Oh my Buddha! Did that really just happen?

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I remember attending the AIOH Conference a few years ago when a colleague said to me “imagine what it would be like to be diagnosed with an occupational illness” my response was that I would at least like to choose which occupational illness I was diagnosed with.

So I few days ago I found myself in a situation that took me back to that discussion, and just to put your beating hearts at rest I haven’t been diagnosed with any crazy illness.  I did find myself in a situation however where I was exposed to a contaminant that I would have much preferred to substitute with another, I would even go as far to say that I would have rather copped a lung full of ammonia or even benzene!

Currently I work in Laos. To get to work I travel by Company bus from the Laos capital, Vientiane.  I am not the best at travelling on buses in Laos (I quickly realised) so I break the torturous exercise up into 3 segments:

1 – Leave civilisation – travel for 1.5 hrs – stop at a service station for break;

2 – Drive on dirt that resembles a road for 1.5 hrs – stop at a Company office for break;

3 – Navigate a goat track for 1.5 hrs – arrive at work.

So here’s me returning to work and decide to have one last iced coffee in Vientiane before I return to civilisation 4 weeks later, I get on the bus and we stop at the service station, I decide I need to go to the toilet.

Reluctantly I know I will have to use the symbolic Asian ‘squatter toilet’.  Being the prepared hygienist I am, I take with me a packet of Dettol hand wipes so I can “wash” my hands afterwards.  I go in; close the door and find somewhere to put my hand wipes (a dry spot on the floor near the door), I then navigate the use of the hole in the ground.  After I finish my business I use my wipes, then put the packet under my arm and walk across the service station to see my colleagues sitting down at a table.

When I arrived at the table I put the packet of wipes down on the table only to see the packet contaminated with shi*t!!  Nooooo!

Yep, you guessed it! I look down and find I have someone else’s excretion on my shirt and down the inside sleeve of my arm. Is this seriously happening to me?  The situation only to be compounded by the fact that the airline lost my luggage so I couldn’t even change my shirt.

Good hazard identification Fletcher! Seriously, I didn’t just throw the packet of wipes on the floor. I strategically selected a place that didn’t appear to be dirty and seriously, how did someones business end up near the door?

What’s the big deal right? It’s only on my shirt, it’s not like I ingested it. It begs the question however, if I didn’t recognise the hazard in the most obvious place where else would I not see it? I hate to think.

Well, this is the deal.…… The following diseases have been listed by the world health organisation (WHO) as a High infection and transmission risk in Laos due to less than adequate sanitation and hygiene practices:

Hepatitis A – viral disease that interferes with the functioning of the liver; spread through consumption of food or water contaminated with fecal matter;
Hepatitis E – water-borne viral disease that interferes with the functioning of the liver; most commonly spread through fecal contamination of drinking water; and
Typhoid fever – bacterial disease spread through contact with food or water contaminated by fecal matter or sewage. 

I am lucky I am vaccinated against Hepatitis A and Typhoid. However, there is no approved Hepatitis E vaccination currently available.  Quite scary, especially when the WHO report that globally over 60% of all hepatitis E infections and 65% of all hepatitis E deaths annually occur in South East Asia.  Oh my Buddha!

health poverty action laos

The Canary Prize…it could be yours!

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The Canary is a prize offered by the AIOH and sponsored by Scott Safety. It gathers ideas on the topic of, “What is Occupational Hygiene”  or “What does an Occupational Hygienist do?”  or “What can an occupational hygienist do for your workers and the company’s bottom line?”

I mean if there was ever a profession that suffered an identity crisis it would be ours! The AIOH CANARY is all about Communicating Awareness – a New Approach Representing us on YouTube. It involves creating a short video (less than 5-minutes) that helps answer these questions. The video might be entirely video footage, or it might be a cartoon, a narrated series of photographs or drawings – the possibilities are endless!

Entrants upload their video to YouTube and then promote it through social media using the hashtags #TheCanary and #Occupationalhygiene. Don’t worry if you are a social media novice, and the idea of twitter sends you into a twit, the Communications Committee at the AIOH are eager and willing to help you. Uploading a video and promoting it through social media is the easy part – they just need your submissions!

The Canary aims to raise the profile of our profession by raising awareness through social media, and on the new-look AIOH website.  If you think you have the best answer to the questions posed…and a video camera, then you could win yourself The AIOH CANARY.

The winner of The AIOH CANARY receives a generous financial support for attendance at AIOH educational programs and seminars that are run throughout 2015. The winner will be announced at the 2014 AIOH Conference by the newly elected AIOH President for 2015 and be presented with a trophy by a representative from Scott Safety.

Entries are now open for all members (Student, Associate, Provisional, Full and Fellow) and close on November 14th, 2014 (note: Deadline extended!)…so get your video cameras out and get rolling!

