Estimates suggest that repetitive motion injuries cost United States businesses over $20 billion just in workers’ compensation alone. Factor in the costs of employee replacement, productivity loss, and other related expenses, and we’re talking upwards of another $100 billion.
Business costs aside, Repetitive Motion Injuries (RMIs) are a heavy burden to the individual as well. RMIs are painful, costly to treat, and are often times permanent. Permanent injuries put a damper on an individual’s ability to perform the jobs in which they have been trained, meaning there may be the additional stressor of finding work in a new field.
The good news is that with the right work practices and controls, you can significantly reduce workplace hazards that contribute to RMIs.
Unfortunately, many workplaces make the mistake of designing employee workstations in a manner that accommodates a broad spectrum of workers. It sounds like a matter of efficiency, but how exactly does this help a specific individual? A workstation ergonomically appropriate for one employee may not be so for the next. It’s important the workstation fits the employee, not the other way around.
There are dozens of ways a workstation can be designed to reduce the risks of RMIs, but the basic idea is to set it up in such a way that the need for movement is limited. For example, frequently-used desk equipment should be within easy reach, not pushed back to a location on the desk that requires an employee to stretch for it. Or, for a worker operating a piece of machinery: are the controls located in a position that requires the worker to bend down every time they need to input a command? If so, how can you alter the workstation or equipment design to accommodate the worker?
Following safe work practices is the primary key to employee safety. Preventing RMIs is just one of many safety benefits of careful, health-minded behaviors. Some examples are:
Operate equipment and tools according to manufacturer instructions. When a tool can be replaced with one with ergonomically-beneficial properties, do so. For example, for work tasks installing screws and nails, pneumatic hand tools or electric screwdrivers are better than manual tools that require repetitive twisting or bending at the wrist.
Follow proper lifting techniques. Lift heavy objects slowly and smoothly, as jerky movements can cause muscle injuries. Face the object — do not twist your body, especially during the actual lift. Keep the object close to your body with your feet apart and facing forward, lifting with your legs and not your back. Always consider the weight of the load before you attempt to lift it; ask for help or lift the load mechanically if you believe its weight is beyond your capacity.
Take advantage of ergonomic tools at your disposal, such as anti-fatigue mats or adjustable chairs.
For desk jobs, ensure your work station is adjusted to your needs. Set your chair to keep your back straight with your spine relaxed at its natural curve. The top of your computer monitor should be at eye level in order to prevent you from having to bend your neck. Keep all of your equipment within arm’s reach. Make sure you face your work tasks directly by turning your chair rather than twisting at the waist. When typing, your elbows should be at your sides, your feet flat on the floor and facing forward, and your wrists straight.
It’s recommended you switch to tasks that use an entirely different muscle group on the hour. This will retain the momentum of work efficiency while allowing your muscles the opportunity to recover. If possible, employers should cross train and implement scheduled job rotations.
The risks of many RMIs become less prevalent to those who take care of themselves physically. Getting a sufficient amount of rest, maintaining a healthy diet, and getting enough exercise outside of work are all things that will contribute greatly to reducing RMI hazards.
Studies show taking small hourly breaks throughout the workday offers more reparative benefits than one long break. It’s important you don’t skip breaks — take advantage of opportunities to stand, walk, stretch your muscles, close your eyes, or, depending on the severity of repetition involved in your work, stop moving altogether and rest.
As a final note, training and inspection where RMIs are concerned must be thorough and ongoing. A written RMI safety policy is a great way to start. Employees should be well enough aware of their job requirements and equipment to recognize an RMI hazard from a mile away. Employers need to conduct regular worksite inspections to:
1. Ensure that workers are following safe work practices. Correct unsafe behaviors right away, encouraging employee involvement in discussing more effective behaviors.
2. Identify hazards and determine methods by which they can be controlled or eliminated.
Protect your business and your employees from the damages caused by repetitive motion injuries. Always put safety first!
Cold-related injuries can be costly to a business, costly to treat, painful, and in severe cases, fatal. It is an employer’s responsibility to develop a written cold-stress prevention program that provides workers with the knowledge to work safely in cold temperatures.
