Eye injury campaign evidence clarified

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A 19 May 2010 SafetyAtWorkBlog article commented on a new eye safety campaign by the  Optometrists Association Australia.  The eye safety brochure included several statistical references upon which clarification was sought.

Shirley Loh, OAA’s National Professional Services Manager has provided references, and we thank her for her efforts.

A couple of quotes in question were:

“60% of all eye injuries happen in the workplace and about 95% of eye injuries are the result of carelessness and lack of attention.”

“Up to 48% of office workers suffer from computer-related eye fatigue and this rate appears to be increasing.   Excessive computer use can cause eye strain and reduce productivity.” Continue reading “Eye injury campaign evidence clarified”

Move your way to better health

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Further to the recent posting on cardiovascular disease research, Dr David Dunstan participated in an online media briefing on 12 January 2010. (Video and audio interviews have begun to appear on line)

It is often difficult to identify control measures for workplace hazards from the raw research data.  Dr Dunstan, this morning elaborated on the possible workplace control measures that employers can design into workplaces in order to reduce the CVD risk from prolonged sedentary work.   Continue reading “Move your way to better health”

Sit down, get to work, get sick

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Sitting for longer than four hours while watching television is likely to increase one’s risk of suffering a cardio-vascular disease (CVD), according to a new study reported in “Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association”  in January 2010.

David Dunstan

The research was headed by Dr David Dunstan, Head of the Physical Activity Laboratory in the Division of Metabolism and Obesity at the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Australia.  The study is Australian but can easily be transposed to other countries. (Several audio reports are now available online, one from NPR)

The significance for safety professionals comes not from the published report itself but the accompanying media release where Dr Dunstan speculates on the broader social issues behind his findings:

“What has happened is that a lot of the normal activities of daily living that involved standing up and moving the muscles in the body have been converted to sitting…  Technological, social, and economic changes mean that people don’t move their muscles as much as they used to – consequently the levels of energy expenditure as people go about their lives continue to shrink.   For many people, on a daily basis they simply shift from one chair to another – from the chair in the car to the chair in the office to the chair in front of the television.” Continue reading “Sit down, get to work, get sick”

Working remotely does not mean it has to be unsafe

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Australia is a big country and people work in very remote locations.  However OHS obligations do not apply only when it is convenient.  The law and duties apply equally wherever work is undertaken.

One example of safety improvements for remote work has been illustrated by the Community & Public Sector Union (CPSU).  On 10 November 2009 CPSU informed its members of amendments to the “Remote Travel Standards Operating Protocols”.  Some of those changes include

“Travel is twin engine aircraft is usual practise, but staff may be required to fly in single engine aircraft from time to time.  Employees will have the choice not to fly on a single engine aircraft if they have legitimate concerns for their personal safety.”

This acknowledges that in the Outback there are not always options but that union members can exercise whatever is available.  This also supports the individual’s OHS obligation to keep themselves safe.

Vaccinations for Hep A and B will be offered to employees before their first field trip, during orientation to remote servicing.

This is a standard travel safety option but often applied only for international travel.  To offer this domestically is sensible.

The union has also managed to introduce a

Dedicated section in the post trip report for all OH&S issues, including issues in office accommodation, and living quarters.

Traditional wisdom is “be seen, be safe” but this also applies to reporting an OHS matter.  If a form does not state that OHS is included, then it is increasingly likely that an incident or issue will not be reported.  Organisations also cannot be seen as deterring the reporting of hazards and incidents.

The next option is curious and a trial seems appropriate

Management agreed to a 3 week trial beginning the 6 December 2009 for the use of personal alarms in case employees are confronted with acts of customer aggression, or other dangers in the field. Management will be asking staff for feedback on this, which will inform their decision on whether to provide or not provide personal alarms to employees into the future.

The issues of safety when travelling remotely have been negotiated for many months and the CPSU website posted regular updates on negotiations.

CPSU members and public servants need to travel to remote locations to provide a range of services.  For instance, Centrelink’s Annual Report for 2008-09 says that

“Centrelink Mobile Offices, including the Murray-Darling Basin Assistance Bus, continued to travel around rural Australia to provide information and assistance to farmers and small business owners, their families and rural communities.”

These mobile offices covered 40,000 kilometres in one year.

Australia is a big country and urban safety professionals and policy makers need to be regularly reminded that a desk in an office is not a default workplace.

The “Remote Travel Standards Operating Protocols” are not publicly accessible by SafetyAtWorkBlog will provide a link, whenever possible.

Kevin Jones

Forest not required – indoor air quality and plants

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Ever since modern offices have relied on air conditioning for ventilation, indoor air quality has been a contentious occupational issue from other people’s smells to thermal comfort to photocopier toner dust.

The prominence of air quality in offices as an OHS issue can be illustrated by a paragraph from the 1997  edition of Officewise, when cigarette smoke remained a real hazard.  No mention was made of plants.

Air in offices may be contaminated by several different
sources, including odours and micro-biological and
chemical contaminants. In an office environment, the
quality of the air is often controlled through an air
conditioning system. A building’s air conditioning
system may be considered as its lungs. The function
of such a system is to draw in outside air, filter, heat,
cool or humidify it and circulate it around the building.
The system expels a portion of the air to the outside
environment and replaces this expelled portion with
fresh or outside air.

“Air in offices may be contaminated by several different sources, including odours and micro-biological and chemical contaminants. In an office environment, the quality of the air is often controlled through an air conditioning system. A building’s air conditioning system may be considered as its lungs. The function of such a system is to draw in outside air, filter, heat, cool or humidify it and circulate it around the building. The system expels a portion of the air to the outside environment and replaces this expelled portion with fresh or outside air.”

The focus was (pre-green buildings) on mechanical ventilation but even in the 2006 edition there was no mention of the any benefits from indoor plants.

A haughty OHS response to these issues would be to just open a window and eliminate the hazards.  But the capacity to open office windows has not been available for several decades whether it is for the reasons of comfort or to eliminate the risk of people jumping through windows or for energy efficiency or security, is debatable.

Throughout the “closed environment decades” there have been plant advocates.  There have long been claims that plants are calming and increase productivity although some of the sick plants in some offices are evidence only of coffee dregs and in the 1980’s, cigarette butts.  Robin Mellon of the Green Building Council Australia puts the value of plants in the workplace context.

Finally there seems to be some evidence about the air filtration capacity of plants indoors.  According to a recent media statement from the University of Technology Sydney (via a company who supplies plants to offices), research has been undertaken that shows “that any plants can improve indoor air quality and the size of the pot or plant does not matter above 200mm. Adjunct Professor Margaret Burchett says

“We have found that a plant in a 200mm pot is as effective as one in a 250mm or 300mm in removing Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and it seems that any plant will perform as well as others… This is important news – it means that any indoor room or office which is air-conditioned or closed for much of the time, can really benefit from having just one 200mm pot plant.”

A 1998 interview with Professor Burchett on the benefits of plants is also available online.

The new information on this issue is the filtering capacity of an individual plant in a room.  This is useful as workplaces will not need forests to assist in controlling the hazards presented by mechanical ventilation in modern buildings.  There are many reason, however, for having plants in workplaces.  Not only are they pleasant to see, they can also indicate a company’s green aims and credentials, particularly if in a more recent office block.

Let’s hope that the movement towards “safe design” for OHS purposes includes plants.

Kevin Jones