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Magazines > Searcher > May 2004
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Vol. 12 No. 5 — May 2004
Feature
Safety First: Where? When? Why Me?
by Barbie E. Keiser Information Resources Management Consultant

These days, most articles concerning safety deal with terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. However, safety comes into play the minute we get out of bed in the morning and enter that dangerous zone known as the bathroom, where most home accidents occur, or into the kitchen, where appliances give us trouble, especially at that hour. The dangers continue whenever we exit our front doors, whether on our way to work or the local public park.

This article began as an extension of the 2002-3 series focused on environmental health issues, published in Searcher and called "Our Environment" (September 2002, November/December 2002, and February 2003). The extension quickly ballooned into coverage of all aspects of safety, including these areas:

• Causes of injuries and health concerns: Environmental, occupational-, industrial-, activity-, location-, and age-specific health concerns and safety issues

• Prevention: Recommended and legally mandated precautions, including such things as building codes and standards for construction

• Statistical data: Types of injuries incurred, fatalities, and the value of human life

• Rehabilitation: Recommended treatment and expected outcomes

• Products liability: Classes of products that cause concern, such as motor vehicles or children's toys, and resources for information regarding recalls

• Disabilities: Short- and long-term disability insurance coverage, workers' compensation, and Social Security payments

• Legal remedies: Jury verdicts and awards for damages, pain, and suffering

The National Safety Council [http://www.nsc.org] estimates that "more than 20 million Americans suffered disabling injuries at work, in their homes and communities, or in transportation." Reaching beyond the U.S., "Every 10 seconds someone in the world dies because of an unintentional injury."1

The Web sites identified in this article provide some context as to these injuries, their prevention and treatment, and the costs associated with them. Created by government agencies, private associations and organizations, academic institutions, and commercial entities, these sites inform health and safety professionals, students, and the public at large. Both ad-hoc activist groups devoted to specific issues and labor unions concerned for their members advocate increased safety monitoring to benefit all workers.

The type of material available through these sites varies widely. Sites can provide technical information, including news, statistical data, health and legal advice, sample safety manuals and government-required filing forms, links to training resources, or any combination thereof. Some have a limited focus, covering only one type of safety issue (e.g., fire, radiation, etc.), while others are more comprehensive.

Environmental Health and Safety (EHS)

The aforementioned "Our Environment" series of articles covered a wide range of environmental safety issues, as well as efforts to protect the environment, prevent pollution, and conserve resources. Boolean logic will help readers appreciate the fact that some of the environmental health and safety resources will have an occupational component (while some of the occupational health and safety resources may address environmental concerns). Here are some of the resources that focus on the effects of the environment on the health, safety, and well-being of workers and the public:

• The American Industrial Hygiene Association [http://www.aiha.org] "promotes, protects, and enhances industrial hygienists and other occupational health, safety, and environmental professionals in their efforts to improve the health and well-being of workers, the community, and the environment." Among other things, the Web site permits non-members to search for occupational and environmental health and safety consultants, accredited laboratories, and continuing education opportunities. For an overview of topics covered, simply review the names of the Association's committees
[http://www.aiha.org/Committees/
html/committeesonly.htm]
.

• The four major sections of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention publications Web page [http://www.cdc.gov/publications] are Health and Safety topics, Publications and Products, Data and Statistics, and Conferences and Events. Topics include Environmental Health, Injury and Violence Prevention and Control, and Workplace Safety and Health. You can search or browse publications by topic (A-Z).

• Environmental Health Perspectives [http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/] is the online version of the well-respected journal published by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

• While the Environmental Professional's Homepage focuses primarily on the environment, its Health and Safety Related Links [http://www.clay.net/health.html] provides deep links to publications on the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration's Web site, along with the National Institutes of Health, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and other U.S. agencies that deal with occupational safety issues.

• Publications on the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) Web site [http://www.acoem.org] include the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

• SafetyInfo's On Line Safety Library [http://www.safetyinfo.com] is a library of written programs, references, forms and documents, safety training, off-the-job safety, safety consultants, and links to interactive safety courses.

• The insurance brokerage, Aon, has created an e-learning and online safety management and training Web site [http://www.safetylogic.com].

• The Safety Related Internet Resources Web-Based Course [http://www.christie.ab.ca/course/sfindex.htm], created by training consultant Carolla Christie in 1998, consists of 10 lessons that take "you on a guided tour of health and safety sites on the Internet."

• The bimonthly newsletter EHS Software News [http://www.donleytech.com/de00001.htm], formerly known as the Environmental Software Report, is designed to help developers create and improve software, databases, and online systems for water and air, hazardous substances, waste management, health and safety compliance, and regulatory, legislative, chemical, and site information. It also contains information on conferences and trade shows, courses and workshops, and business news (mergers and acquisitions, licensing agreements, market trends).

Occupational Health and Safety (OHS)

Concern with occupational health and safety arose as a movement to minimize even dangers once seen as an acceptable part of physical labor. The recognition that health and safety problems can arise in the conduct of routine office (clerical) work is a recent development. Environmental health sites now address issues surrounding indoor air pollution as well as ergonomic issues such as treatments for carpal tunnel injuries resulting from office work.

