With cooler temperatures setting in and winter proper right around the corner, workers around the country are facing a uniquely seasonal variety of injuries known as “cold stress.” Although cold stress is possible any time of year, cold weather along with a number of other environmental factors can expose unprepared workers to extreme bodily harm, and even death. Before it gets any colder, now is a good time for businesses to examine their cold stress prevention policies to ensure employees have the tools, knowledge, and training they need to stay warm and work safely.
Awareness and preparedness are the two critical elements of cold stress prevention. It’s important to understand how the human body maintains and regulates its temperature, and how to recognize the warning signs which develop when those systems are failing. Because a variety of factors contribute to cold stress injuries – not just extreme temperatures alone – a worker could be suffering even if it doesn’t seem all that cold outside; having the skills to spot symptoms outside of expected conditions could be crucial for someone’s survival.
Though the right conditions can put anyone at risk, there are some occupations which, by their very nature, put workers in a position to be more frequently exposed to cold weather. These occupations can include sanitation, outdoor construction, snow removal, law enforcement, and emergency response (i.e. firefighters and emergency medical crews).
Conditions (aside from low temperatures) which increase the risk of cold stress include:
Moisture or damp clothes
Time of day (specifically, how much sun warmth is present)
Dehydration and physical exhaustion
Age (your body does not regulate temperature as efficiently as you get older)
Certain health conditions such as hypertension and diabetes
Poor or ineffective clothing and personal protective equipment
Lack of training
Cold stress injuries occur when your body loses heat faster than it can produce it. Your body tries to maintain a core temperature of 98.6°F (37°C). As you are exposed to lower temperatures, your body will prioritize its heat by taking it away from your extremities and reallocating it to the vital internal organs at your core (chest, abdomen). This is why the first places you feel cold are your fingers, toes, nose, and ears. Exposed skin (especially extremities) can quickly develop cold stress ailments such as frostbite and chilblains. Once your body’s internal temperature reaches 95°F (35°C), hypothermia will begin to set in.
Moisture is the enemy. To drive the point home, that really bears repeating – moisture is the enemy. The simplest way to understand this concept is to consider our body’s primary self-cooling function: perspiration. When the body needs to cool itself down, it expels moisture through the pores. Firstly, moisture conducts heat 25 percent faster than air, carrying it from the body. Then, the heat is carried away further when the sweat evaporates. So if the human body is using moisture as a life-saving measure to remove heat, imagine how detrimental it would be if the body were already cold.
Wind isn’t much better than moisture. Your body naturally radiates heat, leaving what we’ll call a thin “heat shield” over your skin. Moving air acts as a conductor, blowing the heat shield away and forcing your body to expend precious energy in order to produce a new one. This works much in the same way as blowing on your hot soup before you eat it – the moving air cools the soup down faster. You’ve probably heard your local television weather anchors discuss “wind chill,” which is a function to describe how cold it feels after actual outside temperature and wind speeds are calculated together. The greater the wind speeds, the colder it feels.
Now that we have an idea how our bodies work in the cold, what are some ways we can protect workers from cold stress?
Dressing properly is probably the most important step you can actively take to prevent cold stress. Wear at least three layers. The inner-most layer should be made of wool (or another animal fiber), silk, or a synthetic/synthetic blend to absorb and keep moisture away. The middle layer should be animal fiber or synthetic for the insulation properties, even when wet. The outermost layer should allow for ventilation and built for protecting against wind and rain. Avoid cotton.
Engineering controls are ways for an employer to set up and design a work space to eliminate or minimize a hazard. In cold-weather situations, engineering controls can include radiant heaters, indoor heated rest areas, and even erecting barriers to protect workers from the wind.
In some areas of the country, the dead of winter comes with brutal winter chill 24 hours a day. Employers can still monitor the weather and attempt to schedule work during the warm(est) times of day.
Safe Work Practices
Promoting safe behavior during the work day can go a long way. Provide warm, sweet liquids while avoiding caffeine or other diuretics which could contribute to dehydration. No one should ever work alone; workers should be scheduled with at least one buddy, as it’s sometimes easier to recognize cold stress symptoms in others than in yourself. New employees, or those unaccustomed to working in extreme temperatures, should be acclimated slowly through gradual schedule increases and rest time decreases (start them with more frequent breaks).
