Preventing Soft Tissue Injury

Originally published 08/16/2017

Soft tissue injury is one of the most common injuries in construction. Soft tissue refers to tissues that connect, support or surround other structures and organs of the body. Here are some of the most common soft tissue injuries reported in construction:

  • Muscle sprains and strains;
  • Injuries to muscles, ligaments, intervertebral dics and other structures in the back;
  • Injuries to nerves, ligaments and tendons in the wrists, arms, shoulders, neck or legs;
  • Abdominal hernias; and
  • Chronic pain.

These injuries can occur suddenly or over a prolonged period of time. Risk factors for soft tissue injuries include awkward postures, repetitive motion, excessive force, static posture, vibration and poorly designed tools. The good news is that soft tissue injuries, and the conditions caused by them, are preventable.

The following precautions can help prevent soft tissue injuries:

  • Stretch before you use your muscles.
  • Avoid bending or twisting the back or neck.
  • Avoid overexertion.
  • Use ladders to reach overhead objects and mechanical equipment to carry and move heavy materials.
  • Use proper lifting techniques. Lift with your legs, not your back.
  • Make the most of your break times and stretch muscles that have become tense from continuous sitting and/or exposure to vibration.
  • Use tools properly. When possible, keep tools between your waist and shoulder height, which is considered the “lifting zone.” This gives you the most leverage, and allows the strongest muscles to do the work.
  • Keep your work area clean and free of hazards. Pick up loose objects from the floor, and clean up spills immediately to eliminate tripping and slipping hazards.

Take action today. Decide what you can do right now to help prevent a soft tissue injury, and then do it. You’ll end up with a safer workplace and fewer workplace injuries.
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Housekeeping – Stacking and Storage

Originally published 05/02/2017

“A place for everything and everything in its place” applies even in construction. Safe housekeeping requires some extra effort, but the benefits are a safer work environment and less chance of an accident or injury.

OSHA Standards for Stacking and Storing Materials (taken from Standard 1926.250):

  • All materials stored in tiers should be stacked, racked, blocked, interlocked, or otherwise secured to prevent sliding, falling or collapse.
  • Maximum safe load limits of floors within buildings and structures, in pounds per square foot, should be conspicuously posted in all storage areas, except for floor or slab on grade.
  • Aisles and passageways must be kept clear and in good repair to provide for the free and safe movement of material handling equipment or employees.
  • When a difference in road or working levels exist, such as ramps, blocking or grading should be used to ensure the safe movement of vehicles between the two levels.
  • Remove all nails from used lumber before stacking.
  • Stack bags and bundles in interlocking rows to keep them secure.
  • Stack bagged material by stepping back the layers and cross-keying the bags at least every ten layers. (To remove bags from the stack, start from the top row first.)
  • Stack and block poles as well as structural steel, bar stock, and other cylindrical materials to prevent spreading or tilting unless they are in racks.
  • Materials stored inside buildings under construction shall not be placed within six feet of any hoistway or inside floor openings, or within 10 feet of an exterior wall that does not extend above the top of the stored material.
  • Non-compatible materials should be segregated when stored.
  • Do not store materials on scaffolds or runways in excess of supplies needed for immediate operations.
  • Storage areas should be kept free from accumulation of materials that constitute hazards from tripping, fire, explosion or pest harborage. Vegetation control should be exercised when necessary.

Remember, bad housekeeping can lead to accidents. It is important that OSHA standards for stacking and storage be followed at all times. Make this a habit and keep the jobsite safe for everyone.

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Jackhammers and Chipping Concrete

Originally published 04/11/2017

It is sometimes necessary in bridge and highway repair, to remove small amounts of concrete. Compact pneumatic chipping hammers (jackhammers) are often used to do the job. These compact battering rams pack a lot of punch, and they can be dangerous if not used properly. Here are some common-sense tips provided by tool manufacturers.

Dress Appropriately to Protect Yourself

  • Everyone in the area should always wear impact-resistant eye protection.
  • Depending on the situation, wear a facemask or respirator.
  • Wear a hardhat, especially if there is a risk from falling objects.
  • Wear adequate clothing that fits properly.
  • Wear proper hearing protection.
  • Wear gloves to protect your hands and steel-tipped boots to protect your feet.
  • Set up screens to prevent nearby workers from being struck by flying fragments.

Inspect the Jackhammer and Tools Before Use

  • Carefully inspect the jackhammer for damage and make sure all controls and safety interlocks work properly.
  • Inspect air hose connections at the air compressor and the jackhammer for cracks, worn threads and loose couplings.
  • Inspect the safety clip or tool retainer for proper operation. This prevents the chisel/tool from being unintentionally shot from the barrel.
  • Check the chisel/tool for tightness of fit and excessive wear. Repair or replace when required, following the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Beware of Air Under Pressure

  • Never engage in horseplay with compressed air – it’s dangerous!
  • Always disconnect the tool when it is not in use or when you are changing accessories.
  • Never exceed the tool’s designated operating pressure.

Proceed With Caution

  • Always keep both hands on the tool.
  • Watch for excess lengths of the air hose, which can cause you to trip.
  • Never operate the tool without the chisel against the work surface.
  • Discontinue use if numbness, tingling, pain, or flushing of the skin occurs.
  • Prevent back injuries by using your leg muscles to lift the jackhammer into position.
  • Allow the tool to do the work by using a grip light enough to maintain control.
  • Always follow any special manufacturer instructions.

Work smart and work safe when using jackhammers or any other equipment on the jobsite.