While a given prevention program will need to be tailored to your specific workplace, use these basics to get you started. Following are elements of cold safety to include in your program:
The Right Gear
Multiple layers of loose clothing create an insulating effect. Avoid tight clothing as it inhibits circulation. Just remember, clothing that is too bulky may restrict movement and become a hazard of its own.
Choose boots that are both insulated and waterproof. Cold environments where snow and/or ice is involved will require footgear that provides traction to protect against slipping and tripping.
The head, hands, and feet lose heat rapidly. Wear a hat, gloves, and layered socks.
Additional protective gear may be necessary depending on weather conditions and work performed. Consider full face protection or waterproof pants, for example.
Moisture carries heat from the body at an accelerated rate (24 times faster, as a matter of fact). If sweating from intense work activity – or any other source of moisture – dampens clothes, workers should change immediately. Always carry a change of dry clothes onsite.
During breaks, move into a warm location. Time spent exposed to cold temperatures between breaks should be limited.
When possible, schedule all work that isn’t urgent to be done during the warmest times of the day when the sun is high and wind conditions are calmer.
It’s important workers are scheduled in teams of at least two. The buddy system allows workers to monitor each other’s conditions and behaviors, watching for signs of cold stress and taking appropriate action when necessary. Appropriate action would include escorting the affected worker to a heated area, performing first aid (or dialing emergency medical assistance), and contacting management.
Working in cold weather depletes the body’s resources more quickly than normal. Taking frequent breaks will help worker’s avoid fatigue, and eating foods high in calories and carbohydrates will contribute to energy resources. Stay hydrated, but avoid caffeine and alcohol. Consider providing employees warm beverages.
Having radiant heaters in place may help workers stay warm while on the job, but beware of the hazards of carbon monoxide — never run heaters, generators, or other carbon monoxide-generating equipment in an enclosed area.
When possible, use engineering controls to alter the worksite appropriately. Erect wind guards and insulate any exposed metal designed for worker contact.
Training and Knowledge
Being properly trained in the characteristics and symptoms of cold-related injuries is very important. It helps workers recognize changes in their own body, and coworkers. Training should include knowledge of cold-related injuries, what their symptoms are, and applicable first aid. The most common cold-related health concerns are hypothermia, frostbite, and trench foot.
Hypothermia occurs when the body’s core temperature drops to approximately 95°F (normal temperature is 98.6°F). It is a result of body heat being depleted faster than it is generated, and is a very serious condition. Hypothermia can have long-lasting health implications, and if left untreated, may result in death.
One of the most disconcerting hazards of hypothermia is it affects the brain, often causing the victim to be unable to think clearly. As a result, a worker may not be entirely aware it’s happening (bringing us back to the importance of the buddy system).
The symptoms of hypothermia evolve over time. In its early stages, victims may shiver, show fatigue, be confused or disoriented, and have a loss of coordination. Later on, shivering will cease. Skin may become a pale blue color and their pulse and breath will slow. At this point, loss of consciousness is possible.
If someone is showing symptoms of hypothermia, notify the nearest supervisor and contact medical assistance. Move the victim to a warm area. Remove any wet clothing and warm them gradually — do not try to shock their body temperature up, as that can cause additional damage. Wrap them in dry layers of blankets and use an electric blanket or skin-to-skin contact. If they are conscious, give them warm beverages. If they have fallen unconscious and have no pulse, perform CPR until medical professionals arrive.
Frostbite is the result of skin losing moisture and freezing. Blood vessels are constricted and damaged, and in severe cases, amputation of the affected area is required. The average temperatures at which frostbite occurs are under 30°F, but keep in mind that wind chill may be a factor.
This affliction favors the extremities, such as the ears, face (nose, lips), fingers, and toes where body heat is lost first. Early symptoms often include a waxy appearance on the affected tissue. Numbness or sharp prickling sensations are also common, although pain is not always prevalent. Later symptoms are hardness of the tissue and blistering, at which case the frostbite has become a severe medical emergency.
If a worker has frostbite, take them to a warm area and contact medical assistance. You may wrap the affected tissue in a warm cloth, or immerse it in warm water (maximum 105°F). Two things to remember while waiting for medical response: do not attempt to warm the tissue if there is a chance that it will get cool again, and do not rub the area to warm it. Both cases can cause severe tissue damage.