Aside from the pain and suffering of individuals and their families when workplace hazards cause injuries, illnesses, or fatalities, individual businesses, industries, and the economy as a whole suffer. The sites listed in Table 1 at right, "General Resources for Occupational Health and Safety," provide an overview of the situation.

Industry-Specific Health And Safety

Most people recognize that mining poses safety concerns unique to that industry, just as everyone knows of the health issues plaguing individuals who worked with asbestos, but other industries have significant risks that can be minimized by taking some simple precautions. The sites in Table 2, "Industry-Specific Resources" (page 12), contain regulatory information, research reports, fact sheets, brochures, and other items that address safety hazards, precautions, and requirements specific to particular industries (or sets of related industries). Much of the material covered deals with the safety professional and how general principles of safety can (and must) be applied to a certain setting.

Activity-Specific Health and Safety

Professional athletes are well acquainted with injuries sustained while excelling in their sport; individuals who participate in recreational activities may not know as much about specific risks associated with each.

• For activities likely to involve children and teens, local governments throughout the nation have published safety facts, laws, and tips on their Web sites, such as Bicycle Safety from the Transportation Division of the City of Walnut Creek, California [http://www.ci.walnut-creek.ca.us/transportation/
Info_Topics/bicycle_safety.htm]
.

• Other resources for injury data concerning popular sports can appear on the Web sites of lawyers with active personal injury practices. Use your good information-literacy skills to separate the fact from the hype on these sites.

• A quick scan of the Web yields a multitude of newspaper articles concerning fatal bicycle accident data and research on treatment given in emergency rooms. However, many of these are isolated reports and the sites not updated since loaded onto the Web.

A selection of activity-specific safety issues are addressed in the resources highlighted in Table 3, "Activity-Specific Resources," on page 13.

Location-Specific Health and Safety

Anyone who has gone to the corner grocery store for a quart of milk knows that grocery stores can be dangerous to one's health. An entire legal practice has grown up around "slip-and-fall" litigation. Restaurants as well as grocery markets struggle to maintain clean surfaces to avoid E. coli contamination. Other locations, such as hospitals and amusement parks, have their own particular safety concerns for both employees and customers. A sampling of location-specific safety issues are addressed by the Web sites listed in Table 4, "Location-Specific Resources," found on page 13.

Age-Specific Injuries

The classes of injuries associated with particular age groups or gender can include, for instance, osteoporosis, a common occurrence in older women. For the types of conditions and their effects that cause injuries in older adults in particular, consult Internet sites dealing with general health issues, such as Legal Medical Web [http://www.legalmedicalweb.com], or those specializing in women's health, such as Women's Health Topics [http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/womenshealth.html].

• Remember that the U.S. is not the only government concerned with age-specific injury prevention. Try the Canadian Health Network for advice [http://www.canadian-health-network.ca/servlet/ContentServer?
cid=1038611684536&pagename=CHN-RCS/Page/HomePageTemplate&c=Page&lang=En]
.

• Consult a general medical library, such as a university health center library that builds topic-specific Webliographies. For age-specific injuries, try the Denison Memorial Library at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center [http://denison.uchsc.edu/outreach/medbib3.htm].

In the Absence of Safety Precautions

Precautionary tactics can only minimize injuries, illnesses, and fatalities that occur within a particular industry, establishment, or geographic region. Measuring improvements made over time is critical to injury prevention and control, an essential element within the scope of work undertaken by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While other aspects of the CDC's work have been covered elsewhere in this article, the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control [http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc] is at the heart of injury care. Its Injury Fact Sheets [http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/cmprfact.htm] cover violence, unintentional injuries, and prevention programs. The Center's injury maps provide state injury profiles and a series of downloadable "Ten Leading Causes" for death, nonfatal injuries, and injury death.

This article has highlighted several areas within the Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) dealing with safety precautions. OSHA covers such issues as Workplace Injury, Illness, and Fatality Statistics in considerable depth and detail [http://www.osha.gov/oshstats/work.html]. This page also links to the Department's Safety and Health Statistics Home Page and Keyword Search of Available BLS Injury/Illness and Fatality Data and Publications. The Injuries, Illnesses, and Fatalities (IIF) Program provides data on illnesses and injuries on the job and data on worker fatalities [http://www.bls.gov/iif], with keyword searching available at http://stats.bls.gov/search/iif.asp. BLS Statistics on Worker Safety and Health include both nonfatal injuries and illnesses as well as fatality data [http://www.bls.gov/bls/safety.htm].

While Table 6 above was originally intended to focus on Web sites maintaining statistical data sets or presenting statistically valid research, it also refers to sites covering some of the more traumatic injuries that result from accidents, such as brain and spinal cord injuries.

More Bad News to Come

In next month's issue, we'll continue the sad saga with sources on workplace violence, ergonomic challenges, transportation safety issues...the list goes on and on.

 

Footnote

National Safety Council, International Injury Facts. Available at http://www.nsc.org/staticprod/lrs/intlfact.cfm; accessed February 29, 2004.


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