Occ health, safety partner to prevent

Occupational health nurses noticed that employees were reporting skin irritation from wearing safety goggles, and reported this to safety. After safety reviewed the situation, a new process was implemented for cleaning the goggles.

"The cleaning process involved rinsing in a combination of chemicals. The conclusion was that the chemical used to clean these goggles may have increased the irritation to the forehead and cheeks," says Robin Alegria, RN, COHN-S, CM, a Thousand Oaks, CA-based occupational health nurse who experienced this situation at her workplace.

Here are other real-life examples from Alegria's former workplaces, of occupational health successfully collaborating with safety:

• In one facility, there was an increase in cumulative injures to a manufacturing support team.

"This caused the occupational health and safety departments to collaborate, to determine some of the root causes of the sudden increase of these injuries," Alegria says.

When an occupational health nurse or physician notices a trend or frequency, it becomes a bigger concern than if it were just a single case. "The cause should be corrected, to prevent it from occurring again," says Alegria. "If several people are affected, the risk to employee and employer is greater."

Members of both safety and occupational health shadowed the manufacturing support team for four hours, videotaping employee processes and procedures. "Measurements of their movements, and the weight of the tool employees used, were documented," says Alegria.

Ultimately, more ergonomically appropriate tools were approved and purchased. Safety provided employee training to correct unsafe practices, such as the degree of arm angle distance an employee uses to swing a mop. "Occupational health nurses introduced a stretching program to be performed at the beginning of each work shift," says Alegria.

• Occupational health noted increased complaints of lower extremity pain by manufacturing employees who spent 80% of their time standing and walking on concrete.

The solution was to provide added insoles, which are available without a prescription, at the same time the employee gets their steel-toed shoes. Employees are authorized to purchase them at the same time they purchase their safety shoes.

"Safety implemented the process," says Alegria. "The insole provides a cushion effect, and results in less discomfort. In the future, it may reduce cumulative injury."

For more information on collaborating with safety, contact:

Robin Alegria, RN, COHN-S, CM, Thousand Oaks, CA. Phone: (805) 375-5524. E-mail: robin.alegria@gmail.com