Ultimately, formal training is the way to go. Never send a worker into a cold environment without the knowledge they need to keep themselves and others safe. Workers should know how to prevent and recognize cold stress illnesses, and how to address them with first aid should they appear. For more safety and training resources for cold stress prevention, visit www.safetyservicescompany.com.
As we transition to warmer temperatures, it’s important to revisit your workplace’s Heat Illness Prevention Program to ensure your employees are equipped to combat heat-related stress and illnesses. Heat is the number one cause of weather-related fatalities in the United States despite the fact that most heat-related deaths are preventable.
Average high temperatures have seen a steady increase across the country over the past couple of decades. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) anticipates that average temperatures will continue to increase, and heat waves will become more frequent and impactful. This prediction should encourage all businesses to look at how their employees are exposed to high temperatures, and what they can do to accommodate.
Businesses with employees who perform work in moderate to high temperatures or humid conditions, especially where increased heart rate and perspiration are concerned, must be given the necessary tools to recognize, understand, and prevent heat stress illnesses.
Essentially, heat stress prevention comes down to workplace design, employee training, and effective work procedures. Design and procedures will vary greatly depending on geographical location and the type of work being performed. Businesses should keep in mind that heat stress can occur regardless of the time of year, in both outdoor and indoor conditions. Required personal protective equipment (PPE) can also have a significant impact on the body’s ability to expel heat. Workers involved with hazardous waste operations or asbestos removal, for example, are often required to wear impermeable protective equipment which can trap heat close to the body. A thorough risk assessment will help businesses identify risk elements such as these.
A strong working knowledge of how the body regulates heat, and how personal factors can affect that regulation, is an extremely valuable tool in prevention. The human body needs to maintain a core temperature between 96.8 (36) and 100.4 (38) degrees Fahrenheit to function at peak performance. Weather conditions, manual labor, and personal factors can cause the core temperature to increase, which can lead to the development of a series of heat-related illnesses.
To regulate internal temperature, the body uses two basic mechanisms. The first is to increase the heart rate which assists in moving blood and heat away from vital organs to the skin. The second is perspiration, during which the body expels heat in moisture through the pores, which then evaporates and carries heat away in the process. Personal factors, such as acclimatization, caffeine and alcohol consumption, hydration replenishment, general health, age, and certain prescription medications can affect how well these mechanisms work and should be taken into consideration before performing work in high temperatures. Perspiration is the more effective of the two mechanisms, which means that proper hydration to replenish fluids lost as sweat is absolutely essential.
There are four common disorders which surface as a result of heat stress, ranging from mild discomfort to life-threatening conditions:
Heat rash is the most common ailment which occurs while working in the heat. It is also called “prickly heat.” Symptoms include red, blotchy, itchy skin, particularly in areas of the body with high perspiration, and a prickling sensation. Rashes which aren’t cleaned thoroughly and frequently may become infected. Moving to a cool environment, cleaning the affected area with cool water, and complete drying are often effective treatments.
Heat cramps occur as a result of salt being lost through perspiration. They are painful muscle spasms causing lumps in the affected muscles, usually the back, legs, and arms. The pain can be severe enough to greatly inhibit movement. Workers should cease activities to tend to cramps as soon as they feel them. Stretching and massaging the affected muscle as well as replacing salt by drinking electrolyte replacement fluids are useful techniques in tending to heat cramps.
Heat exhaustion is a dangerous result of heat stress which can lead to a heat stroke if not treated promptly with first aid. It happens when the body is so overexerted that it cannot supply blood simultaneously to vital organs and the skin for temperature regulations. Inflicted workers may experience weakness, headache, breathlessness, nausea, vomiting, faintness, or loss of consciousness. Call 911 and move workers exhibiting these symptoms to a cool place and give them water to drink. Remove any clothing that isn’t necessary and loosen other clothing. Shower or sponge them down with cool water. It will take at least 30 minutes for the body to cool down after experiencing heat exhaustion.