Further Details
Eligibility: Any financial members (eg: student, associate, full or fellow), regardless of membership grade are eligible to apply for the award. Although the video can be produced by multiple persons, the award application can only be made in one person’s name. Only one entry per video is allowed.
All entries must be the original work of the Entrants, not contain any copyrighted materials, and not contain any inappropriate content. The applicant must obtain approval from other persons photographed or filmed in the video (where used) for their permission for the video to be used on social media as explained within this document.
Although encouraged, the applicant does not need to be physically present at the 2014 AIOH Conference to receive the award.
By submitting an entry, applicants acknowledge that their submission will become the property of the AIOH and may be promoted by the AIOH on their website and other forms of social media.
Members of the judging panel are ineligible, as are members of the AIOH Council and the Awards and Sponsorship Committee.
The Application Process
Applications close November 14th, 2014. The application process involves the following steps:
Create a short video that helps to raise the profile of Occupational Hygiene. The video must not be longer than 5- minutes. Preference is given to interesting content rather than video length or professional quality. You may choose one single element of occupational hygiene to focus on, or look at its impact on businesses in Australia, or what a job as an Occupational Hygienist involves. All of these elements help raise the profile of the Profession.
Include either the Scott Safety logo or a Scott Safety product in the video.
Entrants upload their submission to YouTube. The AIOH website http://www.aioh.org and the hashtags #TheCanary#Occupationalhygiene must be placed in the description section when uploading the video to YouTube.
Entrants promote the video on Twitter via tweeting a link to their YouTube video using the hashtags #TheCanary#Occupationalhygiene
Entrants email a completed copy of the application form along with the link to the YouTube video to conference@aioh.org.au by no later than November 14th,2014. Click here for the application form.
Good Luck!

Young Hygienist Snapshot: Tina Conroy [INTERNATIONAL EDITION!]

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Tina is an occupational hygienist who has worked at Tata Steel for the last 6 years. She has a background in chemistry but now is a very enthusiastic hygienist. Tina helps with the organisation of the Yorkshire and East Midlands region for the BOHS and is about to start a new role to further her career. She has presented at several BOHS events including annual conferences. Here is 5-mins with Tina:

Best location I have worked: The majority of my work is centred around heavy industry (namely coke ovens) at Port Talbot or Scunthorpe, and I have to admit it’s a pretty hard choice between these two hot and exotic places!! I did enjoy a visit to Sweden to visit a manufacturers RPE (respiratory protective equipment) factory – found this very informative and interesting.

The best thing about my job is: There are never two days the same and plenty of variety in the work. This along with the satisfaction that you may have contributed to the prevention of people ending up with life debilitating such as NIHL (noise induced hearing loss), COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), etc. or even life threatening conditions such as cancer.

Career Highlight: Project managing and being part of the success of a companywide occupational hygiene programme to reduce exposures to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) at Tata Steel coke ovens. There are now several papers that been issued in the Coke Oven Managers Association (COMA) handbook. An overview of the project was also presented at the BOHS Annual Conference in 2014.

If you want to be an Occupational Hygienist, you’d better get used to: Strange hours, industrial workplaces, ever changing and developing workloads, communicating with people from all levels from shopfloor to senior management, using persuasion tactics and arguments to effect change, a lot of job satisfaction (and at times frustration) and a constant learning curve.

People normally think my job involves: all aspects of personal hygiene : ( and occupational health based work.

The best thing I’ve been asked to do was: Project manage the aforementioned PAH project – Lots of research, awareness training, determination of control methods, implementation and sustainability strategies.

The worst thing I’ve been asked to do was: Luckily, I’m in an environment where people do know what I do. However, I’ve heard a few strange experiences from other colleagues, such as identifying worms, advising on how to clean a small patch of mould, etc.


Does teaching horse riding put your health at risk?

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Sara Jackson is an occupational hygienist (that I met while studying at UOW). She is also a avid horse rider and recently completed a study that investigated the health hazards of horse arena dust, specifically in regards to a cancer causing substance known as respirable crystalline silica.

Sara recruited volunteers via social media earlier in the year, and now her results are up for all to see (thank you Sara!).

Basically her study demonstrated that horse riding instructors teaching students in a non-irrigated, sand based horse riding arena are very likely to be exposed to respirable crystalline silica levels above the occupational exposure standard. On a scale of low to critical, the relative health risk associated with teaching full time in a non-irrigated sand arena was determined to be critical.

Sara also went to the trouble of listing out things that you can do to reduce your exposure to this carcinogen, and answering some common questions. Want to know more? Click Here.

High Vis Work Wear – small victories

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One of the plus sides to working on a construction site is that you don’t have to spend time in the morning trying to figure out what to wear. One of the down-sides if you are a woman, is that you will probably be wearing some oversized shirt with sleeves that are too short and you might show your mid-rift if you put your arms in the air. This is overcome by wearing an especially large shirt…which is as you can imagine…very attractive.

Some times in life it’s the small things that make you smile. Last week Kristy and I finally got fed up with what some manufacturers call “women’s” work wear and we decided to try something new. Our brand-new She’s Empowered Shirts arrived which are long shirts made of a light fabric with long arms which are comfy with non-revealing buttons. In summary – we are in love.

