Assessing COVID-19 hazards, controls in manufacturing facilities: CDC publishes toolkit

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Photo: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Atlanta — A new toolkit from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is designed to help workplace safety and health professionals and public health officials assess manufacturing facilities’ COVID-19 infection prevention and control measures.

The toolkit includes a checklist to “determine whether control measures in place align with CDC/OSHA guidance.” CDC recommends conducting a checklist assessment when a COVID-19 control plan is developed and each time it’s revised. The assessment should include these steps:
Pre-assessment: Inform all parties of the assessment’s goals. Work as a group to review the checklist to determine if each part applies to your company.
Walkthrough: While conducting the walkthrough of a facility, use the checklist to document what you find. Observe as much of the plant processes as possible. Limit participation to those familiar with plant processes.
Post-assessment: After conducting the assessment, discuss observations, develop action items, determine steps to protect workers, and prioritize actions to take to control and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Other resources are quick reference slides for safety pros and health officials, as well as quick reference guides in the form of one-page flyers for employers and employees. The toolkit also can be used to assess manufacturing facilities’ overall hazard assessment and control plans.

CDC says the guidance will be updated “as needed and as additional information becomes available.”

Ladder safety during the COVID-19 pandemic: Association releases guidance

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Glasgow, Scotland — More regular deep cleaning of ladders are among the tips the Ladder Association has developed for employers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The free online resource cites as the basis of its recommendation a study, published in April in the New England Journal of Medicine, showing that the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) can live on stainless steel or plastic ladders for up to 72 hours.

Employers should communicate measures they’re taking to protect workers, remind employees about proper hygiene practices and encourage workers to stay at least 6 feet away from others. Because physical distancing can be difficult to practice when multiple people are needed to perform certain ladder tasks, including stabilizing and raising the equipment, the association has tips for employers to consider for these activities. Employers also should perform risk assessments and review rescue plans.

“Keeping ladder users safe now means protecting them from coronavirus as well as falls and other injuries,” Gail Hounslea, chair of the Ladder Association and managing director of the Ladderstore, said in a June 12 press release. “Businesses are facing the unprecedented challenge of getting people safely back to work during a pandemic. Ladders are only a small part of what they’ve got to consider, but we realized we could use our expertise to support all those whose workers will be heading back up ladders and need to ensure every safety aspect is covered.”

Study links heavy lifting on the job to increased risk of detached retinas

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Lowell, MA — Regularly lifting objects that weigh 30 pounds or more is one of seven “strong predictors” of – and most correlated to – work-related retinal detachments or tears, researchers are warning.

For the study, a team led by researchers from the University of Massachusetts Lowell surveyed 200 participants with a retinal detachment or tear and 415 healthy control participants. All the participants answered questions about their general health, vision and physical exertion.

The participants who lifted 30 pounds or more on a regular basis at work were 1.8 times more likely to experience a retinal detachment or tear. The other strong predictors were age, gender, body mass index, myopia (nearsightedness), family history and cataract surgery.

“The biggest takeaway is safe lifting practices, which will protect your back, can also protect your eyes,” lead study author David Kriebel, a professor in the department of public health at UMass Lowell, told Safety+Health. “Thirty pounds is not a threshold for what’s safe versus dangerous to lift. Our research suggests that reducing lifting may reduce the risk of retinal detachment.”

Kriebel suggested that workers follow practices in NIOSH’s Ergonomic Guidelines for Manual Material Handling. The relationship between age and increased risk rose sharply from 40 years old to about 65 – where it a peaked – then dropped quickly beyond 80. Further, a nearly threefold increase in detachments and tears was found among participants with myopia.

In addition, retinal detachments and tears were more likely to be experienced by men, participants who had family members who had suffered a retinal detachment or tear, and those who had a cataract surgery on the same eye more than three months before the incident.

“These workers should consult with an ophthalmologist about whether they should adopt extra precautions, beyond standard safe lifting practices as detailed in the NIOSH guidelines,” Kriebel said. “Workers with eye conditions, including past cataract surgery, retinal detachment or a recent posterior vitreous detachment, may be at increased risk of retinal detachment.”

Among participants with increased BMI, the researchers found a lower risk of both retinal detachments and retinal tears. This contrasts with two previously published studies – a 2008 Italian study in the journal Epidemiology and a 2017 Swedish study in the British Medical Journal – that found positive associations with retinal detachments or tears and higher BMI.

The new study, which was funded by NIOSH, was published online April 7 in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

COVID-19 pandemic: UK manufacturing association issues guidance for scaffold tower users

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London — In an effort to protect workers who use scaffold towers from exposure to COVID-19, the UK-based Prefabricated Access Suppliers’ and Manufacturers’ Association has published guidelines for employers and safety and health professionals.