Heat stroke is a disorder which requires immediate medical attention, and can lead rapidly to fatality if not treated quickly. A person experiencing a heat stroke may experience confusion, hot, dry skin, high body temperatures, lack of sweating, irrational behavior, convulsions, and/or a loss of consciousness. Call 911 right away and take the victim to a cool area to immerse or shower them with cool water. Wrap them in wet sheets and fan them until you can transport them to a hospital or an ambulance arrives.
Knowledge can mean the difference between life and death during a critical victimization of heat stress. Workers should understand the nature and symptoms of heat-related illnesses both in a sense of recognizing them in themselves, and when a coworker is suffering. In many cases, a quick and efficient response can save a heat stress victim from numerous long-term effects that would have otherwise occurred had symptoms gone untreated. Proper training and a strong Heat Stress Prevention Program will help protect worker health year round.
People are physiologically programmed to sleep during the night and be active during the day. This is known as the sleep-wake cycle. Consequently, shift workers are especially prone to sleep disturbances, sleep deprivation and misalignment of the sleep-wake cycle, all of which lead to sleepiness, fatigue and associated performance deficits.
People don’t fully adapt to shift work. This is particularly true for evening work, night work and rotating shift schedules. For example, night work requires restorative sleep during the day which is often shorter, lighter and less restorative than nocturnal sleep.
Most shift working industries are required to identify, assess and control fatigue as part of their health and safety management system. This is no simple matter, particularly for personnel working in hazardous environments or performing safety critical tasks, such as heavy vehicle operators in the road transport or mining industries.
Even the best designed fatigue management plans cannot regulate sleep behaviors during rest periods or days off. Insufficient restorative sleep will increase levels of fatigue with each consecutive shift. This can be further exacerbated by rotating shifts due to the changes and disruptions in sleep/wake patterns during changeover periods.
An effective fatigue management plan should offer strategies to counteract fatigue. While the only true cure for fatigue is sleep, shift workers will need to rely on naps to maintain alertness, and caffeine can be effective to some degree depending on the individual. But keep in mind that these will only reduce the risk of a fatigue-related incident, they cannot eliminate the risk.
Technology that can objectively detect the early signs of fatigue in real-time can be used to effectively complement organizational and regulatory approaches to improve fatigue management. The ability to continuously assess operator fatigue, regardless of factors such as time-of day (sleep-wake cycle), previous amount and quality of sleep, effect of drugs or alcohol, or undiagnosed sleep disorders, would be beneficial to any fatigue management plan.
What do the Metro North derailment, Exxon Valdez, Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and a few other notable aircraft incidents have in common? Fatigue.
Employee fatigue played a role in all these tragedies and many more. As an employer, you must ensure your workers are not experiencing signs or effects of fatigue on the job. You can help make your workers and your business safer by including information on fatigue and sleep in your safety guidelines and orientations. You can also develop a fatigue management plan.
Fatigue is a state of feeling very tired, exhausted, weary, or sleepy. Fatigue results from a lack of sleep and can be heightened from prolonged mental activity or long periods of stress or anxiety. Boring or repetitive tasks can also intensify feelings of fatigue. Fatigue can be acute or chronic. Acute fatigue results from a sudden onset of short-term sleep loss, such as getting less sleep than normal before a work shift. Adequate sleep is necessary to reverse the effects of acute fatigue. Chronic fatigue is a long-term state that results from an extended loss of necessary sleep. A sleep debt can build over weeks or months from a reduction or disruption of a normal sleep routine.
Create shift schedules that give workers enough time for continuous sleep. If the job requires long hours or overtime, consider that your workers will need enough time for other daily activities, such as commuting, preparing and eating meals, socializing, and relaxing. Provide a work environment that has good lighting, comfortable temperatures, and reasonable noise levels.
Ensure that jobs provide some variety, with work tasks that change throughout the shift. Be flexible when assigning tasks — assign workers who may be fatigued to tasks that aren’t safety sensitive.
