Category Archives: Health

Debunking Safety Myths Part 1: Loud Pipes Save Lives

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An important part of my profession is identifying, assessing, and mitigating risk. When I’m working with businesses to help them develop or improve their safety programs, this is where much of the teaching time is invested as risk seems to be one of the most poorly understood concepts out there.

The reasons for this are many but there seem to be a few recurring issues: we don’t necessarily recognize the risks until it’s too late, we frequently underestimate the level of risk for key hazards, we overestimate the risk for other hazards, and we assume that if we hear a saying enough times, it must be true.

In this series of posts about common safety myths, I intend to talk about what the myth is, where it comes from, and why it is wrong. The first topic isn’t necessarily an occupational issue, but it is a myth that I hear frequently: Loud Pipes Save Lives.

You’ll hear this saying spoken by owners of motorcycles, in particular from people who have specifically modified their bikes to be louder than the factory spec. The reasoning is that if other motor vehicles can hear you coming, they are less likely to run into you. This reasoning is the rationale behind setting your bike up such that it can be heard from blocks away, startling neighbours in their houses who are not the people you’re intending to protect yourself from.

Not only is this myth 100 percent wrong, it actually puts bikers at risk by dramatically increasing their risk of permanent hearing loss (as the link notes, if your vehicle runs louder than 100 decibels, exposures longer than 15 minutes could result in hearing damage).

From a pure physics standpoint, the notion that loud pipes save lives is unlikely. As noted in this article, because a motorcycle’s pipes are directed backward, the sound from those pipes is also directed backward; 77 percent of all bike hazards (ie. other vehicles) are in front of them, but vehicles in front of the bike won’t hear it until it’s either next to or in front of the other vehicle. If you’ve ever been startled by a loud bike coming alongside your car when you didn’t see it approaching from behind you, you know this to be true.

But that’s just the beginning.

The gold standard when it comes to analysis of motorcycle accidents and causes is the Hurt Report, published in 1981 and written by Professor Harry Hurt, along with J.V. Ouellet and D.R. Thom. The five-year study examined the police reports of more than 900 motorcycle crashes and summarized 55 key points with regards to the outcomes of the incidents.

The word “noise” does not appear in any of the 55 points. The word “loud” does not appear, nor does the word “pipes.” In a study of over 900 bike crashes, not a single mention of noise being a factor is noted, not as a cause of incidents or as a preventative measure to prevent them.

What it does point out is this:

7. The failure of motorists to detect and recognize motorcycles in traffic is the predominating cause of motorcycle accidents. The driver of the other vehicle involved in collision with the motorcycle did not see the motorcycle before the collision, or did not see the motorcycle until too late to avoid the collision.

14. Conspicuity of the motorcycle is a critical factor in the multiple vehicle accidents, and accident involvement is significantly reduced by the use of motorcycle headlamps (on in daylight) and the wearing of high visibility yellow, orange or bright red jackets.

18. Conspicuity of the motorcycle is most critical for the frontal surfaces of the motorcycle and rider.

24. The motorcycle riders involved in accidents are essentially without training; 92% were self-taught or learned from family or friends. Motorcycle rider training experience reduces accident involvement and is related to reduced injuries in the event of accidents.

34. Motorcycles equipped with fairings and windshields are underrepresented in accidents, most likely because of the contribution to conspicuity and the association with more experienced and trained riders.

To sum up, if you, as a motorcycle rider, want to maximize your chances of survival, get yourself some driver training and make yourself as visible as possible. I recognize that going to school and wearing colours other than black aren’t the sorts of things “cool” people might do, but education and hi-vis saves lives.

 

Flannery Safety Consulting provides services in the Lethbridge area and can be reached at jim@flannerysafetyconsulting.com

You can also follow us on Facebook and on Twitter.

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International Day of Mourning

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April 28 is the International Day of Mourning, honouring and remembering the people who were injured or died as a result of occupational injury or disease in the previous year. Started in Canada, it is now observed in over 80 countries.

In Alberta in 2015 there were 125 lives lost due to workplace injury or illness, roughly one every three days. The official 2015 injury numbers have not yet been compiled, but in a typical year about 27,500 workers per year suffer a lost-time injury (ie. an injury severe enough to require the worker to miss at least one full day), about 43,100 workers per year undergo a modified work claim (the worker’s duties must be changed temporarily to accommodate working while recovering from injury), and about 54,300 workers per year suffer a disabling injury. Added together, that means that roughly one worker in 20 in Alberta will suffer a serious injury this year.

This is an enormous human cost. It affects the co-workers, family, and friends of injured people, changing their lives in the short and long term as they deal with the injured worker’s inability to do all things s/he used to be able to do. Or worse, dealing with the permanent loss of that individual, looking for answers and closure, and trying to live with that hole in their own lives.

