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Safety and Health

Through these safety and health pages, the Governor's Office of Employee Relations provides state employees with instructive and helpful information. Each year thousands of state employees are injured on and off the job. The articles and information found here may help you and your co-workers stay safe and healthy. Check back periodically for new and updated information.

Risk

We constantly make decisions and act based on our concept of the risk involved. Using both facts and innate reasoning we safeguard ourselves against the many hazards we face. Some things we understand to be extremely dangerous, like walking into oncoming traffic, and we don’t do them. Some things we know have some risk, like using toxic chemicals, and we weigh and measure the discomfort of wearing protective equipment with the likelihood we will get sick. We often have trouble understanding risk when the possible effect is far removed from us by time or experience. If someone has done something in the past and not had a problem (say, used a grinder without wearing safety glasses) it can be difficult to convince them of the importance of protective equipment even though the loss of eyesight is a known hazard from grinders. Similarly it can be difficult to get people to use protective equipment when the concern is a disease that might not appear for 30 years.

Unfortunately our minds can also work against our own self-interest when evaluating the information we use to make decisions. A now classic case is the fear that vaccinations can cause autism. Although that concern is based on a single study that has since been proven to be fraudulent, (Click here for additional information debunking the myth) some people still think of that fear as a reason to forego vaccinations. We tend to hold onto an initial idea and dismiss subsequent information. Unfortunately these wrong decisions do not just affect the individual making the choice. Unvaccinated people can become fertile ground for once defeated diseases to reappear and then pose a real threat to people with compromised immune systems or other health issues. We find it very difficult to understand how our individual decisions can affect society and to overcome ideas even when we later learn they are wrong.

Safety and Health professionals often find that employees are resistant to using personal protective equipment. Understanding how people think about risk can help safety staff to tailor training to overcome preconceived ideas and resistance to safe work practices.

Global Harmonization System

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is modifying the Hazard Communication Standard (29CFR 1910.1200) to come into line with international developments. As explained on the OSHA website:

In 2003, the United Nations (UN) adopted the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). The GHS includes criteria for the classification of health, physical and environmental hazards, as well as specifying what information should be included on labels of hazardous chemicals as well as safety data sheets. The United States was an active participant in the development of the GHS, and is a member of the UN bodies established to maintain and coordinate implementation of the system. The official text of the GHS can be found on the UN web page.

Under the Global Harmonization System there will be uniformity in the presentation and content of product labels and safety data sheets. As things are now, labels and safety data sheets from different manufacturers can be quite different in format, making it difficult to quickly locate the information that might be important in an emergency. The new style data sheets all have the same 16 part format. The labels and safety data sheets also make use of universal pictograms that make it possible to have an understanding of a chemical’s primary hazards with just a brief look.

Here is an example of a current data sheet: http://hazard.com/msds/f2/bjp/bjpys.html and here is a data sheet for a similar product that is consistent with the new standard: http://www.alsglobal.eu/docs/eng_20100526_msds_h2so4_en.pdf

OSHA mandates that all affected employees receive training about the changes under the Hazard Communication Standard by December 1, 2013. That mandate is enforced by the Public Employee Safety and Health Bureau of the New York State Department of Labor for public employees in New York State. Public employees must also receive information about the new labels and safety data sheets as part of the mandated training under the State’s Right-to-Know Law.

Manufacturers have several years in which to fully transition to the new documents, but you can expect to start seeing them in your workplace soon.

Slips, Trips, and Falls

The most common injuries suffered by New York State employees are the result of slips, trips and falls. Since the chief causes are poor housekeeping, slippery floors, and lack of attention they are also among the easiest injuries to avoid. The governing regulation is OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration – www.osha.gov) standard 29 CFR 1910.22 which states in part:

All places of employment, passageways, storerooms, and service rooms shall be kept clean and orderly and in a sanitary condition.

A successful effort to reduce slips, trips and falls requires a partnership between labor and management. Employees at all levels must take responsibility to keep work sites clean, neat and free of trip hazards and to either clean up or report conditions that render floors slippery. Wintery and stormy conditions can be especially hazardous as walkways become icy and employees track snow and rain into building entrances. Anywhere the walking surface changes, such as from wet to dry flooring, tile flooring to a rug or from a cement to linoleum, can cause people to stumble because the amount of grip between the floor and shoe changes. Workers in areas prone to slippery floors such as food preparation areas may require shoes specially designed for those conditions.

