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October is National Indoor Air Quality Month, an observance aimed at drawing attention to the quality of what we breathe every day. It’s comes at an appropriate time, as the outdoor weather starts to turn colder and many of us will tend to spend an increasing amount of time outside of work by staying indoors.

Many people spend much of their working hours indoors year round, of course. In recent years, public health authorities have taken a critical look at what we are breathing at the office. Not surprisingly, a growing body of research suggests that poor air quality has a negative impact on health and productivity. In the 1980s, the term Sick Building Syndrome was coined to describe multiple health issues linked to improperly designed and/or ventilated buildings. These include ailments such as headaches, dizziness, nausea, or eye/throat irritation – symptoms that may cease after an occupant leaves the building.

Studies by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that sought to compare the risks of environmental threats to public health show that indoor air pollution from sources such as secondhand smoke, radon, organic compounds, and biological pollutants are consistently among the top five factors.

In general, most indoor air quality problems in the workplace can be traced to six main sources:
-Inadequate Ventilation – This involves lack of adequate fresh air and uneven distribution of fresh air within a structure.
-Humidity and Temperature – These concerns involve levels outside the normal range of human comfort.
-Inside Contamination – Possible sources of contamination include office equipment such as copy machines, office and cleaning supplies, and chemicals that are stored indoors.
-Outside Contamination – As the name suggests, this includes contaminants brought into a work environment, such as by means of an improper air intake or changes in wind conditions (for example, exhaust gases drawn into a ventilation system).
-Microbial Contamination – This is typically associated with water leaks, water infiltration, increased humidity indoors, humidifiers, and contaminated ventilation ductwork – places that can harbor and encourage the growth of microbes.
-New Building Materials – The results from building materials that have just been installed (the familiar phenomenon of gasses emitted by new carpeting is one example). In new construction, processes known as “bakeout and “flushout” employ an unoccupied building’s heating, venting and air conditioning system to expedite the process of venting these gasses.

Fortunately, technology can also be employed to monitor and assess air quality in a building long after everyone has moved in.

At Workplace Safety & Health Co., our primary concern is to help our customers reduce injuries and illnesses while promoting their profitability through sound health and safety management practices. That includes helping to identify and manage risks posed by air quality. Whether your workplace is indoors, outdoors, or both, our consultants can determine air quality exposures through monitoring, mapping, fact-finding surveys and evaluations that include qualitative exposure assessments, and air monitoring surveys. So call us. And start breathing easier.

The NIST Mass Spectral Library — one of the world's largest, most widely used databases used to identify unknown chemical compounds — just got bigger. In June, molecular fingerprints from more than 25,000 compounds were added to the library, bringing the total to more than 265,000.

Among the compounds whose fingerprints are included in this update are many dangerous drugs, according to NIST. They include dozens of synthetic cannabinoids and more than 30 types of fentanyl, the synthetic opioid that is driving an epidemic of overdoses nationwide.

Read entire article - https://www.nist.gov/news-events/news/2017/06/nist-upgrades-widely-used-database-molecular-fingerprints

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While a desk or computer workstation might not seem like a place fraught with health risks, it's still important to be aware of the ergonomic hazards that may be lurking there.

OSHA, which has something to say on most things related to occupational safety, states that "employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthful workplace for their workplace for their workers." That includes desks and computer work areas. And the agency has much to offer in the way of guidance for that particular work environment.

According to OSHA, "A well-designed and appropriately-adjusted desk will provide adequate clearance for your legs, allow proper placement of computer components and accessories, and minimize awkward postures and exertions."

The agency goes on to offer the following advice on installation, setup, and configuration of workstations that are both comfortable and productive.

Desk or Work Surface Areas

The Potential Hazards

  • Limited space on the work surface may cause users to place components and devices in undesirable positions. This placement may lead to awkward postures when reaching for a pointer/mouse or looking at a monitor that is placed to the side.
  • Inadequate clearance or space under the work surface may result from poor design or excessive clutter. Regardless of the cause, it can result in discomfort and poor performance.