If your workplace has long shifts or frequent overtime, consider providing amenities, such as the following:
Facilities where workers can nap either during the shift or before driving home
People need at least 7.5 to 8.5 hours of sleep a day. Studies have found that most night-shift workers get less sleep per week than those who work day shifts. The quality of sleep during the day is not the same as during the night.
Here are some guidelines you can pass on to your workers for improving quality of sleep:
Go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
Turn out the light immediately when going to bed.
Don’t read or watch television in bed.
Make your room as dark and quiet as possible. Some people sleep better in a cool room.
Establish regular eating times.
Avoid caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol, especially before bedtime.
Samantha Catalano from the Mesothelioma and Asbestos Awareness Center contacted me about some of the different resources and information they provide. The sites looks to be a great resource of information, namely the free informational packet they send out. Here’s some basic information for you.
Jobsite safety is a concern for all employers and their workers nationwide. There are an array of on-the-job hazards that present a potential risk, and one such hazard is that of asbestos. Asbestos is an occupational danger that many individuals may not consider, but it is a very real threat. There are millions of professionals in the U.S. that may be exposed to asbestos while at work, including mechanics, firefighters, damage restoration technicians, custodians, contractors, engineers, miners, steel workers, power plant workers, and more.
Asbestos-containing materials are present in over 35 million buildings nationwide, including residences and workplaces. Asbestos was also commonly found in many structural implements prior to the 1980’s, including insulation, drywall, acoustical plaster, roofing tiles, floor and ceiling tiles, and more. When these materials are disturbed or damaged, the tiny asbestos fibers may become friable, putting workers on various jobsites at risk for inhalation. If inhaled, these tiny fibers, which have a claw-like structure, can cling to the pleural lining of the lungs for an upward of fifty years before an individual may experience symptoms related to mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a deadly form of lung cancer that has no known cure and a survival rate of less than 1%.
There are a variety of methods that should be applied on any jobsite where they may be asbestos present. Proper ventilation is crucial in any workspace where individuals may interact with asbestos-containing materials. In addition, all workers should wear protective gear, such as eyewear, disposable clothing, and gloves. Masks or self-contained breathing apparatuses should be worn at all times to avoid inhalation of asbestos fibers. All workers who may handle asbestos should also be informed of proper asbestos removal and disposal regulations and must adhere to these guidelines to ensure safety.
Exposure to asbestos may manifest itself decades later in the form of a deadly lung cancer. Workers who may handle asbestos should take all necessary precautions to protect themselves and their work environment. If an individual suspects that they have been exposed to asbestos while at work, they should consult a physician as soon as possible.
Do you have trouble communicating to your workers that two heads are better than one?
Sometimes two sets of hands, as well as two bodies, can be better then one; especially when it comes to lifting items that require more than one worker to lift.
Lifting injuries are not just confined to back injuries.
Lifting results in work-related musculoskeletal disorders that include:
– 13% of the hand / wrist
– 22% of the elbow
– 30% of the shoulder
– 43% of the back
Lifting heavy items is one of the leading causes of injury (overexertion and cumulative trauma) in the workplace.
Team lifting must be coordinated with all actions communicated between team members.
When you use smart lifting practices and work in your power zone, you are less likely to suffer from back sprains, muscle pulls, wrist injuries, elbow injuries, spinal injuries, and other injuries caused by lifting those heavy objects.
Training all by itself, without making changes to the workplace, is often not effective in preventing injuries.
Often workers are taught “proper lifting techniques” and then sent out to work under conditions that do not allow them to use these techniques.
Communication is essential.
– Size up the load and check over-all conditions.
– If the weight, shape, or size of an object makes the job too much for one person, ask for help.
– Do not handle it on your own.
– A rule of thumb is to use one person for every 50 pounds.
– Wear proper personal protective equipment (PPE) to avoid finger injuries and contact stress.
– Ensure that gloves fit properly and provide adequate grip to reduce the chance of dropping the load.
– Wear non-slip soled footwear to provide sure footing.
– Make sure there is enough space for movement and that the footing is good.