Through a combination of foresight and mindfulness many injuries can be avoided. The following links contain useful information on this topic:

http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/safety_haz/falls.html
http://www.sorm.state.tx.us/training2/SlipsTripsFalls/intro.htm
http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2011-123/pdfs/2011-123.pdf

Tick-borne Diseases

Photo of deer tick

Ticks should be a concern for anyone who spends time outside, especially in and around brushy or wooded areas. However, suburban backyards are by no means off limits for these tiny arthropods. The deer tick and Lyme disease have been in the news for many years now. Lyme is a serious disease that can have dire consequences if not caught in time. Researchers are now finding that there are other reasons to avoid tick bites. Several other tick-borne diseases are becoming more prevalent in the Northeast, notably Anaplasmosis and Babesiosis. Although still fairly uncommon, like Lyme disease they can be serious unless caught and treated early.

These diseases are transmitted via the bite of the deer tick. The bite is painless and due to its small size the tick is easy to miss unless you do a thorough body search after spending time outdoors. To stay safe both on and off the job, acquaint yourself with facts about the tick and especially how to prevent ticks from biting you and how to remove them if they do. Here is a handy fact sheet about how to protect yourself while working outdoors.

Bed Bugs

Photo of a bedbug

Bed bugs, officially Cimex lectularius, are considered a pest of public health significance. They have been around for many millions of years and have used people as a source of food since earliest times. Thanks to the development of pesticides early in the last century they largely disappeared from our homes and our thoughts. But as we have become aware of the dangers most pesticides present and either banned or limited their use (including perhaps the most effective one, DDT) bed bug populations have rebounded and in our world of incessant travel are being carried anywhere and everywhere.

Bed bugs need only a warm body to provide the blood they feed on, and a place to hide. They can occur anywhere and are not a sign of poor housekeeping or poverty. Bed bugs are not known to transmit any disease and although their bite is painless it can leave red itchy spots on most people while some people can have significant allergic reactions. Very severe infestations can actually lead to so many bites that there is significant blood loss.

Getting rid of bed bugs is a daunting task. With their small flat bodies they can hide in extremely small cracks and crevasses and are not at all picky. Since they can live for many months between feedings it is virtually impossible to wait them out. Rather, comprehensive efforts are necessary. As explained in this fact sheet, bed linens and clothing can be treated with either heat or cold, but pesticides may be necessary to kill insects in furniture and hiding in tiny cracks in walls and floors. It is best to hire professionals to apply pesticides, which are toxic chemicals. If you decide to undertake treatment by yourself, make sure you use the right chemical in the correct manner. The EPA has useful information on this topic.

Archived: Storm Clean-up

Archived: Work Safely in the Heat (8/2012)

Archived: Stormy Weather (7/2012)

Archived: Cold Weather Hazards (3/2012)

Archived: Mosquitoes (10/2011)

Safety and Health Resources

People concerned about safety and health on the job or at home can benefit from the wealth of resources to be found on the web. Indeed, the amount of available information can be overwhelming. Nearly every state government and many universities have safety and health websites packed with good information but sometimes you can wind up reading about rules and regulations that don't apply to your locale. However, there are a number of sites that may be uniquely helpful for New York State employers and employees. Among the best of these are:

Web Literacy

This safety and health website has articles about serious injuries and illnesses that can happen on or off the job. The articles include hyperlinks to trustworthy sites where more information is available. However, this information may prompt you to look further and find additional resources. But be careful, the Internet is a massive collection of unregulated information; some of it is accurate, but a lot may be wrong or outdated.

So, how do you know which website to trust; which ones can you rely on for unbiased accurate information? It isn't always easy to tell, but there are a few things to look out for. What seems to be the purpose of the site? Is it trying to educate, sway opinions, or sell something? You can make a good guess about the quality of the information from whom or what is sponsoring the site. If it isn't obvious from the page header, you can often go to the bottom of the web page and find information about the page owner. Is it an individual, a pharmaceutical company, or a special interest group? Generally, information provided by governmental agencies, colleges, and universities is reliable. Nationally known nonprofit groups may have good information but have a specific agenda. Corporations may provide a wealth of information, but their goal is to convince you to buy something. Be especially wary of sites that promise easy cures or solutions to serious problems; the old adage is "if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

Another consideration is how up-to-date the page is. Usually the bottom of a web page includes the date when it was last updated. Even a normally reliable site can have outdated information. While the information may have been accurate once, it may have been supplanted by new data. This can be important when researching a rapidly evolving condition like a new strain of flu.

It is worth a final mention of Wikipedia. This comprehensive source can be a valuable place to start researching a safety and health issue. Use it to gain a thorough overview of the topic but do not stop there. Proceed to the original sources to determine for yourself if the information came from reputable sites and was reported accurately.

Here is a more thorough discussion on Evaluating Web Pages: Techniques to Apply & Questions to Ask. If you have any questions or concerns about information you find on the web, feel free to contact the GOER Assistant Director for Safety and Health.

 

Updated: January 22, 2014