Poultry processor faces fines for safety violations

Blocked exits and failure to train employees in proper eye safety are among the charges that resulted in $332,500 in fines against Hudson Foods, a poultry processor in Noel, MO.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) levied the fines recently for willful, serious, and repeat violations of worker safety standards.

OSHA began its inspection in January after workers complained of unsafe conditions. Local media provided coverage of the safety complaints against the plant, which employs 1,400 people.

Among other citations, OSHA fined the company $70,000 for blocked and restricted fire and emergency exits, $70,000 for failure to provide training in and to enforce the use of protective eye equipment, and $70,000 for failing to provide training and procedures for handling hazardous chemicals. The last citation relates to hazardous chemicals stored in containers that lack proper labeling.

Other serious violations included fall hazards, inadequate housekeeping, failure to provide lockout/tagout training, not stacking boxes properly, failure to securely anchor machines to prevent movement, and deficiencies in the use of forklifts.

Fleming SL, Jansen CW, Hasson SM. Effect of work glove and type of muscle action on grip fatigue. Ergonomics 1997; 40:601-612.

The use of protective gloves can sharply increase hand fatigue in workers, according to this study, which suggests that glove use is not automatically a good idea for any work situation.

Hand grip has been studied extensively, but there is little research available on the effect of gloves on hand grip and fatigue. The authors studied 21 subjects using cotton-lined leather work gloves of a type commonly available. The subjects were tested at 20% of their maximum grip during dynamic work for six minutes. The results suggest that the use of gloves decreases the amount of hold time and therefore accelerates fatigue in some work conditions.

The greatest amount of fatigue was associated with wearing the gloves and the least with no gloves. The authors note that glove use is necessary and beneficial in some situations, but they say their research shows that glove use should be carefully considered; wearing gloves is not always advantageous.

Pliers and wire strippers, for instance, should be used barehanded so the worker can sustain pressure for a longer period. But if the worker is using a wrench to exert torque pressure, gloves may be an asset.

The research also suggests that improper glove use can mask hand fatigue, leading the worker to push beyond the limiting fatigue that he or she might notice without the gloves. "It is also critical that individuals be able to monitor their handgrip activities according to the level of fatigue," the authors caution. "If the individual is unaware of the level of fatigue, the hand may be put under undue stress, leading to possible accident or injury."

Leigh JP, Markowitz SB, Fahs M, et al. Occupational injury and illness in the United States: Estimates of costs, morbidity, and mortality. Arch Intern Med 1997; 157:1,557-1,567.

Workplace injuries and illness in the United States cost $171 billion per year, concludes this study by researchers at San Jose (CA) State University, Stanford (CA) University Medical Center, and several other institutions. The study apparently is the first to estimate the national cost of occupational injury and illness using national data.

The cost estimates may be low because the analysis did not include costs associated with pain and suffering or the value of home care provided by family members. The researchers also suspect that occupational injuries and illnesses are undercounted.

The study was designed to estimate the annual incidence, mortality, and the direct and indirect costs associated with occupational injuries and illnesses in the United States. Data from 1992 were used and various statistical methods were applied to arrive at overall figures.

The researchers concluded that there are approximately 6,500 job-related deaths annually from workplace injury, 60,300 deaths from disease, 862,200 illnesses, and 13.2 million injuries. The total cost of $171 billion includes $65 billion in direct costs and $106 billion in indirect costs such as wage loss and the cost of training replacement workers. Workplace injuries cost $145 billion, and illnesses cost $26 billion.

A disproportionate share of the injuries — as well as deaths from injuries — were caused by transportation accidents. Forty percent of the injury-related deaths were caused by aircraft crashes, boat and rail accidents, and vehicle collisions. Twenty percent of the injury-related deaths were caused by assaults and violent acts, 10% by falls, 5% by electrocutions, and 3% by fires or explosions.

The researchers conclude that "the medical costs of occupational injuries and illnesses appear to be much larger than those for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome . . . considerably larger than those for Alzheimer’s disease and are of the same magnitude as those of cancer, of all circulatory disease, and of all musculoskeletal conditions."

Thomsson H. Women’s smoking behaviour — caught by a cigarette diary. Health Education Research 1997; 12:237-245.

Since smoking cessation programs often emphasize the psychosocial aspects of smoking, including the times and conditions under which people reach for a cigarette, this researcher from Stockholm University in Sweden devised a way to record a worker’s actual tobacco use. That information could then be used to help the smoker recognize the triggers for smoking and create ways to counter those triggers.

The researcher developed a "cigarette diary" and used it to study the smoking habits of 50 female nurses and secretaries for one to three typical work days. The diaries consisted of a data collection sheet for each cigarette. The smoker recorded the time of day, where she was, the activity occurring when she decided to smoke, the social context, and the smoker’s mood at the moment.

The study revealed that when the women were at work, they most often smoked when they felt pressed, irritated, and alert. But they were more likely to smoke at home when they felt happy and relaxed.

The researcher theorizes that the home results contradict the widely held belief that stress reduction is the most important factor in smoking. Instead, the study may show that smoking is associated with stress in the workplace but then is seen as a form of relaxation in the home. Concentrating only on the stress trigger is insufficient for smoking cessation programs, he suggests.

Kuisma M, Jaara K. Unwitnessed out-of- hospital cardiac arrest: Is resuscitation worthwhile? Ann Emerg Med 1997; 30:69-75.

Resuscitation of workers who have cardiac arrest in the workplace is unlikely to succeed, according to these researchers from Helsinki, Finland. They studied 205 patients who had sustained cardiac arrests outside the hospital, including six who collapsed at work and 62 who collapsed in public. The others suffered cardiac arrest at home or unwitnessed in the hospital.

The treatment and outcome of those patients were compared to an additional 604 patients who suffered cardiac arrest that was witnessed by health care professionals and who received more than basic life support (BLS). The outcome of the cardiac arrest differed greatly depending on whether it was witnessed by health care providers. Survival of unwitnessed out-of-hospital cardiac arrest was very low — 4.9% of the patients were discharged alive from the hospital.

Of the six workers who had cardiac arrest at work, bystanders and emergency personnel attempted resuscitation on all six but none survived. The researchers conclude that "survival after unwitnessed out-of-hospital cardiac arrest is unlikely with BLS-only initial response unless the cause of arrest is near-drowning or the patient is a child."

Paulsen E, Skov PS, Bindslev-Jensen C, et al. Occupational type I allergy to Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera). Allergy 1997; 52:656-660.

Close contact with the Christmas cactus, a common plant in nurseries and elsewhere, can cause serious allergic reactions in some people, according to this research from Copenhagen, Denmark.

The authors report five cases in which nursery workers reported urticarial lesions on the back of the hands and volar and flexor aspects of the forearms, persistent sneezing, itching of the eyes, periorbital edema, and asthmatic dyspnea. In some cases, the symptoms gradually worsened to include severe itching of the palate, pharynx, and ears.

Investigation revealed that all the workers had had contact with Schlumbergera, the Christmas cactus, and the closely related Rhipsalidopsis hybrids. Testing confirmed the five workers were sensitive to the plants.

The mode of sensitization is unknown, but the researchers suspect that close contact with the cacti sap, as when breaking off shoots during cultivation, causes the allergic reaction. The sap may enter the skin more readily when the worker has suffered skin punctures from the cactus spines.

Aerosolization of the released sap also may be important, as is the pollen of the flowering plants.

"The results suggest a true IgE-mediated allergy to cacti, both genetic predisposition and close contact with the plants at work seem to be important factors in the emergence of this new occupational allergy," the researchers conclude.