The guidance notes that two workers normally would work in close proximity to erect a tower. However, workers should make “a conscious effort … to complete the task while remaining [6 feet] apart.” For instance, one worker can assemble the base section of a scaffold tower and install stabilizers before climbing onto the first platform. Then, another worker can assist with building the rest of structure from the ground.

“However, a more reliable method may be using one-person towers, which are specially designed to be built and dismantled by one individual working alone,” PASMA states.

Other recommendations:

  • Follow government health guidance.
  • Provide workers with handwashing facilities and alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Plan more frequent deep cleaning of facilities and scaffold components.
  • Encourage workers to practice safe physical distancing.
  • Communicate all safety measures to employees.
  • Review and assess your risk assessment plan, as well as how it might be impacted by COVID-19.
  • Review your rescue plan to determine how a worker who becomes ill or injured would be rescued.
  • Plan online scaffold training sessions for portions that can be taught remotely.
  • Make sure training facilities keep workers safe when conducting in-person courses.

People using household cleaners, disinfectants in unsafe ways during pandemic, survey finds

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Washington — Washing foods with bleach, applying household cleaning or disinfectant products to the hands or skin, and intentionally inhaling or ingesting these products are among the “non-recommended, high-risk practices” nearly 2 out of 5 U.S. adults say they have tried to prevent contracting COVID-19, results of a recent survey indicate.

Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including the agency’s COVID-19 response team, looked at data from an online survey of a nationally representative cohort of 502 U.S. adults. The survey – conducted May 4 – included questions about general knowledge, attitudes and practices related to the use of household cleaners and disinfectants, as well as about specific information regarding cleaning and disinfection strategies for preventing the transmission of COVID-19.

Among the 39% of the respondents who reported they had engaged in these high-risk, unsafe behaviors within the past month:

  • 19% applied bleach to food items, including fruits and vegetables.
  • 18% used household cleaning and disinfecting products on their hands or skin.
  • 10% misted their body with a cleaning or disinfectant spray.
  • 6% inhaled vapors from household cleaners or disinfectants.
  • 4% had drank or gargled diluted bleach solutions, soapy water, or other cleaning and disinfectant solutions.

Overall, 77% of the respondents didn’t know they should use only room-temperature water to dilute bleach solutions, and 65% were unaware that they shouldn’t mix bleach with vinegar.

One-quarter of the respondents reported experiencing at least one adverse health effect, which they believed resulted from the use of disinfectants or cleaners.

“COVID-19 prevention messages should continue to emphasize evidence-based, safe practices such as frequent hand hygiene and frequent cleaning and disinfection of high-touch surfaces,” the researchers said. “These messages should include specific recommendations for the safe use of cleaners and disinfectants, including the importance of reading and following label instructions.”

The survey results were published online June 5 in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Researchers study link between worker safety, business longevity

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Corvallis, OR — Future safety regulations need to reward employer innovation that improves both worker safety and a business’s likelihood of survival, researchers say after finding that “organizations that do not provide a safe workplace gain an economic advantage over those that do.”

An international team, led by researchers from Oregon State University, looked at short- and long-term “survival” – defined as ongoing operations, even after a change in ownership – of more than 100,000 Oregon-based organizations over a 25-year period. The team gauged whether a company provided a safe workplace by reviewing its history of disabling claims, using data provided by the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services.

An international team of researchers looked at short- and long-term “survival” – defined as ongoing operations, even after a change in ownership – of more than 100,000 Oregon-based organizations over a 25-year period. The team gauged whether a company provided a safe workplace by reviewing its history of disabling claims, using data provided by the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services.

Results showed that organizations with worker injury claims survived up to 56% longer than organizations with no claims. Further, companies with at least 100 employees and claims filed against them were more likely to survive compared with similar-sized companies without claims.

Additionally, high claims costs were more likely to harm the survival of younger or smaller companies, or companies that are growing quickly. For this reason, the researchers said, those companies have a greater incentive to protect their workforce, but likely fewer resources to do so.

“The goal of improving the longevity of a business conflicts with the goal of protecting the workforce,” researcher Anthony Veltri, associate professor of public health and human sciences as OSU, said in a May 13 press release.

“When it’s cheaper to pay nominal fines for violating workplace regulations than to provide safe workplaces, that indicates current safety regulations are not enough to protect workers,” the researchers concluded.

The study was published online May 5 in the journal Management Science.

‘Which Mask for Which Task?’: Washington L&I offers guidance for employers

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Photo: Washington State Department of Labor & Industries

Tumwater, WA — New guidance from the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries is intended to help employers select the proper masks or facial coverings for workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under state safety and health requirements that went into effect June 8, workers – with some exceptions – must wear some type of facial covering to help prevent the spread of the disease. Employers must provide workers with the masks at no charge, or employees can supply their own as long as they meet state requirements.

