Mousing elbow? It can be prevented

LaRochelle Greg 2 Posted by Greg LaRochelle

“Hey doc, what do you mean I have tennis elbow?  I don’t even play the game!”

 Tennis elbow or lateral epicondylitis, as clinically described, refers to a condition that results in soreness to the outside of the elbow and forearm, typically to the dominant arm.  Tennis elbow is classified as an overuse injury though the cause can stem from a sudden blow to the elbow or forceful pull of the forearm.  Commonly, micro-tears occur to the extensor forearm muscle tendon near the elbow resulting in pain and discomfort.   Pain is most pronounced when grasping objects with the palm down (pronation), shaking someone’s hand, or turning a door knob.

With a move by many employers to go “paperless”, particularly in healthcare with the implementation of an electronic medical records system, computer mouse use has increased dramatically.  Navigating through software applications with multiple windows, tabs, and dropdown menus has become extremely mouse-click intensive, setting the stage for a repetitive stress injury such as tennis elbow.  

The risk of developing this condition can be caused by the placement of the mouse on a work surface that requires an awkward extended reach.  Additionally, the size and shape of the mouse can be contributing factors depending on the size of the person’s hand as well as overall conditioning of the forearm muscles. 

The good news on tennis elbow is that it’s not permanent if given prompt intervention and opportunity for adequate recovery time.  Here are some tips on avoiding tennis elbow related to computer mouse use.

  1. Position the mouse close to the side of the keyboard with minimal reach.
  2. Increase the mouse pointer motion speed to reduce force exertion.  The mouse properties are accessed through the computer control panel with the pointer options tab and motion (select a pointer speed) the means of adjustment. 
  3. Take a micro-stretch break every half hour.
  4. Alternate mouse location from the favored side of the keyboard to the opposite side (though this takes some adaptation). 
  5. Learn control key shortcuts for the software application.
  6. If tennis elbow has already resulted (from mouse use), replace the conventional mouse with an “in-line” design.  

For more information on controlling ergonomic risk factor exposure, consult the MEMIC Safety Director and lightly click on the Solve your Ergonomic Dilemmas! link.

Reducing Housekeeping Strains May Be Just a Drop in the Bucket

Clark Dan Posted by Dan Clark

 When it comes to housekeeping workers, back and shoulder strains can be significantly decreased by, literally, a drop in the bucket. 

Housekeeping workers often work with wheeled mop buckets that, when full, can weigh 50 pounds or more.  The buckets are easily filled with dispensing systems or a hose from a sink which doesn’t place a huge physical demand on the worker.  However, considerable stress and strain is put on workers when these buckets are emptied after use.  

 Emptying the buckets, typically in a closet with limited space, places significant forces on the shoulder joints and back.  Many housekeeping workers manually lift these buckets to a sink, or other elevated drain, to empty them.  When doing so, these workers are subject to awkward postures, including lifting and twisting.

An inexpensive solution to avoid costly shoulder and back strains is a drop in the bucket.  A small electric submersible pump (priced between $80 and $100), equipped with a short piece of hose, can be set in the bucket that needs to be emptied.  Pumping the water into the sink or drain will eliminate the heavy, manual lift, twist, and awkward posture.

 Be sure that the electric pump is plugged into a ground-fault circuit and that workers are trained on the proper use of the pump.  This practice is so effective in eliminating the unnecessary, heavy lift and twist that some companies have created policies enforcing the use of these pumps by housekeeping workers. 

Hiring Practices That Make Smart “Cents” for Safety

LaRochelle Greg 2 Posted by Greg LaRochelle

As the sluggish economy begins to heat up rendering a more favorable business climate, cost conscious employers looking to grow their workforce need to be even more vigilant to their hiring practices.  The search for a suitable fit can be an exhaustive exercise for a small business owner as well as for an HR professional in a large corporation.  Finding and hiring the right person demands that safety be at the forefront of the decision-making process.  Here’s why:

According to the Business & Legal Reports safety website, workplace injury statistics reveal that new employees are 5 times more likely to experience a lost-time injury in the first month of employment compared to the experienced worker.  Additionally, studies show that 40 percent of all workers injured on the job have been at it less than a year.  

 Given these facts, ensuring the safety of the “newbie” is of utmost importance, particularly where a business’s greatest asset is its people.  Equally, smart hiring practices and new employee safety orientation translate to preservation of the bottom line.