The Possible Solutions
•Work surface depth should allow you to:
•View the monitor at a distance of at least 20 inches (50 cm), and
•Position the monitor to achieve the appropriate viewing angle, which is generally directly in front of you.
•Using a corner rather than a straight run of desk may provide additional space and depth to accommodate large monitors or multiple items.
•The location of frequently-used devices (keyboard, phone, and mouse) should remain within the repetitive access (primary work zone)

The Potential Hazard: Edges
Some desks and computer equipment have hard, angled leading edges that come in contact with a user's arm or wrist. This can create contact stress, affecting nerves and blood vessels, possibly causing tingling and sore fingers.
Possible Solutions
To minimize contact stress,
•Pad table edges with inexpensive materials such as pipe insulation,
•Use a wrist rest, and
•Buy furniture with rounded desktop edges.
Areas Under the Desk or Work Surface

The Potential Hazards:
•Inadequate clearance or space under the work surface may result from poor design or excessive clutter. Regardless of the cause it can result in discomfort and performance inefficiencies, such as the following:
•Shoulder, back, and neck pain due to users sitting too far away from computer components, causing them to reach to perform computer tasks; and
•Generalized fatigue, circulation restrictions, and contact stress due to constriction of movement and inability to frequently change postures.

Possible Solutions
Provide, to the extent possible, adequate clearance space for users to frequently change working postures. This space should remain free of items such as files, CPUs, books, and storage.
Other tips on good working positions, what to look for when selecting workstation components, and guidance on maintaining a healthy workstation environment are available in OSHA's "Computer Workstations eTool" at https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/computerworkstations/

Tagged in: OSHA

OSHA recently published a guide to help small business employers comply with the agency’s Final Rule to Protect Workers from Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica. That guide, entitled Small Entity Compliance Guide for General Industry and Maritime, describes the steps employers are required to take to protect employees in general industry and maritime from the hazards associated with silica exposure. These requirements include: assessing worker exposures; using engineering and work practice controls to keep exposures below a specified safety threshold; and offering medical exams to certain highly exposed workers.

Enforcement of the final rule in general industry and maritime is scheduled to begin June 23, 2018.

Read entire article - https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3911.pdf

Tagged in: OSHA

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It's natural to want to focus on our strong points, but when it comes to developing preparedness plans, it's at least as beneficial to take a hard look at our weakest links.

September 2017 marks the 14th annual observance of National Preparedness Month, sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in the US Department of Homeland Security.

Much of the focus for the themed month centers around being ready to deal with emergencies and disasters at home, but the occasion also raises the issue of being prepared for emergencies at work.

Most businesses already have (and all should have) plans in place to deal with weather emergencies and hazardous materials. But it's just as important to have a documented response in place for things like accidents and acts of violence by people.

To do so, FEMA recommends conducting a risk assessment -- a process of identifying potential hazards, assessing vulnerabilities and considering both their potential impacts and likelihood of occurring.
Such points could range from deficiencies in the way a structure is built to its security to its fire protection or HVAC system.

Examples include things like not having a working sprinkler system to limit damage in the event of a fire, or having an inadequate system in place to alert authorities when there is one.

As important as it is, a risk assessment is just one subset of the five points FEMA prescribes in developing a preparedness program at work:
•Program Management
◦Organize, develop and administer your preparedness program
◦Identify regulations that establish minimum requirements for your program
•Planning
◦Gather information about hazards and assess risks
◦Conduct a business impact analysis (BIA)
◦Examine ways to prevent hazards and reduce risks
•Implementation
Write a preparedness plan addressing:
◦Resource management
◦Emergency response
◦Crisis communications
◦Business continuity
◦Information technology
◦Employee assistance
◦Incident management
◦Training
•Testing and Exercises
◦Test and evaluate your plan
◦Define different types of exercises
◦Learn how to conduct exercises
◦Use exercise results to evaluate the effectiveness of the plan
•Program Improvement
◦Identify when the preparedness program needs to be reviewed
◦Discover methods to evaluate the preparedness program
◦Utilize the review to make necessary changes and plan improvements

What's in your plan?

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