Preventing MRSA Infections on the Job

Americans have become increasingly aware of the “superbug” MRSA (methicillin-resistantstaphylococcus aureus) because of the number of outbreaks that have been reported among school children. However, most people don’t realize that adults are just as susceptible to getting a MRSA infection at work.

To avoid becoming infected, you need to understand what the disease is, and how to prevent it. MRSA is a type of “staph” infection. Staph is a bacterium commonly found on the skin or in the nose of healthy people; however, it can sometimes cause an infection. In fact, staph bacteria are among the most common causes of skin infections in the United States. When these infections are minor, they appear as pustules and boils, and can be easily treated without antibiotics. When the bacteria cause serious infections, such as surgical wound infections, bloodstream infections or pneumonia, they need to be treated with antibiotics.

MRSA isresistant to a type of antibiotic called methicillin and is often resistant to other antibiotics, too. According to the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH), between 25% and 30% of the population have staph bacteria present on their bodies, but it isn’t causing disease, and about 1% of the population carry MRSA that is not causing an infection.

The most common way a MRSA infection is transmitted is by direct skin-to-skin contact. It also can be contracted by coming into contact with items or surfaces that have been touched by someone carrying the infection. Although a MRSA infection can happen anywhere, these five conditions can facilitate its transmission:

1.   Overcrowding-working in close surroundings in which there are frequent incidents of rubbing against or touching co-workers.

2.   Direct contact-coming into frequent skin-to-skin contact with co-workers.

3.   Compromised skin-having an open cut or abrasion in which the bacteria can settle.

4.   Contaminated surfaces-commonly used surfaces such as a cafeteria table that may have been infected by someone with the disease.

5.   Lack of cleanliness-failure to frequently disinfect commonly used areas in a facility.

You may not be able to control how much contact you have with co-workers, but you can take steps to protect yourself. Here is what NIOSH recommends:

·      Cover your wound.  Keep wounds that are draining or have pus covered with clean, dry bandages. Pus from infected wounds can contain staph and MRSA, so keeping the infection covered also will help prevent the spread to others. Bandages or tape can be discarded with the regular trash.

·      Clean your hands. Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, especially after changing a bandage or touching an infected wound.

·      Do not share personal items. Avoid sharing personal items such as uniforms, personal protective equipment, clothing, towels, washcloths or razors that may have had contact with an infected wound or bandage.

·      Clean work clothing properly. Wash soiled uniforms and work clothing with water and laundry detergent. Dry clothes in a hot dryer, rather than by air-drying, to help kill bacteria in the clothes.

·      Clean contaminated equipment and surfaces with detergent-based cleaners or Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered disinfectants.  This is an effective way to remove MRSA from the environment. Because cleaners and disinfectants can be irritating and exposure has been associated with health problems such as asthma, it is important to read the instruction labels on all cleaners to make sure they are used safely and appropriately. The EPA provides a list of EPA-registered products effective against MRSA, which can be found by logging on to

Help bring MRSA under control in your workplace by following these precautions.

Your Hands Need Protection from Work Injuries Too

You probably aren’t aware of how complex a piece of equipment your hands are. There are a total of 27 bones in your hand and wrist. These bones are joined together by ligaments, which also hold the joints in place. Nerves carry messages from your brain to your hands and fingers to help them move. All of this intricate machinery is wrapped up in a layer of skin.

The skin provides a barrier against foreign objects, as well as heat and cold. The skin on the back of your hand is thin and elastic, but on the palm, it is thicker to provide traction, cushioning and insulation.

Just like any other delicate piece of equipment, your hands need to be safeguarded while you are working. The most common sources of injury stem from mechanical hazards from tools, equipment, machines, structures and vehicles such as:

·   Chains, gears, rollers, wheels and transmission belts

·   Spiked or jagged tools

·   Cutting, chopping and grinding mechanisms

·   Cutting tools such as knives and presses

·   Falling objects

You can make your hands less vulnerable to these risks by following these safety tips:

·   Work at a pace at which you feel comfortable – The number of hand injuries you will have is in direct proportion to how quickly you work.

·   Keep alert – Stay focused on what your hands are doing whenever you are using tools or machinery.

·   Use a push stick to feed a circular saw.

·   Handle the tools and equipment you work with properly – Never take shortcuts.

·   Use wrenches that properly fit the nuts and bolts you wish to tighten.

·   Use long magnetic poles for retrieving items from places that are too dangerous for hands to reach.

·   Don’t hold the workpiece in your hand while using a hand tool because the tool could slip and cause injury.