Proactive loss control measures in hiring should include:

  • Post-offer, pre-placement physical exams, especially for physically demanding job positions.
  • Written job descriptions that detail the physical aspect of the work tasks. 
  • New employee orientation and training on the equipment and tools associated with the job, emergency evacuation routes, location of first-aid kits, MSDSs, and items such as fire extinguishers. 

Most occupational health providers offer pre-placement physicals for a nominal fee. These are designed to determine the functional capacity of the individual.  The written job description stipulating physical demands can also be used in determining light duty activities for an injured employee with temporary work restrictions. 

Use of an orientation checklist while showing the new hire the safety features of the workplace can serve as documentation of the facility safety tour. 

As a timesaver, MEMIC has assembled a number of training checklists including an employee safety orientation form in the on-line MEMIC Safety Director resource library.  (Note: MEMIC Safety Director requires user registration and is exclusively for MEMIC customers.) For additional resources on hiring practices, click on the Human Resources link under the bold heading Action Plans on the Safety Director’s home page. 

Stay SAFE from the Winter Slip & Fall

Koch Peter 2 Posted by Peter Koch

It lurks around many a corner, on stairs, down drives, and walkways.  It does not discriminate, taking down men and women of all ages and occupations.  And it doesn’t care about an individual’s physical ability.  Feeding on snow and ice, its tendrils spread to entangle the unwary, putting them flat on their back.  What is this terrible scourge?  The Winter Slip and Fall.

According to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, slip and falls are the third leading cause of workplace injuries and our recent winter weather has only served to increase the tally.   Even though slip and falls are frequent, they don’t have to be an inevitable result of winter weather. 

Generally, a lack of awareness (of slippery or icy conditions) and behavior, are the leading contributors to slips and falls, and the best prevention fits into four areas that can be recalled with the acronym SAFE:

  • Surface – Maintain the surface for the weather and anticipated foot traffic.  Be sure the area is lit properly and that snow removal equipment and sand or salt are readily available.
  • Awareness – Slow down, don’t be in a hurry.  Practice walking safely: shorten your stride and keep a larger portion of your footwear sole in contact with the surface during each step.
  • Footwear – Wear proper footwear for the anticipated conditions.  Wear boots to work and change at the office.  Get traction enhancers like Stabil-Icers or YakTrax to slip over shoes.
  • Environment - When the weather is inclement and temperatures are dropping below freezing, slow the pace of work to allow for better situational and hazard awareness.  Look for low spots or high-traffic areas – where ice can build up – especially when the ground is covered with that initial, light “dusting” of snow.

Keep SAFE-ty in mind, to stay on your feet this winter, and avoid the Winter Slip and Fall.

More Shoveling? Say It Ain’t Snow!

Allan Brown Posted by  Allan Brown

Before you start, consider:

  •  Snow shoveling puts a high physical demand on your heart and back.
  • Avoid snow shoveling after a big meal.  Give yourself 1-2 hours after a meal before you start shoveling.  It takes a lot of blood flow to digest a meal.
  • Avoid caffeine or smoking before and when you’re shoveling.  Both substances will increase your heart rate.
  • Avoid shoveling if you are 40 years or older, suffer a heart condition, or have hypertension.
  • Avoid shoveling if you suffer from low back pain.
  • Avoid shoveling if you are physically inactive.

Dress appropriately:

It’s winter, so layer your clothing.  Not only will this keep you warm, but it will be easier to shed clothing as you warm up. Make sure your clothing doesn’t restrict your ability to move.  Wear appropriate shoes/boots.  Make sure the boots have good traction to reduce slipping.  If it’s icy wear “ice grippers” over boots or shoes to prevent slipping.  Protect your face with sunscreen.

The right shovel:

All shovels are not alike.  Consider a shovel with a bent handle.  This will reduce the amount of bending you’ll have to do when shoveling.  Plastic is lighter than metal, so go light; the snow will provide plenty of weight.

Warm up and stretch your muscles before you shovel:

Prepare your body to do work.  Increase your core temperature by marching in place or with a brisk walk.  Once your core is warm, stretch your shoulders, back, and legs.  These areas of the body will be doing the majority of the work.  Take micro breaks every 10 minutes when shoveling and stretch any tight muscle.

