March 19, 2013
Spring may be around the corner, but it’s still cold out. It’s easy to be deceived by the sunshine and dress in clothes that aren’t warm enough. That might not be too bad if you are walking outside in your neighbourhood, but if you are venturing into the wilderness – for work or recreation – you can’t be too casual about it.
“Even the best weather can change rapidly, and even the widest trail can be lost,” reads What to Bring from North Shore Search and Rescue. “It pays to take a little extra with you, just in case.”
This list from North Shore Rescue reminds us of 10 essential items – two of which are layers of clothing and a thermal blanket. Preparing yourself can cut your risk of hypothermia – a condition that can be “…particularly dangerous because a person may not know it is happening and won’t be able to do anything about it,” says the CDC’s Winter Weather: Hypothermia.
“Body temperature that is too low affects the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly or move well,” reads the CDC website.
About 80 Canadians die of hypothermia each year, according to the Canada Safety Council. This number is way too high – so do what you can to stay warm and be prepared. For more info on preventing and treating hypothermia, check out:
Cold stress/hypothermia – from WorkSafeBC
The Cold Facts on Hypothermia – from the Canada Safety Council
Prevent Hypothermia – from the Canadian Red Cross
Cold Environments – Health Effects and First Aid from the Canadian Centre of Occupational Heath and Safety
Hypothermia – from Transport Canada
January 15, 2013
Older farm workers are more likely to be injured while using machines than their younger counterparts, says a new Canadian study.
“The study concluded older farmers work fewer hours than their younger counterparts but spend more time operating heavy machinery and equipment,” says this post in the Ponoka News, which I learned about via enews from the Canadian Agricultutral Safety Association.
“Older farmers disproportionally retain tasks involving machinery as they age. The proportion of time spent operating machinery increases 40 per cent in older age groups,” reads the Ponoka News post. “…the machines they’re using are usually the oldest on the farm.”
Dangers of farming
Kenda Lubeck – farm safety coordinator for Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development – told me about the risks of this industry last year during the “I Have A Role” campaign for 2012. She said 18 people die in farm-related incidents each year in Alberta, which is why the new campaign targets emphasizes everyone in the agricultural industy – including parents, farm owners, workers, equipment dealers, and community groups.
“By creating conversation around safety, it may just remind someone to take the time to install ROPS (roll over protective structures) on their tractors or to take that final walk around their equipment before heading out on the job,” Kenda said. “Farm injuries and fatalities are preventable.”
The Alberta Farm Safety Centre reports there were 1,769 agricultural fatalities in Canada from 1990 to 2005. Its website says “agriculture ranks as Canada’s third most hazardous industry” and “in terms of absolute numbers of fatalities, there is no more dangerous occupation.”
Agricultural machines were involved in 70.9% of fatalities.
The “older worker” factor
What happens as we age?
“We don’t see or hear as well,” said WorkSafeBC senior ergonomist Peter Goyert, quoted in this WorkSafe Magazine story. “Our colour perception deteriorates. Our reflexes slow down and we don’t sleep as well. We’re less flexible and our range of motion shrinks. Our bones thin, our balance declines, and we lose muscle and respiratory and cardiovascular function.”
But let’s look on the positive side. I used the term “chronologically gifted” in my post In praise of older workers, quoting NIOSH director John Howard, who spoke on Workers Memorial Day 2011.
“As more and more chronologically gifted workers are on the job, we must be aware of the unique challenges they face, and design our health and safety interventions accordingly,” he said. “No one should face the prospect of injury, illness, exploitation, or death in earning a paycheck.”
Here’s more information on farming safety. Please add any suggestions in the Comments.
Canadian Agriculture Safety Week 2013 – March 10 to 16, 2013
Canada Farm Safe Plan – a national safety and health plan for farmers from the Canadian Agriculture Safety Association
Safety resources on the Farm and Ranch Safety and Health Association website
Recent incidents in agriculture on the WorkSafeBC website
Farmer crushed by irrigation wheel – a hazard alert from WorkSafeBC
July 26, 2012
I expect you’ve already heard much about the importance of using sunscreen at work and play – but do you know how different types of sunscreens work? I found a video that explains it well, in less than three minutes, from the US Food and Drug Administration. The FDA implemented new rules for labelling sunscreen, effective June 18, 2012, and this video helps consumers understand their options. FDA Shines Light on Sunscreen explains the new law.
In Canada, it’s Health Canada that “regulates the safety, effectiveness, and quality of sunscreens in Canada,” reads their website.
According to Health Canada, here’s what you can do to protect yourself from the sun:
- Use a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15, ideally one that is water resistant, and be sure to follow the instructions on the product label.
- If possible, avoid being in the sun between 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.
- Look for shade, stay under a tree, or use an umbrella.