Thanks to a fab woman in the mining industry who came up with a great idea and a great product – we’re now hitting the (sandstone) pavement in style…sometimes it’s the little things that brighten your day!



Check Your Hygiene: Dust Masks

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Check Your Hygiene

It’s been a while between hygiene checks lately, so I thought I’d get back to basics with the dust mask, or to be technical, the “air purifying respiratory protective device“. This has to be the most common thing people associate occupational hygienists with. The “dust mask” lady is coming, I can hear it already.

Respirators, or “dust masks” can commonly be seen as an easy solution to a dust problem, but in fact, when you do all the things you are supposed to do, you quickly realise that going higher up the control hierarchy and suppressing the dust or using ventilation is going to be easier in the long run.

Here are some things to keep in mind before you run to use (or give your workers) respirators:

1. The WHS Regulations require that risks to health and safety are eliminated, and where not reasonably practicable to do so, that they are minimised so far as reasonably practicable. You need to control the risk in accordance with the hierarchy of controls by first substituting the hazard, secondly isolating the hazard, or thirdly by implementing engineering controls and document all of it. If the risk then remains, then you can use administrative controls, with the residual risk controlled by the use of PPE. You can’t jump straight to the use of respirators (or PPE) first.

2. The use of respirators as the sole control to exposure to hazardous substances relies heavily on worker compliance, worker acceptability and the uncertainties and unpredictability of worker attitudes and behaviour. A significant amount of compliance effort is involved where respirators are used. So expect to spend some time performing and documenting inspections for compliance, having discussions about why its important, and when and where to use them.

3. A comprehensive Respiratory Protective Programme must be developed before you provide respirators to the workforce. Such a programme is explained in AS/NZS 1715:2009 and includes the following items at a minimum:

  • The basis for selection of the particular PPE;
  • Medical screening for each employee assigned to wear the PPE;
  • An employee training programme where the worker can become familiar with the PPE and includes its proper use, the nature of the hazard, and the need for protection;
  • Training in the limitations of the PPE;
  • Proper fitting of the PPE (fit testing);
  • Regular cleaning and disinfection of the equipment (or when to dispose of it and get a new one)
  • Proper storage of the equipment;
  • Provision for periodic inspection and maintenance of the equipment and replacement where required; and
  • Periodic evaluation to assure its continuing effectiveness

4. If you are uncertain if the Workplace Exposure Standard for the hazardous substance will be exceeded, then you need to perform air monitoring to determine the airborne concentration of the hazardous substance (eg: dust) in the air. This means you need to do personal exposure monitoring, which is different from static monitoring (ie: putting a sample pump in the work area or measuring it using a DustTrack). You also need more than one sample…but you knew this already!

These are just a few items to consider before you hand a worker a dust mask. Keep in mind that different chemicals (and dusts) have different properties and may require different types of respiratory protection (not all dust masks are created equally!).

If you have questions or need help, then you should contact your friendly occupational hygienist. The AIOH has a Consultant directory here.


The Sydney Color Run – What you need to know

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The Color Run is coming back to Sydney next month, and amidst all the hype and excitement, I thought it was a good opportunity to summarise some of the information we gathered from our previous runs for information.

In addition to what the Color Run recommends…here is a beginner’s guide to the top 3 things you really need to know if you are considering being part of all the action:

1. Breathing in the color dust is hazardous to your health. I can say this, as we took samples of the air we breathed whilst running the Newcastle ColorRun and the Brisbane Color Run. The majority of the samples we collected exceeded the exposure standard. The methodology I used is here and here is what it looks like during the run in Newcastle and Brisbane.

Some sample results were low, but these all had to do in the way that certain people approached the ColorRun course. You can reduce the amount of Color you breathe in, if you don’t linger in the Color Zones and progress directly through these with volunteers throwing Color at only chest height (ie: not at your head), and if you skip the Color Throw at the end.

It is possible that you can complete the run without being exposed to the color dust above the Exposure Standard, but it all centres around you not actually getting covered in dust. This is pretty much the complete opposite point of why you would attend in the fist place. I mean who want’s to pay $60 to run 5K around Centennial park when you can do it for free on any other day?

2. Don’t take the kids. Some people are more susceptible to developing ill-health effects from being exposed to hazardous substances. Babies and young children fall into this category. As do people who suffer from allergies, or allergy-type symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, or if you suffer from asthma. If you fall into any of these categories….don’t go.

3. Volunteers are the most at-risk group. Based on the three ColorRun’s I have attended previously, volunteers were not provided with respiratory protection and stayed within the colour stations (dust clouds) for over 2-hours…compared to us who dashed through them pretty quickly.

During our most recent run in Brisbane, some of the volunteers wore respirators, but these appeared to be poorly fitted and not everyone was wearing them. If you are considering becoming a volunteer, then I strongly recommend asking ColorRun personnel to provide appropriate respiratory protection for you along with training and instruction on how to use it, and a fit test to ensure it is fitted correctly. Using PPE such as respirators is always the last line of defence when it comes to protecting your health, so the easiest thing would be to eliminate the risk entirely and just don’t do it!