West Nile Virus: A Pesty Subject

Maybe nothing causes more dismay to a person on the brink of sleep than the persistant, zzzzzzzz of a mosquito near their ear. Every camper, hiker, and sunset watcher has something in common – hatred for public enemy number one, the mosquito.

Mosquitos are responsible for malaria, dengue, many forms of encephalitis, as well as passing the Zika virus and the West Nile virus onto humans.

Mosquito borne illnesses cause close to one million deaths annually and affect almost 700 million people globally.

With climate change a reality, West Nile Virus (WNV) has become endemic in North America. Mosquitoes thrive in the weather conditions Ontario and the rest of North America is experiencing.

Continued rain and rising water levels along with pools of stagnant water provide a perfect cradle for mosquito larvae to breed.

Outside workers who work in areas when mosquitos are present are at risk of being bitten from the potentially virus carrying pest including, farmers, foresters, landscapers, groundskeepers and gardeners. Also at risk are painters, roofers, pavers, construction workers, labourers, mechanics, entomologists and other field workers who conduct surveillance and other research activities outdoors.IMG_1008

It’s not only outside workers that are at risk. When performing diagnostics for the West Nile Virus, medical or laboratory workers may also be at risk of infection if they are accidently stuck while testing for the virus or sustain a cut while handling infected tissue.

Organizations and employers that have workers who may be at risk of being bitten must develop and maintain a program that will minimize the risk to workers from contracting WNV. Ministry of Labour Inspectors are informed of WNV and proactively inspect sectors where workers may be exposed to the Virus. That includes golf courses, parks, farms, recreational facilities and other workplaces where mosquitoes are present or water can collect and become a breeding ground for the rapacious pest.

Because mosquitos need a standing body of water for larvae to develop into mature insects, stagnant pools that can found in troughs, ditches, rain barrels, ponds, and tires, must be emptied at least every 4-5 days, or treated with larvicides to reduce the mosquito population.

A WNV Policy and Program to protect workers must include measures and procedures, and workers must be trained in the employer’s steps to protect them.

For outside workers at low risk, a program that informs workers of the risks in addition to insect repellant provided by the employer might suffice. For others, a more comprehensive program is in order.

In Ontario, any WNV program should run during the time that mosquitoes are most likely to be active – usually from July to September and from dusk to dawn. But, as hikers and outside workers know all too well, mosquitoes are also active in the woods, fields or meadows at any time of day if there is sufficient foliage. Covering all parts of the body is a partial solution. In hot humid weather, it could cause another problem – heat stress. Therefore a workplace program must take into consideration all likely outcomes of their decision.

If you are a worker, or employ workers who might be at risk of being bitten by a mosquito, ensure you have performed an assessment of the risk then develop or review your WNV Policy and Program. If you have a Joint Health and Safety Committee, it would be wise to involve them in the process from the beginning.

Date your policy, and have the highest level person in the organization sign off. Ensure all workers are informed of the policy and program and are trained in the steps being taken to protect them from West Nile Virus.

As always, more information can be found on the Centre for Disease Control Website as well as the Ontario Ministry of Labour.

Contact Gloria Bergen if you want assistance with any health and safety policy or program.

Workplace Violence: Risk Assessment

WORKPLACE VIOLENCE AND RISK ASSESSMENT PROGRAM

While inspecting a workplace, the employer, or employer’s representative often ask how to perform the mandatory risk assessment for violence in the workplace. Even if I knew what I would do if I were in charge of that workplace, I could not tell them.

Every workplace is different, and it is up to the workplace to decide what they need. They know the processes involved, the location, and the culture of the workplace. But, I could, and did offer information on where they could find assistance. I’ve included a few links at the end of this blog.

Health and Safety Inspectors for the Ministry of Labour (MOL) follow the MOL internal policy:  Inspectors cannot determine that a workplace’s policies or assessments are adequate or inadequate. We only ask, do they have one?

If during a routine inspection Inspectors find that an employer has a written risk assessment, they can ask to see it. No judgment is made. If there is no assessment, an order will probably be issued.

That is not to say that the Inspector cannot delve deeper. There are prescribed elements in health and safety law that Inspectors can and do write orders for.   The Occupational Health and Safety Act (the ACT) Part III.0.1, includes the need for a risk assessment and lists the elements to be included.

Employers must perform an assessment of the risk of violence in a workplace. In order to do so, the employer needs to review the physical environment of the workplace: where is it located? Is it in an open space with few neighbours, or in high density neighbourhood? Are there security gates or fences? Are there alarms or dogs? Has the workplace experienced violence previously?  What are the risks in similar workplaces?

It is not enough to look only at the physical environment and see what security measures have been introduced; security measures must not create additional safety hazards.

