat and Poultry Hotline, 1-888-MPHOTLINE (1-888-674-6854). M-F, 10 a.m.–4 p.m. EST. Open Thanksgiving Day, 8 a.m.–2 p.m. EST. E-mail questions to the hotline at mphotline.fsis@usda.gov. Or ask a food safety question at AskKaren.gov.
photo credit: fiat luxe 

Halloween health and safety tips: Happy trick-or-treating!

  
  

 

Halloween can be a fun holiday for kid and grownups alike, but trick-or-treating might turn a little too spooky unless you take some common-sense precautions for optimal holiday health and safety.

Are those costumes safe?

  • Unmask! Especially with younger kids, masks can obstruct vision. Use kid-safe makeup instead, but first test it on a small area and watch for irritation. Wash it off before bedtime.
  • Use safe props. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that “swords, knives, and similar costume accessories should be short, soft, and flexible.”
  • The right fit? Make sure children’s costumes allow enough room for warm clothing underneath. But dresses, pants, and capes should not be so long that they cause tripping. Discourage too-big shoes and high heels.
  • Brighten up. Opt for brightly colored costumes and apply reflective tape to costumes and bags for visibility at night.
  • Fire hazards. Choose costumes made from flame-retardant fabrics. Do not go near lit candles, luminaries, lighters, or open flames especially if you’re wearing a loose-fitting costume.

Out and about: Safety for trick-or-treaters

  • Safety in numbers. Don’t trick-or-treat alone; go in groups. Kids younger than 12 should be accompanied by an adult. “Make sure someone in the group carries a flashlight with fresh batteries,” says the Mayo Clinic.
  • Stranger danger. Stick to familiar neighborhoods. Ask older children to carry cell phones. Instruct kids to approach only brightly lit homes and to never go inside a home.
  • Be street wise. Walk only on sidewalks or at the far edge of well-lit roads, facing traffic. Use crosswalks, and look both ways before crossing. At intersections, wait for the “walk” signal. Don’t take shortcuts through backyards, alleys, or parks.
  • Safe to eat? Ask kids not to snack on treats before they get home. Inspect treats for tampering and choking hazards. Eat only factory-wrapped treats. If an item is not sealed, the packaging is torn, or it looks “iffy,” throw it away. Avoid homemade treats. For very young kids, discard gum, peanuts, small hard candies, and other items that might be choking hazards.
  • Have a party instead. The Mayo Clinic advises parents to consider having a trick-or-treat party with neighbors instead of going door-to-door. Decorate garages, and plan games with prizes. Not only is this a safer and healthier activity, but it also allows kids to interact with each other.

Keeping your house safe for trick-or-treaters

  • Welcome. Switch on porch and exterior lights for good visibility. Clear away any obstacles—such as toys, bicycles, hoses, lawn decorations—that could be tripping hazards. Remove soggy leaves, puddles, ice, and snow from walking areas.
  • Down, Fido! Keep your pets away from children on your property.
  • Healthier giveaways. Instead of handing out candy, consider small packs of raisins, trail mix, or pretzels. Or how about fun non-edibles for bigger kids like colorful pencils, cute erasers, rubber spiders, or glow sticks? Green Halloween has a lot of ideas for treats to give out instead of candy.
  • Driver alert. If you need to drive, watch out for kids darting between parked cars. Take it slow, especially when entering or leaving driveways and alleys.
photo credit: woolennium

Are workplace wellness programs effective?

  
  
workplace wellness

Workplace wellness programs are a “proven strategy” in reducing risk factors for heart disease, says a new American Heart Association (AHA) policy statement. These risk factors include smoking, overweight, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.

We can all save money

Every year the U.S. spends an estimated $304.6 billion on treating heart disease, says the AHA. Up to 30 percent of companies’ annual medical costs go toward health care for employees at high risk for heart disease and stroke.

“Research shows that companies can save anywhere from $3 to $15 for every $1 spent on health and wellness within 12 to 18 months of implementing a program,” says Mercedes Carnethon, a professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University’s School of Medicine and lead author of the AHA policy paper.

These cost savings can be passed onto employees in the form of lower premiums, co-pays, and deductibles; reduced need for higher coverage; and wage increases instead of burdensome insurance costs.

Striving together for better employee health

American businesses are becoming alert to the benefits of programs aimed at employees’ health improvement and prevention, health services expert R. Douglas Metz told Today’s Dietitian magazine. He says employers see health improvement programs as a way to boost productivity, reduce absenteeism, cut down on the number of sick (and possibly infectious) employees who show up at work, and lower the need for medical leave.