Trench foot is often considered a less severe form of frostbite, caused when feet are immersed in cold water for extended periods of time. While its severity may be less, prolonged immersion and lack of treatment may, like frostbite, lead to amputation. Trench foot may occur at water temperatures as high as 50°F.
Symptoms may include itching, numbness, tickling, swelling, and discoloration (red, blue, or black, depending on the severity).
Move trench foot victims to a warm location and contact medical assistance. Immerse the foot in warm water and then wrap it in dry cloth or bandages.
Unifor, Canada’s largest energy union, is calling for a Canada-wide moratorium on all new oil and gas fracking.
“Unconventional gas fracking has the potential to have catastrophic effects on our environment and economy. The safety risks are also a major concern for our union,” said Unifor National President Jerry Dias. “Just because we can carry out this activity does not mean we should. We must enact a national moratorium on fracking activity.”
Dias also noted that it would be folly for Canada to reorient our entire energy infrastructure around a short-term surge in an unsustainable energy supply.
Already the provinces of Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador have introduced moratoriums on fracking. Nova Scotia has banned fracking while undertaking a review. Unifor is now pushing for a national moratorium.
In the statement unanimously passed by the 25-person Unifor National Executive Board, the union expressed support for the non-violent protest efforts by First Nations to resist fracking activity on their lands. The Unifor National Executive Board is made up of elected representatives from across the country and a variety of economic sectors, including energy.
Fracking technology relies on the high- pressure injection of a mixture of water and chemicals into numerous drilled wells, in order to fracture geological formations and allow the release of larger quantities of both crude oil and natural gas. This allows the profitable production of petroleum reserves located in “tight” rock formations (including shale) which were formerly unfeasible. The dramatic expansion of fracking in certain regions of the U.S. (including North Dakota, Texas, and elsewhere) over the last decade has had enormous implications for energy markets, and the environment.
Oil companies are now eyeing other potential fracking regions for similar expansion–including many parts of Canada.
Various types of fracturing technology have been used in the petroleum industry for decades.The new generations of the technology, however, have raised substantial environmental concerns, including:
Pollution of water sources (as fracking chemicals and released methane seep into ground and underground water sources).
Large emissions of greenhouse gases (including wasted flared gas, and large emissions of released methane–which is 25 times more powerful in raising global temperatures than carbon dioxide).
Unpredictable impacts of pressure injection on the stability of rock formations and land surfaces (causing earthquakes and other damage in many locations).
Destruction of surface land through intensive drilling, road construction, and infrastructure (since wells in fracked petroleum fields must be much closer together than in conventional fields).
Safety issues related to fracking are also troubling, including questionable health and safety conditions for workers toiling under haphazard, gold-rush- like conditions. Investigators now believe that the unique explosive properties of fracked oil played a role in the horrible Lac Mégantic tragedy in Québec this summer (the train was carrying fracked crude oil from North Dakota).
“Instead of being guided by short-term swings in prices and profits for private energy producers, Canada’s federal and provincial governments must develop and implement (in cooperation with other stakeholders) a national plan for a stable, sustainable energy industry that respects our social and environmental commitments, and generates lasting wealth for all who live here,” Dias said.
A recently released report from the Electrical Safety Authority (ESA) states that electricity-related deaths in Ontario declined 38 per cent the past five years.
Despite the positive trend, the organization cautioned that too many Ontarians — especially electrical workers —are dying from electrical accidents which is why having proper OHS electrical safety training is important.
Electrical tradespeople accounted for 29% of all electrical-related fatalities in the workplace between 2003 and 2012, and they continue to be critically injured on the job when working on energized electrical panels or ballasts/347V lighting. The number of fatalities for the utility worker sector has increased. Due to small numbers, it is not possible to report this as a trend, but it is an area for increased surveillance.
“Where we’re not so pleased is when we look at the electrical workers,” said Dr. Joel Moody, the author of the report. “They continue to get critically injured on the job, particularly when they’re working around energized panels or commercial lighting systems.
“That number is not coming down like we’d like it.”
ESA uses the incident data in the OESR to identify those areas that present the greatest risk to Ontarians, to track changes in incident data, and to identify emerging trends.