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Oh, My Aching Back

Originally published March 16, 2016

Various studies have shown that the construction trades have a high incidence of back injuries. Over the years, low back injuries have consistently accounted for about 25 percent of all the lost workday injuries in construction. Three out of four of those injuries occur during heavy lifting activities.

The causes of back pain and injury include:

  • Lifting excessive weight or lifting weight incorrectly;
  • Slips, trips and falls caused by bad weather or poor housekeeping;
  • Repeated twisting;
  • Awkward posture; and
  • Prolonged vibration (such as a jackhammer operation).

Unfortunately, once you’ve experienced back pain, the chances of it recurring increase greatly. The following are ways to help minimize the risk and discomfort of back injuries:

  • Plan ahead. Decide how you are going to pick up, carry and set down the load. If you need help, ask for it. Always check for obstructions in your path.
  • Lift with the object close to your body, because your lifting capacity is reduced the further a load is away from the spine. Bend your knees. Contract your abdominal muscles, and keep your head in a neutral position.
  • Use the strong muscles in your legs rather than the weaker ones in the back to lift your load.
  • Do not twist when lifting. Use your feet to pivot, moving your whole body as one unit when you turn.
  • Reduce back curvature by keeping your posture straight and your weight balanced on both feet.
  • When driving, make sure your back is well-supported, and use good posture. To prevent back strain, keep the steering wheel close enough for your knees to be slightly flexed and higher than your hips.
  • You may want to add a pre-work stretching program to your daily schedule. Warming up prepares your body for the physical work ahead and helps reduce the risk of injury.
  • Consider engaging in a regular exercise program to keep the muscles supporting your back stong and flexible. Good exercises that help strengthen your core include speed walking, swimming, stationary biking or yoga. Remember to check with your doctor before starting any exercise program.

Take care of your back, and it will take care of you.

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Cold Weather Hazards

First published on 01/13/2016

Several potential hazards exist when winter temperatures fall below zero. This Toolbox Talk addresses three of them.

Frostbite is damage to skin and tissue caused by exposure to freezing temperatures. It can cause loss of feeling and color in affected areas. It can affect any part of the body; however, the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers and toes are most likely to be affected. Frostbite can permanently damage body tissue and, in severe cases, can lead to amputation. The risk of frostbite is increased when individuals do not dress appropriately for the weather conditions.

Symptoms of frostbite include numbness; tingling or stinging; aching; and bluish, pail or waxy skin. If you think you are suffering from frostbite, get into a warm location as soon as possible. Unless absolutely necessary, do not walk on frostbitten feet. This increases the damage. Warm the affected area using body heat. For example, place a frostbitten hand under your arm. Do not rub or massage the affected area, because doing so can cause more damage to the skin. Do not use a heating pad, heat lamp, stove, fireplace or radiator for warming. Affected areas are numb and can easily burn.

Trench foot, also known as immersion foot, is caused from prolonged exposure to wet and cold conditions. It can occur at temperatures as high as 60 degrees Fahrenheit if the feet are constantly wet. Wet feet lose heat 25 times faster than dry feet. Therefore, to prevent heat loss, the body constricts blood vessels to shut down circulation in the feet. Skin tissue begins to die due to lack of oxygen and nutrients.

Symptoms of trench foot include reddening of the skin, numbness, leg cramps, swelling, tingling pain and bleeding under the skin. If you are suffering from trench foot, you should remove shoes/boots and wet socks, dry your feet and avoid walking, as this may cause tissue damage.

Chilblains are caused when the skin is repeatedly exposed to temperatures ranging from just above freezing to as high as 60 degrees Fahrenheit. The cold causes damage to the capillary beds (groups of small blood vessels) in the skin. This damage is permanent, and the redness and itching (typically on cheeks, ears, fingers and toes) will return with additional exposure.

Symptoms of chilblains include redness, itching, possible blistering, inflammation and possible ulceration in severe cases. If you have chilblains you should avoid scratching, slowly warm the skin, use corticosteroid creams to relieve itching and swelling and keep blisters and ulcers clean and covered.

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Vehicle Battery Safety

Originally published 12/14/2016

Whether on the construction site or at home, it’s important to know how to safely handle batteries. Batteries can be dangerous and injuries have occurred while working with them. Each year, a significant number of motorists suffer serious eye injuries or even blindness because of improperly jump starting a dead vehicle battery.  

Automotive lead-acid batteries contain sulfuric acid in the electrolyte. The acid inside the battery is highly corrosive and can burn your skin if it leaks out. This is especially probable when batteries contain liquid acid and have removable caps on top. Sealed-top batteries should contain the liquid as long as the battery remains in an upright position. Never store a battery on its side or upside down. Acid may also leak if the battery case is cracked or damaged, so handle with care.

Cold weather can affect batteries, especially on equipment that is stored outside and hasn’t been started for a while. Whether in the yard of a field office or on a construction site, it is quite typical to grab a set of jumper cables and attempt to jump start a vehicle. However, there are hazards associated with jump starting that need to be taken into consideration.

  • DO NOT lean directly over the battery while making jumper connections (in case of explosion).
  • DO NOT smoke around a battery, or use anything that produces an open flame or spark. When a battery charges, it gives off hydrogen gas. Hydrogen is flammable and can explode if a spark occurs near the battery.
  • DO NOT attempt to jump start or recharge a frozen battery. Remove the battery from the vehicle, bring it into a warm room and let it thaw before charging or testing.
  • ALWAYS wear safety glasses and gloves when jump starting a battery.
  • NEVER touch a metal object (such as a wrench) between the positive and negative battery posts to see if the battery will spark. It will, and could produce a current similar to a welding arc that may damage the tool, the battery and/or cause the battery to explode.

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