COVID-19 pandemic: Study finds many employees working from home may use it as ‘an excuse to drink’

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Brentwood, TN — Drinking alcohol while working from home may be an emerging concern during the COVID-19 pandemic, with 1 out of 3 respondents to a recent survey saying they’re more likely than usual to do so.

Alcohol.org – a resource of the American Addiction Centers, a national provider of addiction treatment services – in late March conducted an online survey of 3,000 U.S. adults working from home “to find out how many are using their new office setup as an excuse to drink.”

In general, 35% of the respondents said they were more likely to consume alcohol while self-isolating, while 22% said they’ve stockpiled alcohol over other food and drink items while isolating. Beer was the beverage of choice for 38% of the respondents, followed by cocktails (26%), wine (21%) and straight spirits (15%).

“These are stressful times as many employees struggle with having to adapt to a home working environment, in which distractions are abundant and alcohol may seem like a good solution,” an alcohol.org spokesperson said on the website. “There are a number of accessible online resources available if you suspect substance addiction, such as support helplines, chat rooms and forums.”

The survey results were published on the website April 2.

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.

COVID-19 pandemic: OSHA answers FAQs on wearing masks at work

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Washington — New guidance from OSHA answers six frequently asked questions regarding the use of masks in the workplace during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Among the agency’s answers is an explanation of the key differences between cloth facial coverings, surgical masks and respirators. Other topics include whether employers are required to provide masks, the continued need to follow physical distancing guidelines when wearing masks and how workers can keep cloth masks clean.

“As our economy reopens for business, millions of Americans will be wearing masks in their workplace for the first time,” acting OSHA administrator Loren Sweatt said in a June 10 press release. “OSHA is ready to help workers and employers understand how to properly use masks so they can stay safe and healthy in the workplace.”

The agency reminds employers not to use surgical masks or cloth facial coverings for work that requires a respirator.

OSHA hosts webinar on preventing heat-related illnesses, injuries

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Washington — To prevent illnesses and injuries related to environmental heat exposure, employers need to “think about preventing injuries and providing workers with the right equipment for the job,” a May 19 webinar hosted by OSHA advises.

“Millions of U.S. workers are exposed to heat in the workplace, and although heat-related illness is preventable, each year thousands of workers are getting sick from their exposure to heat, and … some cases are fatal,” Stephen Boyd, deputy regional administrator for OSHA Region 6, said during the presentation.

The agency notes that operations involving high air temperatures, radiant heat sources, high humidity, direct physical contact with hot objects and strenuous physical activity carry high potential for causing work-related heat stress. OSHA cites numerous industrial occupations and locations in which problems may occur. Among outdoor workers, examples include construction, refining, asbestos removal, hazardous waste site activities and emergency response operations – especially those requiring workers to wear semipermeable or permeable protective clothing.

Sites of potentially hazardous indoor operations include foundries, brick firing and ceramic plants, glass product facilities, rubber product factories, electrical utilities (particularly boiler rooms), bakeries, confectionaries, commercial kitchens, laundries, food canneries, chemical plants, mining sites, smelters, and steam tunnels.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, heat illnesses caused 49 worker deaths in 2018 – a 53.1% increase from the previous year. That same year, 3,950 workers experienced days away from work as a result of nonfatal injuries and illnesses from occupational heat exposure.

The webinar explores strategies for heat hazard recognition, as well as planning and supervision, engineering controls and work practices, training, and resources.

All new or returning workers should be acclimatized to environmental heat conditions by first working shorter shifts before building up to longer ones, OSHA recommends. Additionally, these workers should gradually increase their workloads while taking more frequent breaks at the start.

OSHA offers employer and worker resources for working in hot weather through its “Water. Rest. Shade.” Campaign.

“Water, rest, shade: These will mean the difference between life and death,” OSHA states during the webinar.

Agency tips to help prevent heat-related illnesses:

  • Drink water every 15 minutes.
  • Take rest breaks in the shade to cool down.
  • Wear a hat and light-colored clothing.
  • Monitor co-workers for symptoms of heat-related illnesses.

An effort to mitigate heat-related illnesses and fatalities include a Heat Safety Tool – a free mobile app designed in collaboration with NIOSH.

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.

Does job stress lead to early death? Study explores

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Bloomington, IN — Little job autonomy and low cognitive ability, combined with stressors related to workload and demands, can lead to depression and early death, results of a recent study show.

Using data from 3,148 Wisconsin residents who participated in the Midlife in the United States survey, researchers from Indiana University and Northern Illinois University looked at “how job control – or the amount of autonomy employees have at work” – and cognitive ability (people’s ability to learn and solve problems) “influence how work stressors such as time pressure or workload affect mental and physical health and, ultimately, death.”

The researchers found “when job demands are greater than the control afforded by the job or an individual’s ability to deal with those demands, there is a deterioration to their mental health and, accordingly, an increased likelihood of death,” Erik Gonzalez-Mulé, assistant professor of organizational behavior and human resources at the IU Kelley School of Business, said in a May 19 press release.

Conversely, when workers had more autonomy, they experienced better physical health and a lower likelihood of death.

“We believe that this is because job control and cognitive ability act as resources that help people cope with work stressors,” Gonzalez-Mulé said. “Job control allows people to set their own schedules and prioritize work in a way that helps them achieve their work goals, while people that are smarter are better able to adapt to the demands of a stressful job and figure out ways to deal with stress.”

The study was published online April 9 in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

Drinking alcohol won’t protect you against COVID-19, experts say

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Bethesda, MD — Although alcohol is a key ingredient in hand sanitizers that can help kill the coronavirus, alcoholic drinks don’t have the same effect and may actually hinder your immune system’s response to COVID-19, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism is cautioning consumers.

To be effective against the coronavirus, hand sanitizers must contain at least 60% ethyl alcohol, NIAAA says in a May 12 press release. In contrast, a typical drink is only 0.01% to 0.03% alcohol – “a tiny fraction of the concentration needed to produce an antiseptic action.” A blood-alcohol concentration of 0.4% can be fatal.

“Alcohol misuse makes the body more susceptible to viral infections and can worsen the prognosis,” the institute adds. “Alcohol in the body at the time of exposure to a pathogen tends to impair the body’s immediate immune response to the pathogen, making it easier for an infection to develop.”

Longer term, excessive alcohol consumption impairs the immune system’s response in the lungs and has been linked to acute respiratory distress syndrome. “In fact,” NIAAA says, “individuals who misuse alcohol chronically are more likely to develop ARDS, more likely to need mechanical ventilation, have a prolonged stay in the intensive care unit and have a higher risk of mortality from ARDS. All of these effects of alcohol misuse could certainly complicate COVID-19 prevention, treatment and recovery.”