Archive for December 31, 2014

Recent Outbreaks Highlight Need for Norovirus Prevention

From New Mexico to Minnesota, numerous cases of the highly contagious norovirus have been reported in recent weeks. Today, 30 people fell ill with the sickness at a Duluth, MN, restaurant, marking the latest outbreak. The incident follows a larger occurrence of norovirus that took place on board a New Zealand cruise ship and infected 200 passengers with the ailment commonly referred to as the stomach flu. The ship, the Dawn Princess, is owned by Princess Cruises, a division of Miami-based Carnival Corporation. Princess Cruises officials have encouraged affected passengers to remain in their cabins, and have enacted strict disinfectant protocols.

Previous Norovirus Outbreaks

In November, another norovirus outbreak aboard the Princess Cruises ship the Crown Princess infected at least 172 people, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Crown Princess had sailed from Los Angeles to Hawaii and Tahiti on a 28-day journey. The virus, which can spread more easily in closed quarters, is a frequent problem for cruise ships in particular. More than 150 passengers and crew from the Crown Princess were sickened with norovirus in April, and in January more than 600 people on cruise ships sailing the Caribbean fell ill with the virus.

Of course, norovirus also affects many people on land. San Mateo County health officials have confirmed that at least 60 guests and employees at the luxury Hotel Sofitel in Redwood City, California contracted the virus sometime after October 28. In response to the norovirus outbreak, San Mateo County’s Environmental Health Services inspected the hotel’s food operations and found no violations that could have led to food-borne illness. After disinfecting and training staff, the hotel’s food services reopened. Officials have noted that most of the individuals who contracted the virus were temporary guests of the hotel who are no longer in the area.

How Is Norovirus Spread?

Norovirus spreads after contact with infected people or contaminated food or water, making it highly infectious. Symptoms include stomach pain, nausea and diarrhea. The gastrointestinal illness typically lasts one to three days. Each year, the norovirus causes 19-21 million cases of acute gastroenteritis (inflammation of the stomach or intestines or both) and contributes to about 56,000-71,000 hospitalizations and 570-800 deaths, mostly among young children and the elderly.

Norovirus is the leading cause of illness and outbreaks from contaminated food in the United States: about 50 percent of all outbreaks of food-related illness are caused by norovirus. Foods most commonly involved in outbreaks of norovirus illness include: leafy green, such as lettuce; fresh fruits; and shellfish, such as oysters. In addition to cruise ships, the most common norovirus outbreak settings are restaurants, catered events, healthcare facilities, schools and other institutional settings.

Norovirus Outbreak Prevention

The best means of norovirus prevention begins with proper hand hygiene. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water, particularly after using the toilet or changing diapers. Norovirus can be found in your stool even before you start feeling sick, and can remain for two weeks or more after you feel better, so it is important that you wash your hands often. In a pinch, you can use alcohol-based hand sanitizers as a safety measure, but they should not be used as a substitute for soap and water when looking to avoid contracting norovirus. Individuals working in the food service industry should be particularly vigilant about hand-washing, and anyone who has contracted the virus should not prepare food for others until at least 48 hours after the symptoms stop. When preparing food, rinse fruits and vegetables carefully and cook shellfish thoroughly. Be extra cautious when it comes to norovirus disinfection as these germs are fairly resistant and can survive temperatures as high as 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Individuals can also contract the virus from contaminated surfaces, so be sure to thoroughly clean and disinfect any such surfaces. Wear rubber or disposable gloves when handling any potentially soiled clothes or linens and wash at the maximum available cycle.

Health officials at the CDC note that it is currently the cold and flu season, when stomach flu circulates more widely on land. For your own sake and for the sake of those around you, be sure to take these norovirus precautions to stay germ-free during any potential outbreaks.

10 Winter Work Safety Tips

Along with holiday cheer, the winter season brings low temperatures and snowy weather. As fall draws to a close, it’s time to “winterize” your workplace. Follow these 10 tips to prep your business throughout the long, cold months ahead.

1. Don’t let your facilities get too cold. You should maintain a minimum temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit on the premises to ensure future safety. It’s important to prevent facilities from becoming too cold, even during periods when no one is present, such as nights or holiday breaks. Low temperatures can lead to frozen and burst pipes, a messy and expensive problem to fix.

