World Day for Safety and Health at Work:
Focus on occupational hazards
We lead busy and hectic lives where we work night and day to fulfil
our career obligations or are ambitious to step up the corporate's
ladder. In any occupation we are involved in, we are constantly
bombarded with health issues and hazards that could mean the difference
between life and death.
Be it a clerical job, the construction industry or a factory worker,
we will always have some sort of health ailments that we will report
during the length of our working life. Moreover, we use technology now
than ever before and a majority of us tend to sit and stare in front of
the computers the whole day.
To shed more light about how occupational health hazards are ignored
and can lead to deadly consequences if ignored, Consultant Neurologist
Dr.Githanjan Mendis said prevention is always better than cure. He said,
“Many people are reporting neck aches and backaches after working long
hours and staring at the screens of computers. Using computers are
becoming the most growing occupational hazards in Sri Lanka nowadays.”
The condition of working on the computer for too long is known as
Computer Related Syndrome which is becoming a growing problem.
“Technology is good but it should be used carefully and in the case of
those working on the computers, ergonomically and in a sustainable
manner,” said the doctor. Those who are ‘hooked’ on the computers need
to find a better way of dealing with their work on the computer instead
of being addicted to it.
*The ILO estimates that over
2.3 million workers in the world die each year from
work-related accidents and diseases
*Four percent of the global
Gross Domestic Product are lost due to accidents and poor
* About 12 million men and
women become victims of occupational accidents every year
* The aim is to assist
partners in efforts to improve the working conditions for
all men and women in the world
*Employers play a key role
in creating jobs, increasing national wealth and improving
References courtesy ILO
People complain about headaches, migraines, chest pains, leg pain and
other forms of muscular pains where wear and tear of the neck and pain
are common ailments. “I have found patients who have had neck aches and
this has transferred to the shoulders and chest where they confuse it
for a heart attack,” he said. The doctor also said that some people have
a backache which stretches to the legs and right down to the feet. “This
is called Lumbar Scoliosis where discs of the spine called the
intervertebral discs push out and hit the spinal cord which can affect
the nerves upto the sacrum,” he said. Lumbar scoliosis can result in
several different signs and symptoms. Depending on the severity of
curvature, the patient can feel anything from pain that goes from the
legs to getting numbness in the toes. “This pain is increased by
coughing, sneezing, straining and laughing,” said Dr. Mendis.
"This occupational hazard is common in clerical staff, garment
factory workers, construction workers and those who sit at their desks
for hours on end.Athletes are advised to get some kind of support for
their neck and back if they are involved in contact sports.
“I see that occupational hazards are mostly present when people don't
care about their well-being and stress too much trying to do work,” he
Dr. Mendis said that the occupational health problem starts not after
a person starts working but when children are exposed to health hazards
by playing sports, playing computer games and by carrying heavy school
bags. “Today, children are stressed more than ever before because they
carry all their books to school, play competitive contact sports and
also use the computers all the time,” said the doctor.
“Backache and neck ache are a major part of health complaint
occupational hazards. It comes from the way people sit in one position
the whole day without any exercise or taking any breaks. When such an
ache happens, they don't stop working until they end up in hospital
without taking preventive care,” he said.
Dr. Mendis also said that it is not only those with jobs outside home
who are at a risk of health hazards. “We shouldn't forget the housewives
who labouriously work hard to keep a good home,” he said. Dr. Mendis
said that ladies who carry shopping bags, do house chores and hand wash
clothes are all at a risk of having health problems.
“They should equally balance the weight when they carry parcels or
shopping bags and when picking anything from the floor, they should bend
their knees, put their back in the correct posture and then pick the
item up. It's not good straining and stretching their arms all the way
down to the knees to carry anything,” he said. Occupations such as
media, women carrying baskets of flowers, garment factory girls who do
one kind of work of stitching and those who work for long hours should
especially take heed.
The prevention of back and neck aches are done through cervical
traction which differ from individual to individual, where simple
exercises, taking breaks and just doing light walks around the working
place will make a big difference. There are different types of massage,
traction, and manipulation that have been used by orthopaedic surgeons
The treatment of the musculoskeletal and other systems can be
completely cured by touching, massaging and physiotherapy. Massage is a
therapeutic manipulation of the soft tissues of the body with the goal
of achieving normalisation of those tissues. Massage can have
mechanical, neurological, psychological, and reflexive effects.
Reflexology and auriculotherapy, decongestive Lymphatic Therapy and
Pressure application all produce good results to helping overcome neck
and back ache.
According to experts, pressure has the ability to give relaxation for
the patient and can sustain their correct posture and prevent health
The worst thing is health insurance where, if something happens, more
often than not, the victim has to suffer and bear the brunt of paying
for the occupational hazard. Sri Lanka needs to address more health
aspects of health occupational issues and know how to deal with it.
