Health and Safety for Workers, Students, and Families

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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

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

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