- During outdoor activities, wear sunglasses to protect your eyes. When the UV index is three or higher, you should also wear protective clothing and a large-brimmed hat.
- Remember to apply sunscreen to all exposed areas of your skin.
The Canadian Dermatology Association Outdoor Workers Program offers posters and other sun safety information for workers and employers.
July 19, 2012
A farmer was changing a flat tire on an irrigation reel when the reel tipped over and crushed him. The reel, which was wound with 400 metres (1,300 feet) of water-filled hose, weighed about 8 tonnes (18,000 pounds). Tragically, the farmer died of his injuries, according to the latest Fatality Alert from WorkSafeBC.
Tragedies like this are all too common on farms, where kids’ safety is also an issue. Each year, on average, 13 kids are killed on Canada’s farms – and that’s why the Canadian Agriculture Safety Association is reaching out to communities throughout the country. One of their biggest initiatives – in addition to Agriculture Safety Week – is Progressive Agriculture Safety Day® events in 2013.
More than 13,500 kids and participants will take part in the activities organized by safety groups in Canada’s rural communities, including several 4H clubs. They look at local safety issues such as sun safety, chemical exposure, and handling animals. I spoke with CASA’s executive director, Marcel Hacault, and asked him to tell me more about the benefits of getting kids involved.
“We are trying to change the culture of farming, and one of the ways we do that is by targeting the pre-culture change. In most rural communities there are at least a couple of kids who are from a farm, or end up being farmers or working for farmers in the future,” he said, via phone from Winnipeg.
“The benefit we see is that it’s been shown to change behaviour in kids and also the volunteers. For every safety day, there’s about one in 10 adult volunteers who attend who are also learning about safety messaging and how to behave safely.”
Marcel said people who are interested in hosting a safety day in their own communities can visit the CASA website to find out more. Congrats to him – and everyone else involved – for generating so much interest in this important issue.
June 21, 2012
Musculoskeletal injuries (MSIs), such as sprains and strains, are the most common injuries to treeplanters. According to WorkSafeBC, planters’ repetitive-strain claims alone cost more than $870,000 and 8,621 lost days of work between 2003 and 2007.
A new series of info sheets for silviculture workers is available online from WorkSafeBC – developed in partnership with the Western Silviculture Contractor’s Association, BC Forest Safety Council, FPInnovations, Brinkman & Associates Reforestation, Western Forest Products, and the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.
“If you suffer an MSI and cannot do your normal amount of work, you won’t be able to earn any money doing piecework,” reads the info sheet for workers.
This piecework arrangement is described in a recent story in the Merritt Herald; workers earned 13 cents per tree, with some aiming to plant “several thousand per day.” Without the right precautions, this can take its toll on the body.
I wrote about a treeplanter who got injured at work in my post Treeplanting lessons learned from experience. He suffered an MSI one year, and – after four months of healing – vowed to be ready for the next season. He strengthened his core muscles, with reminders via email from his company’s first aid attendant.
Pre-season training is one of the recommendations in the new info series – with a link to the Fit to Plant Training Log – a program created by Dr. Delia Roberts, who studied the physical demands of treeplanting and shared what she learned about preventing injuries. Her many publications for treeplanters are used widely by reforestation companies in BC – available from the Treeplanting portal of the Selkirk College website.
June 14, 2011
It’s going to be hotter-than-usual across the country this summer, says Environment Canada – and I can’t wait! As a writer, I can work from pretty much anywhere, and if I’m hot, it’s no problem to get enough water, shade, and rest.
But it’s not so easy for people in other jobs – especially folks who work outside. Working in the heat may at first feel uncomfortable, but it can lead to serious health complications and even death in extreme cases.
OSHA reports that 30 workers die each year in the US from heat-related illness, and that thousands more get very sick. To combat this, OSHA has launched a Campaign to Prevent Heat Illness in Outdoor Workers, including a video and other resources (also available in Spanish).
“HEAT ILLNESS CAN BE DEADLY,” reads the OSHA website. “Every year, thousands of workers become sick from exposure to heat, and some even die. These illnesses and deaths are preventable.”
Recognizing the signs
Workers should pay attention to the following signs of heat exhaustion: excessive sweating, muscle cramps, shallow breathing, increased heart rate, dizziness, weakness, and fatigue.
Here in BC, employers are required to “provide adequate training and education to all workers at risk for heat stress, their immediate co-workers, and their supervisor,” reads Preventing Heat Stress At Work, from WorkSafeBC, available in English, Spanish, Chinese, and Punjabi.
Recently I’ve spoken with two managers who said they’d been talking with staff about working in the heat. One works with bus drivers; the other works with school grounds keepers. I’ll be sharing their stories here soon, and in the meantime, here are some resources you can share or use at work.