·   Never try to repair power tools or machinery without first checking that the power is shut off and the machine is locked out.

·   Wear the appropriate gloves when handling chemical substances.

·   Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water or use special cleansers, especially after direct contact with a chemical substance.

·   Don’t wipe your hands with chemically contaminated rags.

·   Don’t operate machinery if you are taking any medication unless your doctor tells you it is safe to do so. Some drugs can slow your reflexes, which makes your hands vulnerable to injury. 

Learn How to Protect Yourself from Machine Accidents

In 2002, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that 92,560 injuries, which resulted in lost time from work, were caused by machinery. The agency ranked the top injury causing machines according to the number of accidents that occurred during their use:

1.   Metal, woodworking and special materials machinery (19,269 injuries)

2.   Material handling machinery (16,183 injuries)

3.   Special process machinery (15,576 injuries)

4.   Heating, cooling and cleaning machinery (13,330 injuries)

5.   Unspecified machinery (6,148 injuries)

6.   Construction, logging and mining machinery (6,069 injuries)

The BLS also found that machinery was the chief source of fatal occupational injuries in 483 of the 5,915 fatalities during 2002.

If you use machinery as part of your employment, you need to know how to protect yourself from the hazards that machines pose. The following list of guidelines for correct machine use was compiled by Wake Forest University:

1.   Wear safety glasses, goggles or safety shields designed for the type of machine work being done.

2.   Be sure that all machines have effective and proper working guards.

3.   Replace guards immediately after any repairs.

4.   Do not attempt to oil, clean, adjust or repair any machine while it is running.

5.   Do not leave a machine while it is running. Someone else may not notice it is still running, and be injured.

6.   Do not try to stop the machine with your hands or body.

7.   Always see that work and cutting tools on any machine are clamped securely before starting.

8.   Get help when handling long or heavy pieces of material.

9.   When working with another person, only one should operate the machine or switches.

10.   Do not lean against the machine.

11.   Concentrate on the work and the machine at all times; it only takes a moment for an accident to occur.

12.   Do not talk to others while they are operating a machine.

13.   Be sure you have sufficient light to see clearly when doing any job.

14.   Wear short sleeves or roll sleeves up above the elbow.

15.    Don’t wear bracelets, rings, etc., when operating machines.

16.    Never use compressed air for cleaning machinery.

Keep in mind that although your company may be extremely diligent about guarding machinery, you must still exercise caution because there are some operations that cannot be completely guarded. You should also remember that even though machines are equipped with guards, it is still possible to get your hands and fingers in a machine’s danger zone.

Adhering to these guidelines and any additional ones that your company has in place should lessen the chances of a workplace machinery-related accident happening to your or your co-workers.

Practice Safety When You Travel to Work

You rely on your company to provide a safe environment while you are on the job. However, your company relies on you to act safely when you are traveling to and from work.

No matter how you travel, every one is vulnerable to the possibility of an accident. However, of all the means of travel, walking probably provides the most risk. That’s because pedestrians are vulnerable to every form of moving vehicle. The American College of Emergency Physicians reports that 68,000 pedestrians were injured in traffic crashes in 2004. On average, a pedestrian is injured every eight minutes in the United States. That’s why it is imperative that if you walk to work, you follow the American College of Emergency Physicians’ recommendations for pedestrian safety:

·   Use sidewalks.

·   Know and obey safety rules (e.g., if a “don’t walk” signal starts blinking when you’re halfway across an intersection, continue walking).

·   Cross only at intersections and crosswalks.

·   Look left, right and left again for traffic before stepping off the curb.

·   Be sure you are seen by oncoming traffic.

Of course, pedestrians aren’t the only travelers who are vulnerable when commuting to work. Drivers also face a number of risks because they travel during rush hours when traffic is at its peak. In fact, says that your commute home from work may actually be the most dangerous time to drive. The site goes on to note that although 12 a.m. – 3 a.m. Saturday and Sunday mornings are considered the two most deadly times to drive during the week, the deadliest time period overall is actually from 3 p.m. – 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. More drivers are on the road in the afternoons, and these drivers are generally tired from working, distracted by the problems that occurred during the day, and in a hurry to pick up their children or get them to an activity or event. 

Even though afternoons pose a greater safety threat, all rush hour driving makes it necessary for you to practice extreme caution:

·   Leave early enough to get to work on time without having to speed.

·   Travel at a speed that is suited to the road conditions.

·   Obey traffic signs and signals.

·   Yield the right-of-way at intersections.

·   Don’t swerve from lane to lane.

·   Signal before you make a turn.