What should a company wellness plan entail?

The AHA policy cites these keys to a successful workplace wellness program:

  • Tobacco cessation and prevention
  • Regular physical activity (such as employee walking programs)
  • Stress management and reduction
  • Early detection and screening
  • Nutrition education and promotion
  • Weight management
  • Disease management
  • Cardiovascular disease education including cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and Automated External Defibrillator (AED) training
  • Changes in the work environment to encourage healthy behaviors
  • Promoting occupational health and safety

How to establish a workplace wellness program

Start with the Centers for Disease Control’s Healthier Worksite Initiative.

photo credit: Andreas D.

 

Will your facility be required to report emissions under the EPA's new Greenhouse Gases Rule?

  
  

The EPA’s new Greenhouse Gases Rule (GHG Rule) is on a fast track for implementation at the start of 2010. When the Rule goes into effect, its new, more stringent requirements may come as an unpleasant surprise to some businesses.

Which facilities will be required to monitor and report emissions?

  • Suppliers of fossil fuels or industrial greenhouse gases, manufacturers of vehicles and engines, and facilities that emit 25,000 metric tons or more of GHG emissions per year
  • Those industries identified by certain North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes

All qualifying facilities will be required to submit annual reports to the EPA starting with calendar year 2010.

How many facilities will be affected?

The EPA estimates that about 25,000 to 35,000 U.S. businesses, organizations, government agencies, and universities will be required to monitor and annually report emissions. By comparison, under current emissions monitoring regulations (the 2008 NOx Budget Trading Program), only about 2,600 facilities are required to report emissions.

Be aware, though, that the number of facilities initially required to report will be much higher than 35,000.  Why?  Because the EPA will require initial monitoring to determine which facilities must report annual GHG emissions. And if you report once, you will be required to report annually thereafter so the EPA can track emissions changes.

What does reporting entail?

The largest burdens will probably be the substantial recordkeeping involved, conducting ongoing monitoring, and learning the methods used to calculate overall emissions as defined by the GHG Rule. The new methods are similar to those developed by the World Resources Institute and World Business Council’s GHG Protocol. Acquiring the equipment necessary to accurately monitor emissions will also be critical.

Get ready!

Emissions monitoring under the new GHG Rule will begin on January 1, 2010—so facilities must have monitoring systems fully in place a few short months from now.

Need more information?

See these frequently asked questions about the GHG Rule.

* * *

Tim Nickell, CHMM, Argus Pacific, Inc.

photo credit: gothopotam

How should employers manage swine flu in the workplace?

  
  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued special guidelines for how businesses should keep swine flu away from the workplace. According to WebMD, employers should take these measures:

  • Tell workers with flu-like symptoms to stay home and not to return to work until at least 24 hours after their fever is gone
  • Reassure workers that staying home will not cost them their jobs
  • Expect sick workers to be out for 3 to 5 days
  • Do not require a doctor's note to allow employees to return to work
  • If employees get sick during the day, isolate them from other workers and immediately send them home
  • Provide soap and water and hand sanitizers in the workplace
  • Encourage employees (by word of mouth and by placing signs and posters) to practice hand hygiene and to cough and sneeze into tissues or their sleeves
  • Frequently clean surfaces and objects that are continuously touched (work stations, doorknobs, counter tops, etc.)
  • Encourage employees to get flu shots 
photo credit: Mike Licht

The first Labour Day Parade touted worker health and safety

  
  

Happy Labour Day! Why the Canadian spelling? Because Labour Day, says treehugger.com, is an "imported holiday"—inspired by Toronto workers' demonstrations for improved workplace conditions.

In March 1872, the Toronto Typographical Union went on strike, seeking shorter hours (they wanted a 58-hour work week!) and safer working conditions. Printers' life expectancy was about 35 years because of their exposure to lead and toxic inks, and the frequency of workplace accidents. A parade of about 2,000 workers, led by two bands, marched through Toronto—gathering supporters as they went, eventually reaching 10,000.

The Toronto workers' parades led to an annual celebration. In 1882 American labor leader Peter J. McGuire saw one of these Toronto "labour festivals" and, on returning to New York, he organized the first American "labour day" on September 5.

The Canadian Encyclopedia gives a detailed account of workers' early attempts to win better workplace health and safety conditions. As an aside, many of the original strikers lost their jobs and were forced to leave Toronto. But the fight for a shorter work week became a mainstay in union demands.

photo credit: peasap

All Posts