And then there’s the societal impact. With more than 100,000 serious workplace injuries every year in Alberta, additional pressure is put on our health care system dealing with the immediate injury and subsequent rehabilitation. Houses have to be renovated at huge cost to accommodate people who lose the use of their legs. Workers who miss time due to injury are compensated by WCB, which costs Alberta companies more than a billion dollars every year in premiums.

In my line of work I’ve seen many serious injuries, from lacerations to partial amputations, to crushed fingers to broken bones to burns. I’ve seen first-hand what damage injuries in the workplace can do and the harm they do not only to the injured workers but to the people around them. Some people never recover from the physical injuries; even more never really recover from the psychological damage. I remain in this business because I’m committed to helping reduce the severity of injuries or prevent them entirely so fewer people have to deal with this trauma.

On April 28, please be sure to take a moment to think about all the people whose lives have been affected or stolen from them by workplace incidents.

Don’t Forget to Hydrate in the Winter

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We all think about keeping our fluid intake up when we’re working hard, it’s hot outside and we’re sweating a lot, but we frequently forget all about this during the winter months, even though bundling up in layers to protect against the cold can still result in a fair bit of perspiration. Cold air tends to be dry air and that makes your body work harder to keep air in your lungs properly humidified.

And, of course, we all need to take in 2-3 litres of fluids per day to keep ourselves properly hydrated, regardless of anything else we’re doing or consuming.

Our bodies are made up of 60-70 percent water. Studies have shown that if a person is even one percent dehydrated, their productivity at work drops by about 12 percent, with clear signs of mood changes and energy levels dropping. At three-to-four percent dehydration, productivity can be reduced by 25-50 percent. And at 15 percent dehydration, you run the risk of actually dying, so it doesn’t take much to put you in danger.

The lack of productivity is due to two things. The first is that your body is becoming less physically capable of performing work due to the lack of fluids to transmit nutrients around your system.

The second reason is because a lack of fluids reduces your brain’s ability to transmit signals. As your body loses fluids, your brain does as well and without an adequate fluid solution to conduct electrical impulses, your brain becomes far less efficient. This reduces your ability to concentrate, slows your reaction time, and also leads to mistakes and incidents.

At three percent dehydration, your reaction time is the same as being at a 0.08 blood/alcohol level, which is over the Alberta provincial limit for driving. That makes you four to five times more likely to wind up having an incident than if you were properly hydrated. People who are dehydrated are also more likely to get sick and miss work, further reducing productivity while also putting other workers at risk of catching that disease.

So remember to drink lots of water or other fluids over the course of the day.

If you’re consuming something with a lot of caffeine, like coffee, you’ll need even more fluids as caffeine is a diuretic which flushes water out of your system. So try to limit your intake of coffee, cola beverages, or energy drinks which might actually be working against you.

Get yourself into the habit of drinking lots of water as you perform your daily chores and you’ll find yourself feeling more energized, more alert, more productive and safer.

Jim provides safety consulting services in the Lethbridge area and can be reached at jim@flannerysafetyconsulting.com

You can also follow us on Facebook and on Twitter.

References:

Hydration in the Workplace: Keeping Employees Hydrated Can Increase Productivity – http://www.aquaterracorp.ca/page.aspx?name=WorkplaceHydrationE#sthash.cj1rsNEq.dpuf

Employee Dehydration: Affecting Your Bottom Line? – http://bluelivingideas.com/2013/12/04/employee-dehydration-affecting-bottom-line/

How Heat Stress Affects Performance – http://ohsonline.com/articles/2010/05/01/how-heat-stress-affects-performance.aspx

Is Dehydration Affecting your Productivity? – http://worklifepeace.com/dehydration-affecting-productivity/

8 Tips for Hydrating in Cold Weather – http://www.active.com/nutrition/articles/8-tips-for-hydrating-in-cold-weather

Article originally published in Buck Up! Magazine, Issue 3, Jan, 2015

Positivity in Occupational Health and Safety

I reckon that the occupational health and safety professional at any given job site is often the least popular person around. He or she is seen as the person who just makes everyone miserable with their constant nit-picking and criticism.

This, to me, is one of the fundamental problems the safety industry faces, and we tend to do it to ourselves.

The focus in the safety business tends to be very negative—What are the hazards? What did the worker do wrong? What documentation was forgotten? What process failed?

For instance, I’ve seen any number of inspection forms that are designed to document problems, with little or no thought to documenting what was good! After a while, the expectation is that every time a site inspection happens, it means there will be a bunch of negativity thrown around and everyone, from the top of the totem pole to the bottom, gets into that negative frame of mind.