·   Stay in the right lane while driving so that cars can pass you on the left where you can see them.

Keep these tips in mind so that you can arrive at and return home from work safely, every day.

Knowledge Is Power When It Comes to Keeping Safe Around Power Lines

In an article titled Alarming Statistics: Reducing Common Injuries and Maintaining Safety Practices that appeared in the May 2007 issue of Electrical Contractor, author Darlene Bremer noted that exposure to electricity remains a major cause of death among construction workers. So much so that it accounts for an average of 143 construction worker deaths each year.

Many workers are oblivious to the potential electrical hazards in their work environment, which makes them extremely vulnerable to the danger of electrocution. Sometimes it is a matter of not being familiar with the environment, and not knowing the location of all the energized power sources from overhead and underground power lines.

However, this isn’t always the case. Many instances of electrocution result from workers failing to follow proper safety procedures when working around power lines. The most common cause of electrocutions is when workers using cranes, metal ladders, scaffolds, conveyors, front-end loaders, dump trucks, or other equipment or materials come into contact with an overhead power line. It is not uncommon for workers to die while performing what appears to be an activity that isn’t normally associated with accidents, such as unloading supplies from a truck, or moving ladders from the side of a structure. The problem arises because of poor planning or temporary inattention to surroundings, which causes contact with high voltage.

OSHA has established the following guidelines to help keep you safe when you have to work near power lines:

·   Keep a distance of 10 feet or more between you, your equipment and any power lines.

·   Survey the site for overhead power lines before you begin working.

·   Keep a minimum distance of 10 feet plus 1/2 inch for each 1,000 volts over 50,000 volts between power lines and any part of a crane if the energized power lines are 50,000 volts or more.

·   Request an observer to assist you where it is difficult to maintain the desired clearance by visible means.

·   Be sure that the observer’s only job is to help you maintain the safe clearance.

·   Treat overhead power lines as if they were energized whenever you are working near them.

·   Call the electric company to find out what voltage is on the lines if you are not sure.

·   Ask the electric company to either de-energize and ground the lines or install insulation while you are working near them.

·   Make sure ladders and tools are nonconductive. 

Improving Air Quality Protects Welders’ Health

Airborne particles pose significant potential health hazards for welders. That’s because there’s a co-relation between the chemical and physical properties of airborne particles and respiratory diseases. Protecting these workers from inhaling particles is key to protecting their health.

The greatest risk comes from particles that are between 1 and 100 microns in diameter, such as dust produced during industrial processes like welding and grinding. These particles are able to work their way through the nose and throat and penetrate the gas exchange region of the lungs where they settle, causing inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels.  Inhaling these particles over the long-term can lead to lung cancer.

Lung cancer begins with changes in the lungs that are characterized by the development of abnormal cells on the lining of the bronchi, the large air tubes that carry air to and from the lungs. These cells multiply with continued exposure and eventually become cancerous, and develop into tumors. Symptoms of lung cancer include chronic cough, hoarseness, chest pain, shortness of breath and numerous episodes of bronchitis and pneumonia.

Another less serious exposure-related illness that affects welders is metal fever. This is an acute allergic condition that causes headache, fever, chills, muscle aches, thirst, nausea, vomiting, chest soreness, gastrointestinal pain, and weakness. These symptoms usually last from 6-24 hours and complete recovery happens within 48 hours.

To prevent workers from contracting illnesses associated with airborne particles, it is imperative that the workplace offers adequate ventilation that removes contaminants generated during the welding process. The most effective way to accomplish this is through a combination of dilution ventilation and local exhaust ventilation techniques.

Dilution ventilation is used to decontaminate air in a whole building or room by blowing in large amounts of clean air and exhausting dirty air. This process dilutes the concentration of contaminants within the air to less dangerous levels. The most common methods of dilution ventilation include roof exhaust fans and wall fans.

One significant drawback of this method is that it allows the contaminants to enter the welder’s breathing zone before they are removed from the environment. If used exclusively, dilution ventilation may not be adequate to control exposure. For best results, dilution ventilation should be used in combination with local exhaust ventilation. This method captures contaminates at or very near the source and exhausts them outside.

Some welding equipment includes local exhaust ventilation, which removes the contaminates at the point of origin. Other local exhaust ventilation systems include a hood that can be placed as near as practical to the work being welded and provided with an airflow in the direction of the hood, or a fixed enclosure with a top and at least two sides that surround the welding work and provided with an airflow away from the enclosure.

Local exhaust ventilation prevent contaminates from entering the welder’s breathing zone. In addition to being discharged outside the building, local exhaust can be re-circulated through an air cleaner.

