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March 2010

Micro Breaks = Macro Benefit

Bill OConnor Posted by Bill O’Connor

Ergonomics is the science of the interaction between people and their work. The ergonomic concerns in the workplace are not limited to computer workstations, assembly operations, or lifting tasks.  Risk factors like excessive force, repetitive tasks, and awkward posture can surely stress the human body to the point where injury occurs. A combination of ergonomic risk factors is the real concern, however.

One of the primary reasons that workers sustain injury involves overload of work without enough recovery time. Whether a worker is performing extremely repetitive tasks, such as assembly or typing, or is exposed to prolonged static tasks, such as sitting or working overhead, the human body will fatigue after period of time.

When fatigue sets in, muscles become stiff and cramped, flexibility decreases significantly, and blood flow to the affected body area is reduced.  The end result is a significant increase of risk of physical injury.

How can you counteract these forces: Do your bodys a favor—take a micro break: 30 – 40 seconds of light movement and stretching (especially for affected body parts) will help keep the muscles limber, squeeze out metabolic waste products from muscles and bring in fresh, nutrient-rich blood to maintain joints with a good range of motion. If you haven’t already, you should consider speaking to the benefits of micro breaks in your Employee Handbook. They may be micro but they do big things!


Can GPS enhance Fleet Safety?

Klatt Randy  Posted by Randy Klatt

Technology is everywhere in the 21st century.  This includes Global Positioning Systems (GPS) that are now compact, affordable, and easy to use.  If you operate a fleet of vehicles it might be time to look at GPS for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is safety.

Workers are more likely to die on the job from auto crashes than any other occupational hazard.  There are many steps that can be taken to improve the safety of a fleet operation including the review of driver’s motor vehicle records, requiring documented vehicle inspections, conducting recurring driver training, and employing DOT physicals.  However, employers cannot control the conditions in which employees are driving, or be with them at all times to ensure they are obeying traffic rules or following company policies.  Here is where GPS offers some help.

You can now actually know if your vehicles are exceeding speed parameters you have set.  You can instantly see where all your trucks, vans, or cars are located and their current speeds.  Dispatching, schedule changes, and responding to emergencies all becomes easier and more efficient.  Determining an ETA (estimated time of arrival) is no longer a guess; customers will appreciate this accurate information.  More efficient responses will also mean less temptation for drivers to exceed speed limits, especially since they know their movements can be seen.  For those who have hours-of-service restrictions, GPS can be used to ensure accurate reporting and log keeping.   

GPS can be used to run an operation both more efficiently and with a greater degree of safety.  Maintenance costs can be reduced as vehicles are actually being driven with more care.  This allows companies to make disciplinary decisions when necessary and reward those drivers who are doing the right thing.

Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel! On second thought…

LaRochelle Greg 2 Posted by Greg LaRochelle

The expression  "Put your shoulder to the wheel." is an idiom for working hard at something.  Certainly, we don't want to actually place a shoulder against a wheel, especially if it's of the rotating and grinding variety.  Ouch! 

But the message here is more about protecting your shoulder from cumulative trauma than from abrasion.  A little anatomy is in order to fully appreciate the shoulder as a remarkable structure along with its vulnerability.

The shoulder is one of the most sophisticated and complex joints of the body.  It allows us 360-degree range of motion, like the sweep of hands on a clock's face.  Some of us will remember The Who's Pete Townsend wind-milling on the guitar.

It's through the ball and socket attachment of the upper arm bone (humerus) into the shallow "cup" of the scapula that such mobility is afforded. The head of the humerus is reinforced in the socket with ligaments.  Additionally, some 30 muscles provide movement, support, and stability to the shoulder complex. The tapering extension (tendons) of four muscles that raise and lower the arm form the rotator cuff and attach to the humerus.  There is also a fluid-filled sac (bursa) that cushions these tendons from the bony structure (acromion) above. Raising the arm above shoulder level compresses the tendons against the bursa in this subacromial compartment.

Though the structure of the shoulder is unique, its weakness lies in its complexity, coupled with the forces that are applied during arm movement.  Activities performed with the arms outstretched, overhead, and with an object in hand place a significant amount of stress on the shoulder joint. 

Two common shoulder injuries are impingement and rotator cuff tear. Impingement results from the rubbing of the rotator cuff tendons against the bursa and acromion causing pain and inflammation.  Tears to the tendons can result from sudden impact or from chronic wear.  Over time, fraying and tearing of the tendons can result with arm movement impaired due to the pain and inflammation.  Surgery is typical for sudden impact injury resulting in a massive tear and may be warranted for cumulative conditions as well.

To reduce the potential for a cumulative shoulder injury, lift objects close to the body, use stepladders or footstools to avoid overhead work, stretch periodically, and maintain proper conditioning.  If you've already experienced a shoulder injury, these steps will help to ensure that you, in the word of Mr. Townsend, "won't get fooled again!".

OSHA Eyes Combustible Dust Exposures

Webb Hartley  Posted by Hartley Webb

This year many wood product companies have requested assistance from MEMIC to help identify and control wood dust exposures and to develop procedures to comply with OSHA’s wood dust regulations.

According to a 2006 report issued by the Chemical Safety Board, there were 280 combustible dust fires recorded over a period of 25 years, resulting in 119 fatalities and 700 injuries. Unfortunately, it took a massive explosion at a Georgia sugar refinery in February 2008 that killed 14 and injured dozens of others to put combustible dust safety squarely on OSHA’s front burner.

Concentrations of small dust particles in the air can form a mixture that will explode if ignited. This type of situation may occur in dust collection equipment and overheated motors or sparks can start wood dust fires.

To assist you with OSHA’s requirements for identifying and controlling exposures to combustible dust please review this document.

OSHA also offers an e-tool that explains how to control wood dust exposures generated by commonly used woodworking equipment. This document is found at:

In addition, OSHA has developed a document titled Safety and Health Topics for Wood Dust that explains the OSHA related standards, how to recognize wood dust exposures, how to evaluate combustible dust concentrations, and how to control exposure.

An OSHA guideline document warns against overexposure to wood dust. Acute exposures to wood dust include eye and skin irritation, asthma, erythema (skin rash), blistering, erosion and secondary infections of the skin, redness, scaling, itching, and vesicular dermatitis. Chronic exposures to wood dusts can result in dermatitis reactions, asthma, pneumonitis, and coughing, wheezing, fever and the other signs and symptoms associated with chronic bronchitis. Chronic exposure may also result in nasal cancer.

Lastly, OSHA has a National Emphasis Program for Combustible Dust CPL 03-00-008 that was published March 11, 2008. And, in October 2009, OSHA published a status report on the results of the national emphasis program for combustible dust.