Not A Replacement

OSHA offers a great e-mail feature that provides a workplace safety tip in your e-mail on a daily basis. Today’s tip was a solid reminder that while masks can help prevent spread of COVID, they are not a substitute for physical distancing and barriers.

Personal protective equipment (PPE), whether masks for COVID or hearing protection in noisy areas, is considered the last line of defense in protection of employees. Employers should attempt to use engineering controls or administrative controls to reduce or mitigate risks before relying on PPE to protect an employee.

Engineering controls involve changes to the physical workspace that change how a task is performed. When possible, engineering controls are the preferred over administrative controls because they help to mitigate risks at the source.

  • Engineering controls for COVID include physical barriers between workstations, changes to air filtration, inclusion of decontamination stations, installing drive through windows, installing contactless payment kiosks, etc.
  • Engineering controls for non-COVID related issues may include reducing the weight of objects, the use of assistive devices to handle materials, or machine guards.

Administrative controls involve changes in policies, procedures, and practices to reduce risks. Administrative controls rely on changing workers behaviors in a task and are not as effective as engineering controls.

  • Administrative controls for COVID include encouraging sick employees to stay home, use of Zoom meetings over face to face meetings, and establishing alternating workday cohort schedules.
  • Administrative controls for non-COVID related issues may include job rotation schedules, written operating procedures for a task, warning signs and alarms, etc.

With non-COVID related issues, the first steps are to identify the hazards and risks so that a decision can be made as to what engineering controls or administrative controls can be put into place. One of the job description projects that we had performed helped to expedite the purchase of an engineering control solution for a client.

County Weights and Measures personnel are responsible for testing the accuracy of pumps at gas stations and typically have performed this task using calibrated 5 gallon tanks that are filled at the pump and then poured back into the fuel storage tanks after measurement. This can be a dangerous task as it relies on drivers noticing the cones that may be placed to show that a pump is not available for service or notice the safety vest worn by the Weights and Measures employee.

After documenting this task for the custom job description, a suggestion was noted that the specialized pickup mounted collection and measurement device would reduce this risk. The device allows Weights and Measures officials to pump directly from the gas pumps into a truck mounted collection device that can be moved from pump to pump, rather than making multiple trips carrying 5 gallon containers across busy parking lots. This engineering control allows for significant reduction in risk of injury to the employee.

Friday Five -7/26/19


The Friday Five is a set of five links that I have come across this week that pertain to ergonomics, occupational health, safety, human performance, or human factors.  For whatever reason, I found them interesting, but they are provided with minimal or no commentary and are not meant to be endorsement for a given product or research paper.

Jodi Oakman et al. performed a 6 year study looking at issues of workability and musculoskeletal pain in a Finnish food industry company. They looked at the relationship between workability and musculoskeletal pain, physical work conditions, and psychosocial work conditions as well as what interventions made changes to workability levels. (Of note, this study was interesting to me as I have been working with an employer that has performed a musculoskeletal discomfort survey with its employees to help to identify tasks that may be contributing to musculoskeletal discomfort.)

A study by Sherry Hassam et al. looked at a 24 month intervention using the “Walking Works Wonders” program to evaluate changes to office based participants in a standard walking program and a tailored intervention program when compared to a control group.  While both exercise groups demonstrated improvements in measures of well being and resting heart rate, those in the tailored intervention demonstrated additional improvements in BMI measures and waist circumference.

A companion study to the above walking intervention study by Kazi et al. notes that sitting at work for the 1120 participants in the study accounted for nearly 60% of their daily sitting time and that those is sales and customer service positions have higher BMI and poorer health than those in other employment sectors.

Jesse Jacobs et al. looked at employee attitudes towards acceptance of wearable devices in the workplace.  They found that employers who want to implement wearables “should (a) focus its use on improving workplace safety, (b) advance a positive safety climate, (c) ensure sufficient evidence to support employees’ beliefs that the wearable will meet its objective, and (d) involve and inform employees in the process of selecting and implementing wearable technology.”

Xavier Robert-Lachaine et al. looked at the feasibility of using magnetic and inertial measurement units for analyzing performance of manual material handling tasks.  They found that while visualization of the data collected for the head, arms, and legs did not demonstrate significant visual difference from data collected visually by observers, there was a greater difference between visualization of data and observer’s evaluation of trunk movement.  They found that using these units can be acceptable, visual verification of the data is still important to ensure validity as magnetic disturbances can increase measurement error and affect collected data.