A Whipping Hose Is a Preventable Safety Hazard

Pressurized hoses are used on the jobsite everyday to run tools like paint sprayers and nail guns.  While the tools they power can make a worker’s job much easier, the hoses themselves can be dangerous if handled improperly.  The hoses derive power from the liquid or gas that moves inside them; however, that power also creates a reactive force.  If the force is strong enough, it can cause the hose to whip, possibly causing serious injury if it strikes a worker and even additonal hazards, like a chemical spill.   

The following tips can help you prevent hose whipping hazards:

  • Inspect hoses for torn outer jackets, damaged inner reinforcing, or soft spots before using them. Hoses with these types of damage should be removed from service.
  • Reduce the pressure in the hose to a lower level if possible. Setting pressure regulators to 30 psi or less can minimize the possibility of the hose whipping.
  • Avoid making sharp bends in the hose, which can damage the reinforcement.
  • Don’t jerk on a hose that has become snagged as this can cause ruptures. Find the object the hose is caught on, and release it there.
  • Restrain pressurized hoses that are unavoidably located near other employees with guards that are strong enough to keep the hoses in place if a leak or rupture occurs.
  • Use solid lines with tight fittings if possible instead of flexible hoses when working near other employees. Solid lines do not whip or leak as readily as flexible hoses, which can develop leaks from vibration, pressure cycles and aging.
  • Examine the connections on pressurized hoses frequently to prevent any accidental detachment of the line, which would result in uncontrollable whipping. Hose clamps with a restraining chain should be used to minimize the whipping effect if hose connections should accidentally become loose.
  • Pin the two sides of the hose’s twist type fitting together using the lugs provided. Be sure these fittings are fully secured.
  • Use the safety device at the air supply to reduce the pressure in the event of a hose failure. This device is standard on all hoses that are ½ inch in diameter or larger. If the hose you’re using doesn’t have this device, lash the two ends of the hose together to restrict whipping.
  • Never connect or disconnect pressurized hoses, always depressurize first.
  • Don’t stop the airflow in a hose by bending or crimping with pliers as this could cause major hose damage.
  • Stand clear of potential rupture points when conducting hose pressure tests. During testing, the pressure should be increased gradually with a brief pause between each increase. Instruments for reading pressures should be arranged so they are clearly visible at all times.

Your Brain Is Your Best Tool When It Comes to On-The-Job Safety

Everyone has heard the old adage ”Experience is the best teacher.” While it is true that you remember what you learned from an experience, especially a bad one, you may not like the other consequences that are part of the learning process.

This is especially true when it comes to on-the-job safety. Learning from a bad experience usually involves injury, and sometimes death. This shouldn’t have to be the case. But unfortunately, not exercising proper caution, and not paying careful attention can lead to these outcomes.

You probably hear a supervisor tell you or your co-workers, “Be careful,” or “Pay attention” any number of times during the day. The next time you hear those words, stop a minute and think of all the reasons you should be careful. Then follow that supervisor’s advice, so you can avoid having an accident that may be the last thing you ever learn.

You may be thinking, ‘I’m experienced, I don’t have accidents.” If you are, you’re setting yourself up for a bad learning experience. Accidents happen when you least expect them, and no worker, no matter how experienced, has any special immunity from having an accident. That’s why it is so important to follow safe work procedures. They are designed to help you avoid the causes of possible injury while getting the job done correctly. That’s also the reason your employer provides you with personal protective equipment (PPE), because using it prevents or minimizes the probability you will be injured.

Always remember your brain is your best defense against injury. Let it remind you to:

  • Follow proper work procedures at all times. Never take short cuts, even if you think that they will save time. All of the time you save will be lost if your short cuts cause you to be injured.
  • Concentrate on the task at hand. That means giving it your full attention until it is completed. Avoid any kind of distraction like talking, or joking around with co-workers because they can result in your being seriously hurt.
  • Use PPE whenever appropriate. Be sure it fits correctly, and that you wear it in the manner it was intended.

Understanding the Proper Usage and Limitations of Cartridge-Type Respirators

A half-mask cartridge-type respirator is the most common type used for protection against solvent vapors.  Many workers believe their respirator is working properly, when in reality it may not be.  You could have the wrong kind of respirator for the task at hand, wrong kind of filter cartridges, leakage and fit problems, or worn-out filter cartridges. Also, keep in mind that filter cartridge respirators just don’t protect you from the vapors produced by all chemicals.