"Occupational hazards are not thought of as people are more worried
about keeping their jobs which is their bread and butter but safety
should come first and the health of employees is important,” said
Dr.Mendis. The ILO (International Labour Organisation) celebrates the
World Day for Safety and Health at Work to promote the prevention of
occupational accidents and diseases globally.
The ILO states that it is an awareness-raising campaign intended to
focus international attention on emerging trends in the field of
occupational safety and health and on the magnitude of work related
injuries, diseases and fatalities worldwide.
The 2012 World Day for Safety and Health at Work focuses on the
promotion of occupational safety and health (OSH) in a green economy.
With regard to the theme this time, there is a shift in the world to a
greener and more sustainable economy and even if certain jobs are
considered to be “green”, the technologies used may protect the
environment but not be safe at all.
So all we can do is hope for the best and ensure that organisations
and companies, both private and public have a good system in place to
protect the safety of their employees for the betterment of the future.
Lack of sleep leads to obesity
Can lack of sleep make you fat? A new paper which reviews the
evidence from sleep restriction studies reveals that inadequate sleep is
linked to obesity. The research, published recently explores how lack of
sleep can impact appetite regulation, impair glucose metabolism and
increase blood pressure.
“Obesity develops when energy intake is greater than expenditure.
Diet and physical activity play an important part in this, but an
additional factor may be inadequate sleep,” said Dr Kristen Knutson,
from the University of Chicago.
“A review of the evidence shows how short or poor quality sleep is
linked to increased risk of obesity by de-regulating appetite, leading
to increased energy consumption.”
Dr Knutson accumulated evidence from experimental and observational
studies of sleep.
Observational studies revealed cross sectional associations between
getting fewer than six hours sleep and increased body mass index (BMI)
The studies revealed how signals from the brain which control
appetite regulation are impacted by experimental sleep restriction.
Inadequate sleep impacts secretion of the signal hormones ghrelin, which
increases appetite, and leptin, which indicates when the body is
satiated. This can lead to increased food intake without the
compensating energy expenditure.
“In the United States 18 p.c. of adults are estimated to get less
than six hours of sleep, which equates to 53 million short sleepers who
may be at risk of associated obesity,” said Knutson. “Poor sleeping
patterns are not random and it is important to consider the social,
cultural and environmental factors which can cause inadequate sleep so
at-risk groups can be identified.”
The evidence suggests the association between inadequate sleep and
higher BMI is stronger in children and adolescents. It also shows that
sleep deficiency in lower socioeconomic groups may result in greater
associated obesity risks.
The majority of the studies Dr Knutson examined came from Western
countries, which highlights the need for more research to understand
sleep's role in disease risk. However other research papers in the
special issue focus on obesity in the United Arab Emirates, Samoa, and
“These findings show that sleeping poorly can increase a person's
risk of developing obesity, diabetes high blood pressure or heart
disease” said Knutson.
“Future research should determine whether efforts to improve sleep
can also help prevent the development of these diseases or improve the
lives of patients with these conditions.”
Drivers at increased risk during MP3 song-searching
Consumers are increasingly using MP3 players in their vehicles, and
auto makers have responded: Data show that most of new vehicles sold
have MP3 connectivity. Makers of aftermarket MP3 controllers are also
responding with devices that have claimed to decrease driver
But according to human factors/ergonomics researcher John D. Lee and
colleagues, MP3 players might increase distraction risk, depending on
which devices drivers use and how long they look away from the road
while searching for their favorite song. Aftermarket devices designed to
reduce distraction can actually increase it. In Lee et al.'s article,
“Scrolling and Driving: How an MP3 Player and Its Aftermarket Controller
Affect Driving Performance and Visual Behavior,”published in Human
Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, 50
drivers age 18 to 25 searched for specific songs in playlists of varying
lengths using either an MP3 player or an aftermarket controller.
They performed this task in a driving simulator while negotiating
varying road segments with frequent changes in traffic patterns and
construction activity. In comparison trials they were asked to tune the
radio to a particular frequency while driving.
Lee and colleagues found that drivers who searched through long
playlists (580 songs) glanced away from the road more frequently and for
longer durations than did those scrolling through shorter playlists,
resulting in degraded driving performance.
The aftermarket controller was found to lengthen, not shorten,
glances away from the road.
“As seen in this study, these aftermarket devices do not always have
the expected effect,” Lee noted.
These results are significant because they bring yet another
dimension to the driver distraction challenge.
The most recent figures from the US Department of Transportation
indicate that, despite the numerous education campaigns and laws aimed
at mitigating driver distraction, the problem may actually be getting
“New technology in the car often seems like familiar old technology,
such as a radio, but is often much more likely to distract,” said Lee.
“A simple task of selecting a song from a list can seduce you into
looking away from the road longer than you might have intended, and long
looks away from the road can kill.”