Stop shovelling immediately if:

  • You experience shortness of breath
  • You feel tightness in your chest
  • You begin to experience back pain

Moving snow:

Do it sooner rather than later.  Fresh snow is lighter. Packed snow is tougher to move.  Push snow whenever possible and avoid lifting.  If you have to lift the snow, keep these points in mind:

  • Try to maintain your back as upright as possible.
  • Bend at the hips and knees to load the shovel.
  • Take less snow on the shovel if it is wet and dense.  A shovel full of wet snow can weigh up to 25 pounds.
  • Lift with your legs and hips while keeping your core muscles tight.
  • Avoid twisting, and always pivot the whole body when moving snow.
  • Train yourself to shovel left-handed and right-handed.  This will take a little effort on your part to practice.  It takes about a week to coordinate your body.  Alternate sides every 10 minutes.
  • Take frequent stretch breaks for the shoulders and back.
  • Pace yourself.
  • Stay hydrated; drink plenty of water before, during, and after shoveling.

When You’re Done:

  • Drink water and eat a healthy snack.
  • Stretch your muscles.


Read a past MEMIC SafetyNet blog titled "The Science of Shoveling".



Don't Let Gravity Get You Down

Henry Reynolds Posted by Henry Reynolds

It is that time of the year when roads and walkways become slippery and hard to walk on.  What we should not forget is that during the year, in any environment, slips trips and falls can be both painful and costly to all persons involved.  Slips, trips and falls are the second leading cause of workplace injuries.

Please note these statistics:

  • 265,000 non-fatal injuries each year.
  • Average cost of a slip, trip, and fall is $27,000 per claims (i.e., medical and lost time).
  • Highest injury frequency of any regulated activity.
  • More than 800 deaths annually.
  • Leading cause of ER visits (National Safety Council).

What can we do to reduce the risk of slips, trips falls?  One place to start is with the identification of hazards. Below are just a few.

Surface Conditions

  • Slippery Floors
  • Uneven walking surfaces
  • Changes in Level
  • Surface protrusions or depressions
  • Poor Housekeeping
  • Lack of Space
  • Carpets, floor mats, cables, extension cords

Task Related Concerns

  • Inappropriate Footwear
  • Carry items that obstruct view
  • Rushing to complete tasks
  • Improper ladder set-up or use of ladder.
  • Inadequate lighting
  • Open Drawers
  • Winter Activities

When evaluating slip, trip, and fall hazards at work remember many of these hazards lurk in our own homes. An injury at home is no less than painful than one at work! Identify hazards in both locations to help keep your co-workers and your family members from suffering gravity's revenge.

For more information on this topic, MEMIC is hosting a webinar on January 27th. You can register online. We will address the above issues and many more in this one-hour webinar.


Does my company need a written safety and health program?

Dodge John 
Posted by John Dodge

This week a business owner asked me if he needed a formal safety program. His business employed 10 people and has been successful in preventing workplace injuries for several years. However, he felt some level of uncertainty about his informal safety and health efforts.

Following a brief discussion and a work site tour, it was evident that his organization had elements of a formal safety and health program: An organized workplace, well maintained tools and equipment, elimination of hazardous tasks, and availability of personal protective equipment.

I suspect that many business owners find themselves in a similar situation. They feel that they are doing enough to provide a safe workplace and if they have few injuries, why have a formal program?

I also suspect that some businesses owners feel as if their luck has changed- the informal safety efforts that have worked in the past are no longer working.

If you wonder why you need a formal safety and health program, start by asking these questions:

  1. How do my employees know that I expect them to work safely?
  2. How do I address unsafe work conditions before an accident or near miss?
  3. Does management understand that they are accountable for safe work conditions?
  4. How are employees trained to perform their job?
  5. Do my employees participate in the safety and health process?
  6. Am I compliant with regulatory safety and health requirements?

If you don’t have answers to these questions, a written safety and health policy will provide a definite course of action and a schedule of activities. There are various guidance documents available, but most will have these basic program elements:

  1. Management commitment and employee involvement
  2. Worksite analysis
  3. Hazard identification and control
  4. Employee training

To get started, I recommend MEMIC’s Seven Steps to a Safer Workplace guide. This document and other safety support materials are available on MEMIC’s Safety Director website.  You will quickly build a formal safety and health program and will eliminate any uncertainty about the effectiveness and consistency of your future safety efforts.   

Part 1: What Do I Really Need for a Respiratory Protection Program?

Posted by Donna Clendenning and Greg LaRochelle

So what’s OSHA’s stance on respiratory protection in the workplace? Does everyone need to have a program?  Does everyone need to wear respiratory protection?  The short answer is “no”. 