2. Have a snow removal plan. Form a plan and make arrangements in advance for snow removal to clear the area around your facilities and nearby access roads. An important safety step you shouldn’t neglect is to determine where to pile the snow after shoveling so that it will be securely out of the way. Whether you hire professional removers or clear the powder yourself, you should keep a supply of essential snow-removal gear, such as shovels and rock salt, stowed on the premises. As it is likely that some snow will get tracked indoors, consider lining your floors with safety matting to prevent slips.

3. Maintain a list of professionals who can solve winter safety problems. Maintain names and contact information for reliable people you can call upon to help solve typical workplace safety problems that arise with the cold weather. The list should include a good plumber, contractor and snow remover. You should also compile a list of numbers for regular emergency services, such as EMTs, whom you may call upon to deal with injuries that might result from winter weather, such as slips on ice.

4. Have a back-up resource for your systems. It’s difficult to run a business when your system is down. In case of power failure, you should have a back-up computer or server that can run on temporary battery power. Also, figure out a plan for getting your systems running again in the event they go down. For instance, find out how long it will likely take to get them back up. Additional back-up resources, such as a powerful Pelican flashlight, are also essential.

5. Take the weather into account. Pay daily attention to weather reports, and remain aware of the dangers posed by inclement winter elements. Take storms, snow and ice into account when deciding whether to require your employees to come into work. You should be sure that your crew members have a safe way of traveling to the workplace and are not putting themselves at undue risk or going against safety recommendations in trying to get there. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) reports that 70 percent of cold weather accidents are vehicular, so be mindful of road conditions. Even though you may have completed the proper prep work to safeguard against inclement weather, workers’ commutes may still be filled with danger.

6. Keep a well-stocked emergency preparedness kit. As a general precaution, all work facilities should have an emergency preparedness kit on the premises, fully stocked, year round. That rule is particularly important during the winter, when high snow build-up and icy roads mean employees could be trapped at the workplace with no means of getting home safely. Stormy winter weather can also cause blackouts at work. To prepare for these eventualities, the emergency prep kit should have a battery-operated radio, flashlights, batteries and enough nonperishable food and water to last a few days. Have a first aid kit always on hand, as winter can make conditions slicker and lead to falls.

7. Maintain employee emergency contact info. Keep a list of emergency contact information for all employees, including phone numbers for cellular and home phones, email addresses and family emergency contacts. In the event of bad winter weather, you will want to be able to reach your employees to tell them to stay home, inform them of alternate routes, and to make sure they are safe.

8. Make your windows and doors weather-tight. There’s nothing worse than cold drafts and wet weather coming through windows and doors in the dead of winter. Check your workplace’s older windows in particular to see if they are likely to leak cold air. One quick solution is to cover your windows with bubble wrap!

9.  Develop a contingency plan for weather-related cancellations and delays. Even in the event of problematic weather, it’s important for your business that you try to get your employees into work, if it’s safely possible. Rather than surrendering to storms, prep with a list of alternate routes to your workplace. If possible, it is also useful to have a plan for operating your business remotely. In facilities where a lot of work is done on the computer, employees may be able to complete assignments from home, thereby ensuring their safety.

10. Test your emergency plans and resources. You don’t want to wait until an actual emergency occurs to see if your well-laid plans will actually work. The best way to see whether you’re truly well prepared is to put your winter-weather emergency plans and resources through a trial run. During a cold-weather “drill,” you may realize some important safety factors you may have overlooked.

WHO Revises Ebola-Specific Standards for PPE

The World Health Organization (WHO) has released revised technical specifications for personal protective equipment (PPE) selection, in order to reflect the latest Ebola news updates. According to the International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA), the revisions are “a step in the right direction,” as they make an important addition by including performance standards in the PPE selection guidelines. The update, released October 31, encompasses information on effective test methodologies for ensuring that PPE can protect healthcare workers from transmitting Ebola.

Ebola is very much a global concern, with recent cases occurring in the United States and Europe, in addition to the outbreak in West Africa. The WHO’s new guidelines are meant to help establish standards to assist healthcare workers the world over in protecting themselves from Ebola transmission, in the hope of ultimately stymying the virus’ spread. An international panel developed the new guidelines after consulting with leading infection control experts as well as healthcare workers with field experience caring for Ebola patients. The panel’s findings emphasize the importance of thorough hazard analysis in selecting PPE. The panel’s specifications highlight that medical organizations must properly select and use protective clothing and equipment based on product safety standards to most effectively protect against biological hazards.