I remember walking into an auto shop on the outskirts of Toronto. It had a back exit door that was padlocked to prevent thieves from entering from the back alley. Unfortunately, while it did prevent theft, the door created a fire trap with no escape for workers from the rear of the shop. Orders were issued. The employer removed the lock and put in a door with a panic bar. Workers could get out, thieves could not get in.

The workplace must identify the risks that are specific to their workplace and then assess those risks. Does your workplace have direct contact with volatile people? Do workers work alone at night or in high crime areas or with jewels or cash? The employer must assess each risk and determine what the risk level is. Is it high, medium, low? Once determined, the employer should develop their Violence and Risk Assessment Program according to the risk.   Some workplaces used a matrix with 5 being the highest risk and 0 being, of course, the lowest.

If you have a Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC) or a worker representative, they should be consulted about the risks they have discovered or where they believe a risk of violence exists. Workers often know more about what is going on in the workplace than the employer or owner of a business.

The outline of my risk assessment program would include some of the following:

WORKPLACE VIOLENCE AND RISK ASSESSMENT PROGRAM

The purposes of the Workplace Violence and Risk Assessment Program are to:
(a} observe and assess the potential for worker exposure to violence from:
1. another worker;
2. the employer or supervisor;
3. a member of the public;
(b) observe and assess the potential for worker exposure to violence from domestic violence;
(c) establish plans to reduce the risk of violence
(d) decide what risks require a detailed violence analysis
(e) prioritize the areas with risks from high to low and the writing of measures and procedures.
(f) review and change current measures and procedures that increase worker exposure to violence.
(g) develop an investigation process
(h) identify who will investigate any complaints of potential or actual violence
(i) outline privacy procedures

RESPONSIBILITY AND ACCOUNTABILITY

Someone in the organization must be held accountable for the health and safety of workers. The Employers Workplace Violence and Risk Assessment program should identify who is responsible for the development, maintenance and implementation of the Program.

Records must be kept of the risks and the risk assessment, the date and the person responsible for the record.

A section of the program should identify by title, and location the person who developed and maintains the program. As well, the program should outline the person responsible for:
(a) performing the risk assessment,
(b) implementing the assessment,
(c) investigating incidents or complaints of violence,
(d) being the custodian of all records.

This blog does not aim to replace the skills and knowledge of workers in any workplace. My hope is that it provides employers and workers with a better understanding and appreciation for the complex job of establishing and maintaining a workplace safe from violence.

Further Information:
Ministry of Labour: 
Sample Policy: 
Health and Safety Partners: 
Public Services Health & Safety Association:

Violence

Workplace Violence Assessment

If your workplace has not yet performed an assessment for violence, how can you create a Violence Protection Program?

What if your workplace is in a high crime area where gun shots are heard on a daily basis, or where two workers have been brawling in the alley. Would the program you develop to protect workers be the same as if your workplace was in a safe, residential area and workers were all were best friends?

Every workplace is different.  A drug store with it’s high risk of opiate theft, is vastly different from a woman’s clothing store next door and requires a different approach to safety.  The doggie daycare in a trendy neighbourhood open 6am to 6pm needs a different policy and program than a convenience store in the same neighbourhood open 24 hours.firearm-409000__180

An assessment needs to take into account the type of workplace, the nature of the workplace, and the type or conditions of work . The employer is responsible to assess the risks of violence to their workers based upon these factors.

The employer should look at other workplaces that perform similar work. Health Care employers can look at statistics for other operations in their sector; whether home care, hospital, clinic, or in a forensic health care unit.  The employer can research what others are doing, what equipment they are using or tools they have to implement their programs. Networking with others in your sector can prove invaluable. Asking workers, or the health and safety committee members or worker representative for their input is invaluable for information the employer may not be aware of.

Likewise, owners of service stations, auto body shops or manufacturing companies can look at other businesses to see what programs they have in place: check with them to see the types of policies and programs they have to prevent violence and/or theft that often leads to violence.

Once the assessment has been completed, the employer must advise the joint health and safety committee, or their worker representative of the results of the assessment and provide a copy, if the assessment is in writing.  Where there is no committee or worker representative, workers must be advised of the results of the assessment.  A copy should be provided to workers if it’s in writing, or workers must be told how to get a copy.

As with all policies, the workplace violence policy must be reviewed at least annually, and more often if necessary.  The same is true for the violence assessment.  If there has been a violent episode in the workplace and the assessment didn’t see it coming,  it’s time to review and update the assessment and workplace violence program.

My next blog will deal with one way to perform an assessment for violence in the workplace..

If you want further assistance regarding violence in the workplace contact Gloria via e-mail at nocontraventions@gmail.com