Based on data collected over the past ten years, ESA has identified that over 70% of all electrical injuries and fatalities occur in four specific areas. These areas have been identified as priorities for reducing electrical fatalities, serious injuries, damage and loss in Ontario.
Powerline contact accounted for almost half of all electrical-related fatalities in the past ten years.
Electrical workers accounted for 14% of all occupational fatalities between 2008 and 2012. There are at least two critical injuries to electricians each year. Safety incidents tend to be associated with unsafe work practices.
Misuse of electrical products and unapproved or counterfeit products account for a significant number of safety incidents. More than 900 fires and an average of six fatalities each year. These fires are mainly caused by the misuse of stove-top equipment where unattended cooking has resulted in fire fatalities.
Electrical infrastructure fires in buildings, such as detached residential structures accounted for roughly 750 fires and an average of four fatalities annually
The ESA completes the report with data from various sources. These include the Coroner, Ministry of Labour (MOL), the Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada (AWCBC), the Office of the Fire Marshal (OFM), and the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board of Ontario (WSIB). ESA cross-references the data with the Coroner reports, the OFM’s report and ESA’s root-cause investigation data to ensure accuracy and understanding of the incidents. Data on non-serious incidents is taken as provided.
A fact sheet recently released by the Parkland Institute, a non-partisan public policy research institute in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Alberta, states that the Alberta Government is understating the numbers of workplace injuries that occur each year.
In 2009 the Alberta government reported some 53,000 workplace injuries, however, the group’s paper states the actual number of injuries in the province is 10 times that.
“The reason for the discrepancy,” says the papers author Bob Barnetson, “is that the only injuries the government discusses in public are the disabling injury claims. By not reporting on those injuries which do not result in lost or modified work, they are under representing the true rate of injury by a factor of ten.”
In October the Alberta government will begin issuing fines to enforce occupational health and safety, but Barnetson says that is not likely to make a significant difference to the total rates of injury in the province.
The fact sheet highlights that what truly makes a difference in reducing injury rates is direct worker participation in Occupational Health and Safety efforts. This is one of the reasons that unionization provides workers with a significant safety dividend, especially in Alberta, the only jurisdiction in Canada where joint (worker-employer) health and safety committees (JHSCs) are not mandatory for any size of workplace.
In addition to unionized workers being much more likely to have access to a JHSC, the fact sheet highlights other ways in which unions result in increased safety:
in Alberta unions support workplace safety education for all workers;
having a union in place increases the odds that a worker will feel they can refuse unsafe work;
unions provide experienced staff to represent workers at workers’ compensation hearings;
unions have a voice (often the only voice) at the table with government and can lobby for changes in legislation and participate in consultations; and
Alberta unions have been at the forefront of pushing for greater statistical reporting of injuries, making it difficult for the government to continue downplaying the workplace risks.
“We are not trying to imply that unionization is the only way to improve workplace safety,” says Barnetson, “but the data certainly shows that unions provide a significant safety dividend that benefits all Alberta workers.”
Worksafe BC is seeking feedback regarding changes to the Province’s ladder and asbestos standards.
The proposed changes to the asbestos standard, Section 20.112 of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation, are designed to clarify the responsibilities of employers, owners, and abatement contractors.
Responsibilities and tasks added in the standard revision include:
Employers responsible for asbestos work, and the owner, must ensure a qualified person inspects the machinery, equipment, building or structure, and the worksite to identify any hazardous materials.
When conducting an inspection, a qualified person must collect samples of potential hazardous materials from worksite, determine if those samples are hazardous, and file a report on those findings.
Employers may not disturb the hazardous materials, other than work necessary to safely contain or remove the hazardous materials, is carried out until the hazardous materials are safely contained or removed.
Read the full changes of the asbestos requirements or provide feedback at:
An Ontario coroner’s jury is making multiple safety recommendations to several organizations following a three-day inquest into the 2011 death of a Ontario construction.
The recommendations are aimed at the Ontario Ministry of Labour, Ontario Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities, the Canadian Standards Association and the construction industry.