The panel’s findings reinforce the crucial role PPE plays in preventing Ebola transmission. Healthcare workers not only save lives, but they are our first and best defense against the virus’ spread. Those who treat Ebola patients directly are at the highest risk of contracting the disease, leading to some popular paranoia regarding healthcare professionals in the United States and abroad. In response to cases of Ebola transmission by healthcare workers in the United States, some nurses’ organizations have demanded better PPE, including hazmat coverall suits, as well as more thorough instruction in the proper methods of wearing and safely removing PPE. Some of these demands were met after a series of Ebola strikes were enacted across the country in mid-November.

The WHO’s guideline updates for Ebola PPE selection based on hazard analysis form an important addition to the WHO’s essential recommendations for the types of PPE that are essential for healthcare workers. The experts on the WHO panel agreed that it is most important to have gear that protects the mucosae — the mouth, nose, and eyes — from contaminated droplets and fluids. This would include fluid-resistant medical masks, paired with safety goggles. Proper hand hygiene and gloves are also essential. The WHO also recommends that healthcare workers wear a gown/coverall and protective footwear; the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other similar organizations provide guidelines concurrent with those of the WHO.

The ISEA believes that, by linking PPE selection guidelines with product performance standards, the WHO has taken important action to guide healthcare providers to choose the right safety products to best protect healthcare workers. The ISEA draws on its member companies’ deep knowledge of protective product performance standards, and has been working with the CDC to develop effective gear and methodologies to keep healthcare workers safe. They report that demand for PPE has acutely increased in response to Ebola, and that manufacturers are working hard to supply protective clothing and equipment.

Harness Safety Tips to Avoid Suspension Trauma

Industrial fall safety harnesses are a crucial measure to take when protecting workers from drops and the impact injuries that can result. But prolonged suspension can also lead to suspension trauma, also known as “orthostatic shock while suspended,” orthostatic intolerance, harness induced pathology, or harness hang syndrome (HHS). While suspension trauma is a rare occurrence, employers and safety managers should be aware of this potentially serious condition, as well as tips on how to avoid it.

Harness hang syndrome occurs when the human body is held upright without any movement. Such a situation may occur when, for instance, a worker using a fall arrest system drops and remains immobile in the harness, suspended in the air. Suspension trauma is primarily caused by venous pooling, or the accumulation of too much blood in the veins. As a result of immobility and gravity, blood begins to pool in the legs. Additionally, the pressure on the leg veins from the safety harness can compress the veins, further reducing blood flow to the heart. When the circulation is thus significantly impeded, the heart rate slows and the flow of oxygen to the brain is reduced.

Eventually, the suspended worker will suffer a central ischaemic response, commonly known as fainting. Normally, fainting is the body’s way of re-positioning itself so that the head, heart, and legs are at the same level, and normal blood and oxygen flow is resumed. However, in a suspension situation, the harness prevents the worker from collapsing into a horizontal position. As a result, the faint fails to restore normal blood flow, and the brain and other major organs remain oxygen deprived. Serious health and safety problems can result. In fact, suspension trauma can become fatal in less than 30 minutes.

All those who work at heights, or in any situation where harness hand syndrome is a possibility, should be well prepared. Employees should be trained to recognize the warning signs of suspension trauma, which include faintness, dizziness, breathlessness, paleness, sweating, hot flashes, nausea, “greying” or loss of vision, and unusually low or unusually high heart rate. Also, workers should be aware of the factors that affect their susceptibility to the syndrome, which include general health and hydration level. Your team can preemptively avoid suspension trauma by training in fall prevention and safety. Most importantly, an effective rescue plan should be set up and rehearsed so that it can be put into action in a timely manner when a drop occurs.

Even with a comprehensive rescue plan firmly in place, crew members should be prepared with additional safety measures. The fall victim should be continually monitored and instructed to pump the legs frequently in order to increase blood flow and prevent pooling while awaiting rescue. An even more effective method is to use suspension trauma safety straps. These sturdy accessories provide hanging workers with footholds that allow them to simulate standing on solid ground. Standing slows the progression of harness hang syndrome by causing the leg muscles to contract, putting pressure on the veins, which helps blood flow to the heart and reduces blood pooling in the legs. Once the suspended worker is rescued, he or she should be immediately examined by a medical professional and continuously monitored for delayed internal effects, such as kidney failure. If unconscious, the worker should be resuscitated according to the standard procedure.

These simple preparedness steps and tips should be sufficient to prevent harness hang syndrome. A little background knowledge and some practice with suspension trauma relief straps could save lives.