Which Mask for Which Task? details the use of masks or, in some cases, respirators based on the job-related risk, from negligible to extremely high. The guidance also lays out the minimum level of facial coverings required if no other feasible measures can mitigate spread of the disease.

For example, small landscaping crews, a crane operator who is in an enclosed cab and delivery drivers who have no face-to-face interaction with customers are considered at negligible risk. Meanwhile, emergency medical technicians, occupational or physical therapists, and workers in long-term care facilities are categorized as extremely high risk.

For each level of risk, a photo of the appropriate facial covering, mask or respirator is included.

“We know that choosing the correct face covering, mask or respirator can be confusing,” Washington L&I Assistant Director Anne Soiza said in a June 5 press release. “It’s a new experience for most employers and people on the job. This guidance should help employers and workers understand the risk level for various tasks, and make the right choice to protect workers from the coronavirus.”

Mental health and your employees

mental health and your employees - McCraren Compliance, Tucson, Arizona

Employees returning to the workplace amid the COVID-19 pandemic may be experiencing mental health distress in several ways. Let the National Safety Council help you provide support. Use the Stress, Emotional and Mental Health Considerations for Return-to-Work Guidance playbook, developed as part of the SAFER initiative.

Mental health and your employees are one of the keys to business continuity and McCraren Compliance is here to support you.

Hand sanitizers can ignite, cause burns, experts warn workers

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Photo: Melissa Ruminski

Rockville, MD — Although alcohol-based hand sanitizers can help prevent the transmission of COVID-19, the liquid solutions – which contain isopropyl alcohol – are flammable and can cause burn injuries, the Mechanical Contractors Association of America is warning workers.

In a May 1 safety memo, the association describes an incident in which a worker suffered first- and second-degree burns to the hands after using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer and then touching a metal surface before the liquid evaporated. “Due to static electricity, the vapor from the hand sanitizer ignited with an almost invisible flame on both hands,” the memo states.

The Virginia Department of Labor and Industry issued a similar warning, saying workers should act with caution when using these products.

“A best practice to protect employees from this hazard includes waiting to let the sanitizer fully absorb into the skin or evaporate prior to returning to work,” Jennifer L. Rose, consultation director of the Virginia Occupational Safety and Health Program at the state’s DOLI, told Safety+Health. “Isopropyl alcohol is highly flammable and can easily ignite. Vapors may form explosive mixtures with air, traveling to a source of ignition and flash back. It is not really the liquid burning, it is the vapors that catch fire.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the use of hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol against SARS-CoV-2 – the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 – particularly on jobsites where soap and water aren’t readily available. MCAA identifies construction worksites and mechanical service areas as high risk for burn injuries related to hand sanitizers.

Potential causes of ignition on a jobsite, Rose said, include:

  • Sparks from electrical tools and equipment
  • Sparks, arcs and hot metal surfaces from welding and cutting
  • Smoking tobacco products
  • Open flames from portable torches and heating units as well as boilers, pilot lights, ovens and driers
  • Sparks from grinding and crushing operations
  • Sparks caused by static electricity

“Isopropyl alcohol should be kept away from heat, sparks, flames and other sources of ignition, as well as strong oxidizers, acetaldehyde, chlorine, ethylene oxide, acids and isocyanates,” Rose said. “Isopropyl alcohol should be stored in a tightly closed container in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area. Hand sanitizer in quantities above 5 gallons should be stored in a flammable liquids cabinet or in areas protected by an automatic sprinkler system.”

Cellphones may be ‘Trojan horses’ of coronavirus spread, researchers say

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Our cellphones carry more than we think – including infectious germs – and likely serve as “Trojan horses” for the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers from Bond University say.

The researchers reviewed 56 studies from 24 countries in which cellphones were examined for bacteria, fungi and/or viruses. The studies were conducted from January 2005 to December 2019. Results showed that strains of E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus are among the most common contaminants on cellphones, which, once touched, can spread to users.

This helped frame the researchers’ hypothesis that cellphones “are most likely contributing to the spread of SARS-CoV-2” – the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 – “within different professional settings, including hospitals, and may play a significant role in viral propagation within the community,” despite the fact the review didn’t directly address SARS-CoV-2.

“The extraordinarily fast contagion that has scientists puzzled might reside within these mobile phones, spreading COVID-19 everywhere at ultraspeed,” Lotti Tajouri, the study’s lead researcher and an associate professor of biomedical sciences at the university, said in a press release. “After all, they’re everywhere, traveling the world in planes, cruise ships and trains.”

The researchers call on everyone to clean their cellphone each day, with Tajouri advising them to think of their device as a “third hand” to be shielded from bacteria.

“Let’s take that hypothesis seriously,” Tajouri said. “If we clean our phones daily and this makes a difference, then we might with this little action curve down the COVID-19 [pandemic] and save lives.”

The study was published online April 28 in the journal Travel Medicine and Infectious Disease.