In keeping workers safe and healthy, are you forgetting the environment?

It's part of occ health role

As an occupational health professional, you spend virtually all of your time focusing on work-related issues. "We are also environmental experts as well. I think that this gets lost in our focus," says Grace Paranzino, EdD, RN, CHES, FAAOHN, chief clinical officer at Americas Product Group—Healthcare in Troy, MI.

"There are so many things that we can do as individuals to reduce our carbon footprint," she says. "It is important that we are cognizant of corporate responsibility as well."

First show where issues are impacting productivity, such as indoor air quality problems. "Then, offer to be part of the solution," says Robert Emery, DrPH, vice president of safety, health, environment and risk management at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (TX). Emery is also an associate professor of occupational health at The University of Texas School of Public Health. Take these actions to make the workplace environmentally healthier:

• Assess both office and industrial lighting.

"Lighting makes a difference in two ways," says Peggy Ann Berry, MSN, RN, COHN-S, SPHR, president of the Ohio Association of Occupational Health Nurses. "Look for energy-saving bulbs, and consider the effect light has for migraine sufferers."

• Make the workplace fragrance-free.

"More and more people are sensitive to different things," says Pam Dannenberg, RN, COHN-S, CAE, an occupational Health and Ergonomic Services Consultant for EK Health Services, Inc. in San Jose, CA." It can be a touchy subject. They don't think their fragrance is strong, but it is to others."

Incorporate the "fragrance-free" message during annual safety training, and make the policy site wide, since employees will be going to different areas in the workplace.

If a worker continues to wear fragrance, a good strategy is to make them aware that others are suffering because of it. Without revealing names, tell the employee that someone in the area has an allergy and remind them of the fragrance-free policy.

"I've never seen a disciplinary action necessary because of this. I don't think anyone would push it that far," she says. "We are a lot more sensitive to this now."

• Assess for chemical exposures.

"Occupational health is expected to be sure the workplace is safe and healthy, so we should be involved in this assessment," she says. Be sure there are Material Safety Data Sheets available on every chemical that is used in the workplace, and that employees read and follow these instructions.

• Make workers aware that if they have a sensitivity, they should report it to you.

If additional monitoring is needed in the area, do this for the normal amount of time the employee would be exposed during the day. "Be sure you are doing it in the right places with the right people," she says. "Get a true picture of the exact exposure the employee might have."

When the report's findings are shared with the employee and others, your expertise can keep misinformation from spreading. "The message may be delivered by the president or CEO, but occupational health could help to frame what the data means," she says.

If an employee does come in with symptoms, you should already know all of the different exposures that exist in the workplace. If you fall above a permissible exposure limit, ensure your company takes steps to decrease the exposure so it is within an acceptable level or eliminated. "When the worker comes in, you will want to make sure the company has done everything properly," she says.

• Be involved in the procurement of furnishings, carpets, and paints.

Be aware of the possibility of 'off gassing' of volatile organic compounds. "Substitutes are available, and a process called 'bake out' can be used to drive off volatiles prior to occupancy," says Emery.

Sources

For more information on making the workplace environmentally friendly, contact:

• Peggy Ann Berry, MSN, RN, COHN-S, SPHR, President, Ohio Association of Occupational Health Nurses. Phone: (937) 304-4922. Fax: (937) 436-0128. E-mail: berry_peggyrnmsn@yahoo.com.

• Pam Dannenberg, RN, COHN-S, CAE, Occupational Health and Ergonomic Services Consultant, EK Health Services, San Jose, CA. Phone: (877) 861-1595. Fax: (415) 643-6775. E-mail: pdannenberg@ekhealth.com.

• Robert Emery, DrPH, Vice President, Safety, Health, Environment and Risk Management, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (TX). Phone: (713) 500-8100. E-mail: Robert.J.Emery@uth.tmc.edu.

• Grace Paranzino, EdD, RN, CHES, FAAOHN, Chief Clinical Officer, Americas Product Group—Healthcare, Troy, MI. Phone: (248) 244-3894. Fax: (248) 244-4483. E-mail: parangk@kellyservices.com.