Promising mechanical tissue resuscitation
Researchers seeking a successful treatment for traumatic brain injury
have found that the size and extent of damaged tissue can be reduced by
using a new device to prevent cell death.
The research, the focus of a three-year, $1.5 million study funded by
the Department of Defense, was recently published in the journal
The technology, tested in rats, is called mechanical tissue
resuscitation (MTR) and uses negative pressure to create an environment
that fosters cell survival. Louis C. Argenta and Michael Morykwas,
professors in the Department of Plastic Surgery and Reconstructive
Surgery, and a multidisciplinary team of colleagues at Wake Forest
Baptist, have more than 15 years of experience working with negative
pressure devices to successfully treat wounds and burns. In this study,
the team used MTR to remove fluid and other toxins that cause cell death
from an injury site deep in the brain.
When the brain is injured by blunt force, explosion or other trauma,
the cells at the impact site are irreversibly damaged and die. In the
area surrounding the wound, injured cells release toxic substances that
cause the brain to swell and restrict blood flow and oxygen levels. This
process results in more extensive cell death which affects brain
function. Argenta and his team targeted these injured brain cells to
determine if removing the fluid and toxic substances that lead to cell
death could help improve survival of the damaged cells.
In the study, a bioengineered material matrix was placed directly on
the injured area in the brain and attached to a flexible tube connected
to a microcomputer vacuum pump. The pump delivered a carefully
controlled vacuum to the injured brain for 72 hours drawing fluid from
the injury site.
The brain injuries treated with the device showed a significant
decrease in brain swelling and release of toxic substances when compared
to untreated injuries. Brains treated with the device showed that over
50 p.c. more brain tissue could be preserved compared to nontreated
animals. Behavioral function tests demonstrated that function was
returned faster in the MTR treated group.
Environmental pollutant can contribute to obesity through prenatal
Overall, 17 p.c. of children in the United States are obese, and in
inner-city neighborhoods, the prevalence is as high as 25%. While poor
diets and physical inactivity are the main culprits, there is new
evidence that air pollution can play a role.
A study by Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health
finds that pregnant women exposed to higher concentrations of chemicals
called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAH, were more than twice as
likely to have children who were obese by age seven compared with women
with lower levels of exposure. PAH, a common urban pollutant, are
released into the air from the burning of coal, diesel, oil and gas, or
other organic substances such as tobacco.
“Obesity is a complex disease with multiple risk factors. It isn't
just the result of individual choices like diet and exercise,” says the
study's lead author Andrew G. Rundle, Dr. P.H., a professor of
epidemiology. “For many people who don't have the resources to buy
healthy food or don't have the time to exercise, prenatal exposure to
air pollution may tip the scales, making them even more susceptible to
Researchers recruited 702 non-smoking pregnant women through the
prenatal clinic. The women were 18-35 years old, identified themselves
as either African-American or Dominican, and lived in areas in Northern
Manhattan or the South Bronx that are predominantly low income. Over the
course of two days during their third trimester, they wore a small
backpack equipped to continually sample the surrounding air; at night
they placed it near their bed.Children of women exposed to high levels
of PAH during pregnancy were nearly twice as likely (1.79 times) to be
obese at age 5 and more than twice as likely (2.26 times) to be obese at
age 7, compared with children of mothers with lower levels of exposure.
The 7-year-olds whose mothers were in the highest exposure group had, on
average, 2.4 lbs. more fat mass than children of mothers with the least
“Not only was their body mass higher, but it was higher due to body
fat rather than bone or muscle mass,” says Dr. Rundle. These findings
fit with evidence from animal studies and tissue sample experiments.
Mouse studies have shown that exposure to PAH causes gains in fat mass,
while cell culture studies have shown that exposures to PAH prevent
normal lipolysis, the process by which fat cells shed lipids and shrink
Previous research at the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental
Health (CCCEH) at the Mailman School found that prenatal exposure to PAH
can negatively affect childhood IQs and is linked to anxiety depression
and attention problems in young children. PAH also disrupt the body's
endocrine system and are known carcinogens.
Fortunately, there are ways to reduce PAH exposure. Certain fuels
release more of the chemicals than others, explains Dr. Rundle, and
efforts in New York City to take diesel buses off the streets and
retrofit oil furnaces so they burn cleaner fuel is already starting to
Despite known linkages between socio-economic status and obesity
levels, the researchers found the impact of PAH on risk of obesity was
not influenced by household income or neighborhood poverty.
They also ruled out the influence of cigarette smoke in the household
and proximity to highly trafficked roads. Robin Whyatt, DrPH, the
paper's senior author, notes that the study is one of the first to
present evidence that chemicals in the environmental can contribute to
obesity in human beings.
Future research will focus on identifying other examples of these
“obesogens” and ways to reduce them, says Dr. Whyatt, who is deputy
director at CCCEH and professor of clinical environmental health
sciences at the Mailman School.