Try to Use Ventilation Where Possible Instead of Relying on Respirators

Ideally your workplace should make full use of fans and local exhaust ventilation to make the air safe, if possible. Make full use of the ventilation you have. Also, never enter a confined space that has not been tested for oxygen content with a cartridge respirator.  Oxygen content must be at least 19.5% to use these types of respirators.

Use the Right Kind of Respirator

Dust masks, surgical masks, and handkerchiefs do NOT protect at all against solvent vapors. Don’t automatically choose an organic vapor (“OV”) filter cartridge respirator. A respirator must be right for the kinds of solvents you use, the amount of vapor in the air, and your work situation.

Make Sure Your Respirator Fits Properly

Any respirator will leak between the mask and face, unless it is fitted right. You must be individually “fit tested” by a trained person when you receive your respirator. There are various mask sizes and shapes. Masks can be “full face” (over the eyes, nose and mouth) or “half face” (nose and mouth only). Facial hair under the sealing edge allows vapor to leak into the mask.

Before Using Your Respirator:

· Look it over. Before you put it on, check it for cracks, damage, or loose parts.

· Check the fit. After you put it on, check the fit yourself. For respirators with masks that seal to the face, do “positive pressure” and “negative pressure” fit tests. These tests are done with the respirator on; block the valves, then exhale and inhale, checking for leaks.

· Clean it up. After use, clean the respirator, if necessary, using soap and water.

· Protect it. Store it in a sealed plastic bag to protect it from dirt and vapors. Protect it from crushing which could deform the shape of the facemask.

Do Not Use Filter Cartridge Respirators with All Solvents

Solvents with poor odor warning ability, such as Freon, carbon tetrachloride and methylene chloride, are not safe to use with filter respirators.You need an odor to warn you at the end of cartridge life or if the respirator leaks.  You should know both the type and concentrations of contaminants in the air of your workplace.

Replace Cartridge Filters Often

Filters may last for a few minutes or a few days of use, depending on the situation. Old filters let vapors leak through. Exit your work area and replace the filters immediately whenever you smell leakage into the mask; you should never be able to smell the chemicals at all when you’re wearing the respirator.

Cartridge-type respirators are safe to use provided you understand their limitations and know how to use them properly.

Indoor Air Quality: It’s Hard to Believe What We Breathe

Since the early 1970’s and the development of buildings that were sealed tight to save energy costs, indoor air quality has become an important concern.  The absence of fresh air and the regurgitation of stale air throughout massive office complexes have generated millions of headaches and more serious concerns.

Poor air quality doesn’t just come from the lack of fresh air.  There are many volatile organic compounds like formaldehyde in constant use in these buildings.  The major sources of formaldehyde are likely to be particleboard, fiberboard, and plywood in furniture and paneling in addition to carpeting and glues.

Other dangerous chemical compounds are released from everyday office items like furniture, paint, adhesives, solvents, upholstery, draperies, carpeting, spray cans, clothing, construction materials, cleaning compounds, deodorizers, copy machine toners, felt-tip markers and pens, and correction fluids.

Microorganisms like bacteria, viruses, molds and fungi are present in the air almost everywhere and may also cause office air pollution.  Fungi and bacteria find nourishment in inadequately maintained humidification and air-circulation systems, and in dirty washrooms.  In 16 major studies, at least 281 cases of illness were traced to humidifier systems, circulation vacuum pumps, blowers, ventilation and duct work, and air filters.

Another known cause of office pollution is asbestos and asbestos products that number in the thousands.  Office buildings are likely to have them in ceiling and floor tiles, and acoustic and thermo insulation.  A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study of ten cities found that almost twenty percent of office buildings contained asbestos in an easily crumbled, more dangerous state.

Unless you work in a sterile office environment with no carpets, drapes or furniture, there is no avoiding a risk to your breathing system.  But there are at least some steps that you can undertake to make your building and workplace safer.

  1. Eliminate Tobacco:  A firm no-smoking policy is the best way to protect the health of all employees.  If that is not currently feasible, smoking should be allowed only in a well-ventilated area reserved exclusively for that purpose, where no non-smoker is required to enter or pass through.

2.      Provide Adequate Ventilation:  Guidelines for office buildings set by the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Engineers require circulation of a minimum of 140 liters of outside air per minute per person.  Relative humidity should be kept between thirty and sixty percent.

3.      Practice Regular Maintenance:  Clean and disinfect ventilating, heating, or cooling devices and systems, including humidifiers and dehumidifiers, air filters and air circulation pumps and blowers.

For the health of all of employees, remember to pay heed to indoor air quality.   We are what we breathe.