Now, here’s the longer answer. (And it’s worth reading because this standard is once again among the top five of OSHA’s most commonly cited standards.)

Whether you work in general industry, construction, or shipbuilding, OSHA’s Standard 29 CFR 1910.134, Respiratory Protection, is the first place to look to understand what the standard requires. Exceeding OSHA’s exposure limits where engineering controls are not feasible will dictate the required use of a respirator.  In this case, the general requirements for a respiratory protection program are the following:

Written Plan – Employers are required to have a written plan with the following elements along with having a named designated program administrator.

Medical Evaluation – A respirator, itself, can pose as a hazard due to the increased stress placed on the cardiopulmonary system.  A medical questionnaire form (Appendix C to the standard) needs to be completed by the employee with review by a licensed healthcare professional for determination of employee clearance for respirator use.  Oftentimes, this includes a pulmonary function exam conducted by the healthcare professional.

Respirator Selection – Respirators are selected based on the hazards that the employee may be exposed to while in the workplace.  The employer is responsible for identifying and evaluating respiratory hazards in the workplace to determine which type of respiratory protection is needed.  And, the employer is responsible for selecting respirators from a sufficient number of respirator models and sizes so that the respirator is acceptable to, and correctly fits, the user. Lastly, only NIOSH (National Institute of Occupational Safety & Health) certified respirators are to be used.

Bed bugs bite but not disease carriers

LaRochelle Greg 2 Posted by Greg Larochelle

Recently, one of my customers from a social service organization asked if I could present a workshop on bed bugs to their risk management team.  While not an entomologist by education, I accepted the request and proceeded to review the plethora of information available on the web including some interesting micrograph images of Cimex lectularius as the insect is taxonomically named.  Owing to the fear with other disease-causing organisms such as ticks and mosquitoes, the emerging abundance of bed bugs strikes a similar concern with regard to possible health effects.

Fortunately, bed bugs are not vectors of disease transmission though their bite can lead to welts, a rash in sensitized individuals, and a chance of secondary infection from an open wound.  Psychologically, these buggers can cause anxiety and insomnia from the standpoint of the stigma surrounding infestation and the challenge of eradicating them totally from a dwelling.  Bed bugs lurk in cracks, crevices, and concealed spaces, typically in bedding and cushioned furniture near a warm-blooded food source.  Bed bugs don't care about the socioeconomic class of their victim and could care less about crumbs left on the mattress or sofa.  They are all about seeking out a blood meal in dark spaces much like the modern-day vampire of the Twilight series.

Bed bugs are visible to the naked eye with adults about the size and shape of an apple seed and burnt orange to reddish brown in color.  They're dependent on blood to reach maturity and can go several months without feeding.  Eliminating bed bugs requires integrated pest management with inspection, heat treatment, laundering/encasement, steam cleaning, and pesticide application a few of the methods used for mitigation.  The Maine CDC recommends pest control professionals licensed by the Maine Board of Pesticides Control be used for pesticide application.  The agency's motto is Think First - Spray Last!

Unless we decide to become hermits, there's a real chance that we can encounter bed bugs from leisure and business congregation.  Bed bugs are adept hitchhikers so vigilance to self-inspection including our travel items is an important step in minimizing infestation.  The EPA and U.S. CDC have joined forces on bed bug awareness and control with factsheets available on their websites.  I encourage you to review these and other resources to save you from buggin' out. 

Young workers, old story: Too many injuries

The special health section in Monday's Boston Globe featured a cover story about an issue important to every parent and, hopefully, every employer: workplace safety for young workers, particularly teenagers.

We know that inexperienced workers are twice as likely to be hurt at work as experienced employees. And, of course, by their very nature, teenagers are inexperienced. Couple that with the fact that they are often hired to do jobs with inherent danger and you have a potential tragedy.

What's the answer? Well, in part, it's training and supervision. And yet, this is reported in Elizabeth Cooney's story from the Globe:

When researchers from the Teens at Work Project interviewed 208 teens under age 18 who had been injured at work from 2003 through 2007, about half said they had no safety training. About 15 percent said there was no supervisor on site when they were hurt. Almost a quarter said they had no work permit.

This is inexcusable. If you have teen workers, make sure they get the training they need. And if you're a parent of a teen worker, ask them about safety. Have they been trained? Is someone supervising them when they are engaged in potentially dangerous tasks?

Work teaches lots of valuable lessons, but if the lesson comes from a workplace injury, its price is too high.