The recommendations for each are as follows:
Ontario Ministry of Labour
Develop regulations requiring reoccurring training for individuals certified on the operation of elevated work platforms
Develop regulations requiring mandatory training for elevated work platforms for workers and direct supervisors
Develop regulations regarding the documentation of daily inspections for elevated work platforms
Implement more stringent minimum penalties for altering or disabling safety mechanisms on equipment.
Ontario Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities
Develop and implement standardized, mandatory training specific to elevated work platforms, that includes both theoretical and practical operation of the classes of machines used in the construction industry, along with training on the specific machines used
Possible establish a construction industry mentorship programs for young, inexperienced workers
Create training based on existing Canadian Standards Association standards, manufacturer operating procedures and industry best practices.
Canadian Standards Association
Work with elevated work platform manufacturers to explore the possibility of implementing interlock technologies that can enhance the safe use of elevated work platform machines.
Conduct daily Safety meetings that cover potential for any safety hazards.
Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” is a process used to “stimulate” well production in the oil and gas industry. It involves pumping large volumes of water and sand into a well at high pressure to fracture shale and other tight formations, allowing oil and gas to flow into the well.
The hazard alert indicates that NIOSH’s recent field studies show that workers may be exposed to dust with high levels of respirable crystalline silica during hydraulic fracturing.
NIOSH identified seven primary sources of silica dust exposure during hydraulic fracturing operations:
Dust ejected from thief hatches (access ports) on top of the sand movers during refilling operations while the machines are running (hot loading).
Dust ejected and pulsed through open side fill ports on the sand movers during refilling operations
Dust generated by on-site vehicle traffic.
Dust released from the transfer belt under the sand movers.
Dust created as sand drops into, or is agitated in, the blender hopper and on transfer belts.
Dust released from operations of transfer belts between the sand mover and the blender; and
Dust released from the top of the end of the sand transfer belt (dragon’s tail) on sand movers.
In cooperation with oil and gas industry partners, NIOSH collected 116 full shift air samples at 11 hydraulic fracturing sites in five states (Arkansas, Colorado, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Texas) to determine the levels of worker exposure to silica at various jobs at the worksites. Many air samples showed silica levels for workers in and around the dust generation points above defined occupational exposure limits.
Of the 116 samples collected:
47% showed silica exposures greater than the calculated OSHA PEL.
79% showed silica exposures greater than the NIOSH REL of 0.05 milligrams per cubic meter (mg/m3).
9% of all samples showed silica exposures 10 or more times the PEL, with one sample more than 25 times the PEL.
31% of all samples showed silica exposures 10 or more times the REL, with one sample more than 100 times the REL.
The legal exposure limits on silica dust were set decades ago. Workplace safety experts say that limit needs to be cut in half — because otherwise, workers face an increased risk of lung cancer, silicosis and other diseases.
OSHA appeared ready to do so nearly two years ago, when the agency sent a proposal for new silica rules to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). However, since the initial submission there has been no further action.
The proposed amendments would modify existing Rock Dust provisions, adding the following new sections to address silica exposure in the workplace:
assessment of risk to health created by work involving exposure to dust containing respirable crystalline silica,
prevention or control of exposure,
use of control measures,
maintenance, examination and testing of control measures,
monitoring exposure at the workplace,
instruction and training for persons who may be exposed, and
The actions of both agencies point toward a swing in the focus put on silica as a occupational hazard. Employers whose employees are exposed to silica dust should be mindful to ensure their employees have proper training and PPE to protect themselves.
If you need help with silica training call 877-201-8923.
Nova Scotia has rolled out a series of new occupational health and safety rules. The rules, which went into effect June 12, require companies whose employees work at a height greater than three metres to train employees on fall protection and companies whose employees work on highways, roads or public parking lots to conduct a hazard assessment of the worksite and adopt a written safe-work procedure.
The new laws will strengthen regulations, increase accountability through better public reporting, make consequences for law-breakers harsher and target more surprise inspections, according to Labour and Advanced Education Minister Frank Corbett.
In addition to the new laws Nova Scotia is making information on workplace convictions — such as the guilty parties, the offence and punishment — easier to find on the department’s website and working to ensure that information is updated quarterly.
The province is also working to pursue harsher penalties for employers with serious and repeat offenses.
The On-site Implementation and Audit Team were a great help building a robust safety program, walking us through implementation and facilitating the audit.