It’s Your Health – Extreme Heat Events from Health Canada
Heat Stress from CUPE National Health and Safety Branch
Heat Stress, a NIOSH Safety and Health Topic from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Heat Stress in the Workplace: What You Need to Know as an Employer from Britain’s Health and Safety Executive
November 02, 2010
BC archaeologist Shannon Cameron takes precautions every time she goes to work in the woods. But one day, she and her coworker met a bear whose curiosity outweighed his instinct to avoid humans.
“He was within 15 feet and he was standing up on his hind legs and huffing. There’s specific noises and facial expressions they make when they’re going to charge, and my crew member and I were doing everything we could to look as big as possible,” she told me.
“We were waving our arms and clapping and hollering and setting off bear bangers and bear spray and finally the bear decided he didn’t want anything to do with it and he turned around and walked away. That’s as close as I ever got.”
As archaeologists, Shannon and her colleagues look for evidence of past human activity on pieces of land used by foresters, geologists, and other industries. The first thing they do – with respect to wildlife – is make a lot of noise to announce their arrival. They bang shovels and do “bush calls” to let animals know humans have entered their territory. Once they get to work, they keep talking to one another if they are spread out, to keep their presence known.
“You’re pretty focused on what you’re doing on the site, trying to get it done,” Shannon said. “There were things you had to do in that environment, like not bringing certain foods like chicken wings or ribs in your lunch and making sure all your food is well-sealed.”
Shannon said they also carry bear bangers (i.e. small explosives that scare bears away), bear spray, and a rifle for shooting into the air. She said workers in the area – foresters, geologists, biologists, and archaeologists – inform each other about animal sightings.
“Knowing there’s a mama bear with cubs in the area is the most concerning thing because you know they will be very protective and they’ll have bigger boundaries than they normally do,” she said.
Shannon said awareness is the best prevention.
“It’s being aware of your surroundings and trying to be respectful of it. If you do that, you really minimize your chance of having those close encounters,” Shannon said, describing how you can keep the environment safe for other humans who arrive after you.
“You don’t leave all your food wrappers or feminine hygiene products laying around. If you minimize your impact and let everything know where you are in the bush, you’re probably not going to have that many incidents.”
Even one close-up incident would be more than enough for me, but luckily there’s more information on minimizing the risks of bears in the woods. Check out Beware of bears and be prepared and Training of workers with respect to bears.
August 26, 2010
While camping on Vancouver Island recently, I got a chance to meet with the staff at Nanaimo’s WildPlay Elements Park (formerly the Bungee Zone) to talk with them about their new safety program.
I met with the company’s skills training manager Jonathan Huittika, site manager Jennifer Doyle, and WorkSafeBC safety officer Dave Gaskill. Together we sat in the sun on a patio and they told me about the new safety program they’ve been working on together.
“We pretty much had to set it up from the ground up with meetings, documentation, an operational health and safety manual, and committees of workers and managers who meet on-site,” Jonathan said.
“Before Dave came, we had practices but we didn’t have proper documentation. Obviously we have to be extremely safety-minded here – for guests and staff.”
Jen, the site manager, said her team has been working on the safety manual and looking at ergonomics. They also look at personal safety for workers who may be confronted by difficult guests.
“We cover it in our training – how to speak with a guest who is under the influence of alcohol or is being unsafe in any way. We do a lot of role playing in different scenarios,” she said.
Facilitating freaky fun
WildPlay guests bungee jump into the river, zip-line through the air, swing across cliffs, and navigate obstacle courses high in the trees. During the peak summer season, up to 40 workers keep things going smoothly. All of them take a five-day training course and are coached and monitored continually during their employment at the park.
“Obviously falling is a big hazard we deal with all the time, but we’ve never had someone fall off something,” Jonathan said. “More likely injuries are the ones we don’t notice at first – like overuse when someone doesn’t stretch properly or mental stress from dealing with a large amount of people coming through the park.”
I asked Jonathan if he had any advice for other employers starting safety programs from the ground up.
“The most important thing is to be proactive with your WorkSafe agent. You do not have to have everything perfect from the start but it is important to keep progressing,” he said. “Even when your program is established, you need to always have risk management in the back of your mind in your day-to-day work practices and to address these concerns proactively on a consistent basis.”
August 12, 2010
I asked on Facebook: “What precautions do you take to stay safe at work? What ‘dangers’ do you face at your job?”
As I expected, some interesting answers came from my network of contacts who work in many different industries.
My neighbour Chris, an archaeologist, said his safety precautions include: “tailgate meeting everyday to discuss things like ’don’t get hit by large mechanical equipment, don’t get eaten by wild animals, don’t get lost, try not to fall down’….and that’s not to mention the many dangers in the office!” Read more