But it is still possible to turn that wagon train around and blaze a new trail. Something I always insist on is that every documented inspection have at least one positive comment written on it. If the workers had their pre-job hazard assessments complete, write it down—and tell the workers you appreciate their efforts! If the housekeeping is in good shape, make note of it. If everyone is wearing the proper Personal Protective Equipment, congratulate them on doing things the right way.

Provide positive reinforcement for the things you want to see and you’re likely to get more of the same. More than that, you might start to change the perception that the safety team are nothing but low-down varmints looking to cause trouble.

Take time every day to talk to your team out in the field, get to know them, learn about their lives and what makes them happy. And celebrate all the things they are doing right. By fostering an environment where safety is not seen as a negative and a burden, you’ll get better buy-in, more personal investment into the process and a generally better attitude from the team.

When participating in a safety meeting, make sure to discuss the good things that people are doing to keep each other safe—talk about goals achieved, people who took the initiative to fix something before it became a problem, new procedures that will improve the health and safety of everyone.

Incentive programs to reward good behaviour can sometimes have pitfalls—sometimes they become an expectation regardless of performance; sometimes people who get away with bad behaviour get rewarded anyway. But planning an effective incentive program that rewards positive behaviour can be a great addition to your safety program when properly executed.

Obviously, if something is noted that poses an imminent hazard to life and health, work needs to be stopped immediately and the situation must be addressed. Likewise, if a substandard act or condition is present on site, it needs to be corrected. The key function of safety—to prevent injuries, damage, and loss of process—must always be kept in mind.

But don’t allow the job to be all about finding the deficiencies. Don’t set yourself up for everyone to get stressed out every time you come talk to them. Always remember that a pat on the back for a job well done is at least as important as a boot to the rear when something is wrong.

Article originally published in Buck Up! Magazine, Issue 2, December, 2014

Jim can be reached at jim@flannerysafetyconsulting.com

You can also follow us on Facebook and on Twitter.

Office Ergonomics

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Ergonomics is not a word you’ll hear very often out on a ranch while busting broncos or baling hay. It is, however, a major concern in the modern office environment.

It is becoming a well-established concern for the 21st Century office worker that sitting at your desk all day is a very unhealthy practice. A recent study by the Conference Board of Canada and ParticipAction suggests that prolonged sitting promotes hypertension, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. In other words, sitting could very well be killing you.

But all is not lost. A few simple changes around the office can improve your health by leaps and bounds and break the chain of bad consequences for sitting.

The first change is to get up and move around. Make it your business to walk around the office—even for just a minute or two—once or twice per hour. These micro-breaks help break the negative effects of long sedentary periods by getting the blood flowing and your muscles moving.

Something else you can easily do to get out of the saddle and onto your feet is to stand while taking phone calls. In my office there are actually a couple people who pace around the office whenever they’re on a cell phone call. Again, an opportunity to be moving while doing something that doesn’t require you to be right at your desk.

Some companies are trying out standing desks as an alternative to sitting in a chair all day. As noted on Smithsonian.com, using a standing desk instead of the traditional sitting desk results in reduced risk of obesity, reduced risk of Type 2 Diabetes, reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, reduced risk of cancer, and lower long-term mortality risk due to all those previous benefits.

If you’re still stuck sitting for your job, there are still some steps you can take to make it as easy on your body as possible. Make sure your task chair is set up properly—it needs to be at the right height, putting your knees are at right angles with your feet flat on the floor, it needs to give you proper lumbar support and it needs to keep you upright and reduce the likelihood of you slumping or slouching.

The keyboard should be positioned so that your elbows are at right angles, with the “H” key centred on the monitor. The mouse should be positioned close by, such that it can be used with the wrist flat and straight, not bent up or down.

Lighting levels need to be adequate to reduce squinting and reduce glare off the monitor.

Set up your office properly and you can mitigate several issues associated with sitting.

This isn’t just a good idea for individual workers; it’s a good idea for companies as well. Healthy workers observing good ergonomic practices are thinking more clearly, make fewer mistakes, get injured less often and are away due to illness less frequently. The net result is better productivity and better profitability. And that is, after all, the point of operating a business.

References:

Sedentary living is the ‘new smoking’ and we’re paying for it, study says. http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/sedentary-living-is-the-new-smoking-and-we-re-paying-for-it-study-says-1.2811872

Five Health Benefits of Standing Desks. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/five-health-benefits-standing-desks-180950259/?no-ist

Article originally published in Buck Up! Magazine, Issue 7, May/June, 2015

Jim can be reached at jim@flannerysafetyconsulting.com