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The Risk Factor 2nd Quarter 2006

Saturday, April 15, 2006
The Risk Factor 2nd Quarter 2006

Ergonomics: Micro to Macro Success Stories

The OSHA ergonomics standard was rescinded several years ago, yet many companies continue to establish and/or expand ergonomics programs in their workplaces. Why is that? The reason is that effective ergonomics programs save companies money!

Ergonomic risk factors in the workplace continue to plague many employers. In Pennsylvania in 2004, sprains and strains represented 43.1 percent of the claims by nature of injury. The number one cause of accidents or exposure was overexertion, accounting for 31.5 percent of cases. The mismatch between the physical demands in the workplace and the physical capabilities of workers results not only in excessive workers' compensation costs but also in losses from decreased productivity, reduced work quality, increased turnover and diminished worker satisfaction. Also, while there is no specific standard, OSHA does cite under the General Duty Clause, 5(a)(1). 

There are many examples of success stories. The OSHA Web site contains over 40 examples of successful ergonomics programs from a wide variety of employers. In some of these case studies, several different exposures where ergonomic risk was found and reduced are detailed.

For example, L.L.Bean implemented an ergonomics program that included the development of an ergonomics design team. This resulted in a 79 percent reduction in work-related musculoskeletal disorder (WMSD) cases during the first year following implementation. The company has sustained this level of success since then.

1Source Safety and Health, Inc. has helped many clients to achieve similar results. The approaches that may be taken range from the very simple, single issue to the more complex and holistic. When addressing single issues, the term microergonomics is often used. When addressing ergonomics more holistically, the term macroergonomics is used. The definition is as follows: Macroergonomics – A top-down sociotechnical systems approach to the design of work systems and the application of the overall work system design to the design of the human-job, human-machine, and human-software interfaces. The macroergonomics design process is often iterative (design, evaluate, refine, re-evaluate, further refine, etc.), nonlinear (does not proceed in a simple sequential manner) and stochastic (requires making inferences or decisions based on incomplete data).

The definition of macroergonomics can be summarized as designing ergonomics into the job/work process. How important is this to some companies? This quote is from one of the more profitable and professional American companies:

“Global ergonomics is core business at GE.” (May 2005)

Whether you would like help addressing single issues or developing a more holistic approach to the management of ergonomic risk, we can help you. For questions or assistance, please contact Colin J. Brigham, CPE (Certified Professional Ergonomist) at 610.524.5525, ext. 24 or email.

Lead in Building Renovations

If you occupy a building built before 1978, there may be lead-based paint on interior structures such as woodwork, sheetrock walls, block walls, doors, windows, or plaster walls. In addition, the exterior of the building may be painted with lead-based paint. Proper planning of renovations will help prevent employee exposure and building contamination.

Determining whether lead paint is present is the first step in the planning process. A survey can be done by collecting representative paint samples and submitting them for analysis, or by conducting a survey of painted surfaces with an XRF
analyzer. An experienced lead surveyor and risk assessor should conduct the survey. Some states and local governments require the surveyors and contractors conducting lead abatement to be licensed.

If lead is present, the contractor must comply with the requirements of the OSHA Lead in Construction standard, 29 CFR 1926.62. In particular, the contractor may need to provide medical monitoring, hand-washing facilities, protective clothing and respiratory protection. The degree of employee protection will depend on the actual or anticipated concentrations of lead in the air during the various operations.

Personal air sampling will determine if employees are exposed at or above the action level of 30 micrograms of lead per cubic meter of air (µg/m3) or the permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 50 µg/m3. The OSHA standard lists several operations that would be expected to expose workers to concentrations exceeding 50 µg/m3 but less than 500 µg/m3, or less than 10 times the PEL. These operations include 

  • Manual demolition of sheetrock or block walls
  • Dry manual scraping or sanding
  • Paint removal using a heat gun
  • Power tool cleaning with HEPA dust collection

In addition, some operations such as welding on painted steel may expose the worker to concentrations of lead exceeding 2,500 µg/m3, or more than 50 times the PEL. Paint must be removed from steel before welding to prevent the generation of highly concentrated lead fumes. 

Lead dust remaining on surfaces may expose building occupants or the public. Lead dust and paint chips must be cleaned by HEPA vacuuming and wet wiping with trisodium phosphate (TSP). For more information on lead in paint, please contact Daniel Bruun, CIH 610-524-5525, ext. 17, or email.

Sewage Contamination Evaluation

Sewage contamination can arise from pipe leaks or breaks, drain or toilet backups, and even flood waters. Sewage is often referred to as “black water,” which is grossly unsanitary and contains pathogenic agents such as bacteria and viruses, body fluids, feces, and possibly blood and other contaminants. As such, it is critical that no one comes in contact with sewage contamination unless he or she is fully trained and protected. Do not allow personnel to walk through the affected area as this will spread the contamination and increase the exposure potential.

Secondary contaminants can arise out of black water sources, affecting building materials in the indoor environment if the sewage contamination is not identified and addressed quickly, i.e., within 24 hours. These secondary contaminants include mold and bacterial growth on damaged building materials and endotoxin generation, which arises from the bacterial contamination.

When a sewage incident occurs, in order to evaluate the extent of the areas affected by sewage contamination and the secondary contaminants, an immediate response is critical – through visual observation, moisture content testing and sampling for “markers” of sewage contamination. Development of remediation plans for immediate cleanup are virtually mandatory.

Trained professionals should perform the cleanup activities using appropriate personal protective equipment, cleaners, disinfectants and sanitizers. In general terms, porous materials directly contacted by black water should be discarded. Nonporous surfaces and contents are typically cleaned and disinfected. Semiporous surfaces, such as concrete and finished wood furniture, can be cleaned although some harmless staining may remain. Valuable documents or contents can be addressed on a case-by-case basis to protect their integrity as well as those individuals who will handle them in the future.

Upon completion of the cleanup activities, we strongly recommend a post-cleaning evaluation that includes sampling for certain bacteria and other contaminants to check the effectiveness of the cleaning and disinfection processes.

1Source has the experience and the professionals to assist clients in addressing sewage contamination quickly and effectively, which reduces the potential for health concerns, property damage, business interruption and liabilities. For additional information, please contact Harry M. Neill, CIH Vice President at 610.524.5525, ext. 15, or email.



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