– Be sure there are no obstructions in the planned path of movement for the load to prevent tripping.
– Keep an eye on where you place your feet while in transit.
– Workers should be approximately the same size for team lifting. Same size lifters will keep the item being carried well balanced.
– Divide the weight lifted in half when two workers lift together.
– One person needs to be responsible for control of the action to ensure proper coordination. Select this person before the lift begins.
– Remember; if one worker lifts too soon, shifts the load, or lowers it too soon, either worker may be injured. Coordinate voice signals.
– Utilize proper handholds, including handles, slots, or holes with enough room to accommodate gloved hands. Use metal bars for reels.
– Both workers must work together and communicate expected actions. If you need more than the two of you to lift, ask for assistance. Some items can be slid rather than lifted. Use mechanical assistance when available. Mobile transporters can alleviate lengthy lifts.
Follow these steps when team lifting:
1) Take a balanced stance with your feet about shoulder-width apart. (It is okay to put one foot behind the object and the other next to it.) Communicate that you are ready.
2) Squat down but keep your heels off the floor (on the balls of your feet). Get as close as you can to the object.
3) Use your palms and not just your fingers to get a secure grip on the object. Make sure that this grip will hold and you will not have to switch your grip later.
4) Lift slowly (without jerking) using your leg, abdominal and buttock muscles while keeping the load as close as possible to you. Continue communicating with helper.
5) Once you are standing “do not twist” when you change directions. Point your feet in the direction you want to go and then turn your whole body. Do not twist with the object while you are walking.
6) To lower the load or place the object, use these same guidelines in reverse. Communicate until lift is over.
I appreciate your feedback, please let us know if you have anything you would like to add, or if you have any other tips on team lifting.
Our writing team has been out on extended vacation, but we’re back in full swing. Today we talk about proper ergonomics for people who work on computers.
Do you ever get VDD (Video Display Disease) from your VDT (Video Display Terminal)?
Yes, I do too. The long hours at the computer can add up to all kinds of health problems. My boss will not spend the money to buy me an ergonomic chair. There are many new chairs that would improve my productivity. Here is what I experience. How about you?
Back Problem: When my chair is too soft, I sink into the seat pan. This restricts movement and causes thigh, buttock, and lower back fatigue. When my chair is too hard, I need to change postures frequently to relieve thigh and buttock discomfort. What a bummer!
What should I do?
Your chair should be designed to allow free movement while sitting. The chair must be properly designed for comfort, efficiency, and the task. Because your chair is a very personal item, you must be involved in the selection and purchase of the chair. This will ensure that you are satisfied with your chair and that the best chair has been selected for you.
When a display screen is too low, it causes me to lean forward, slouch down, or lower my chair to improve screen viewing. This can cause the lower curve of my back to flatten as a result of no lumbar support.
So what do I do? Raise the monitor to the correct viewing height, so that the topmost active line of the character display on the screen is at or just below your eye level.
Remember; neck problems are often related to the VDT monitor height, the absence of a document holder, or improper positioning of the holder.
Shoulder problems: Shoulder strain can occur when my arms are positioned too high or too low. When my hands and arms are too high, they tend to pull my shoulders up, straining my shoulder and back muscles. When my hands and arms are too low, they pull my shoulders down, putting pressure on my shoulder and back muscles and compressing nerves in my neck and arms.
What should I do?
Adjust your keyboard or chair and reinforce the principle of keeping your hands, arms, and forearms parallel to the keyboard.
Muscle fatigue problems: My VDT work consists of fixed posture and repetitive motions, resulting in local muscle fatigue. My muscles need rest to prevent discomfort, fatigue, and possible injury or illness.
What should I do?
To reduce your muscle fatigue:
1. Take frequent breaks of shorter duration (three to five minutes) every hour.
2. Change job tasks to reduce fatigue and monotony, allowing different sets of muscles to be used.
3. Exercise to help relax tight muscles, reduce stress, and lessen the sense of general fatigue.
If you know of a chair that is available to reduce these VDD problems, let me know. I will present it to my boss and hopefully she will listen to you, since she doesn’t seem to listen to me!