Category Archives: Safety

Office Work Isn’t Easy on the Eyes – Here’s How to Treat Them Right

If you spend most of your workday sitting at a desk, staring at a computer, you may be putting your eyes at risk.  Poor lighting and an improperly placed monitor, especially one that you’re looking at for a prolonged period of time, can lead to eyestrain and irritation; watery eyes and red, swollen eyelids; double vision; a decrease in the ability to focus your eyes and see clearly; headaches from straining to see clearly; and neck and back pains from hunching over to see small items.  Chances are, you’ve probably experienced at least one of these issues at some point throughout your career, but you may not have been sure of what caused them – or of how much of an effect they were having on your productivity.  Research has shown that even slight eyestrain can reduce workplace productivity by up to 20% – if you’d like to feel more focused and productive, here are some tips to avoid eyestrain and related problems:

  • Brighten up the place by placing an extra light above your workstation or on your desk. If your workspace is naturally dim, this “task lighting” can help you see more clearly.
  • Place your computer monitor at a 90-degree angle to any nearby windows and close window blinds to reduce glare from the sun.
  • Keep the top of your computer monitor even with or slightly below eye level – the top task bar on your Internet browser or computer program should be parallel with your eyes.
  • If you wear bifocals or reading glasses, adjust your monitor so that you don’t have to tilt your head back to see clearly, or look for progressive lenses with reading, mid-distance, and long-distance prescriptions.

Even if you’ve adjusted your workspace to reduce eye problems, it’s a good idea to follow the 20-20-20 Rule throughout the workday:  Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break to look at something 20 feet away. Giving your eyes a break, even if it’s for a few seconds, should help make your workday more productive and less stressful – on your body and your mind.

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Keep Back Pain at Bay with These Simple Strategies

Back pain is extremely common – in fact, 8 out of 10 people will suffer from it at some point in their lives. If you’re part of this statistic, know that in many cases, back pain can be prevented, or at least reduced, by following a few easy, back-friendly practices at work and at home.

At Work

  • Practice good posture while sitting by keeping your shoulders back and your spine straight. Every few hours, check your posture by placing a fist between the small of your back and the back of your chair. If it fits perfectly in between, you’re sitting up straight. If you have too little or too much extra room, then it’s time to readjust.
  • If you sit down all day, elevate your feet on a low stool or stack of books. Once every hour, stand and stretch by putting your hands on your lower back and gently leaning backward, then forward.
  • If you’re on your feet a lot, be sure to spread your weight evenly between both feet. Keep your ears, shoulders, and hips in a straight line. Your head should be up and your stomach pulled in.
  • If your job involves heavy lifting, keep your back straight as you lift from the knees, tightening your stomach muscles and keeping your head down at the same time. Keep objects close to you and don’t twist your body while lifting.

At Home

  • Since you probably spend most of your time at home in your bed, be kind to your back by purchasing a firm mattress that supports your body evenly; there should not be any gaps between your body and the bed. If you have a soft mattress, there’s no need to go out a buy a new one right away; you can make it firmer by putting a half-inch plywood board underneath it.
  • In order to prevent bulges or indentations that can lead to back pain, rotate your mattress clockwise or turn it upside down every few months (check with your mattress manufacturer for specific recommendations).
  • Choose a pillow that supports your head and neck. When lying down, you body should be fairly flat and straight.
  • Incorporate regular exercise into your weekly routine. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a day, most days of the week. If you need to take a break from exercise, make sure to take it slowly once you get back into the swing of things.

If you’re currently suffering from back pain, try low-impact exercises like yoga, walking, swimming, and stationary bike riding. Make sure to warm up and cool down before and after every workout.

Follow these Four Easy Steps for a Safe Cookout

Cookout season is here, and while one of your main goals for this time of year should be having fun, you should also make sure that any cookouts you host or attend are safe. Unfortunately, due to the fact that they take place outside, often in hot temperatures, cookouts are prime events for contracting foodborne illnesses. However, preventing the spread of foodborne illness at your next cookout should be easy, thanks to these four simple steps from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  1. Clean – wash hands and surfaces often
  • Scrub grills with hot, soapy water before use
  • Wash hands before, during, and after food prep
  • Keep hand sanitizer or moist towelettes on hand in case water is not readily available
  1. Separate – don’t cross-contaminate
  • Use separate cutting boards, plates, and grilling utensils for raw meat
  • Clean all utensils immediately after using them on raw meat
  • Never use the same brush to baste raw and cooked meat
  • Boil any leftover marinade before using it on cooked meat
  1. Cook – ensure food is cooked to the proper temperature
  • Use a meat thermometer
    –  Checking the color of meat or juices is not effective
  • Ensure proper internal temperatures
    –  Steak: 145°F (let rest 3 minutes before carving/consuming)
    –  Fish: 145°F
    –  Hamburgers: 160°F
    –  Chicken: 165°F
  1. Chill – refrigerate food promptly
  • Thaw frozen foods in the fridge or microwave, not on the countertop or grill
  • Marinate meat in the fridge
  • Put all dishes in the fridge after 2 hours
    –  When temps are >90°F, don’t leave anything out more for than one hour
  • Trash leftover grilled foods after 3-4 days
  • Reheat all grilled foods to an internal temp of 165°F

Don’t let foodborne illness spoil your next cookout. Have fun, be safe, and don’t forget to load up your plate with fruits and veggies!

Use a Standing Desk – Every body(part) Wins!

Up until a few months ago, I was a firm believer that my daily 45-60 minutes of exercise more than made up for the fact I spent most of the rest of the day sitting at my desk.  I had a change of heart about my daily routine after I read that sitting for more than 6 hours a day, regardless of how the rest of the day is spent, increases the risk of early death by 20-40%.

Upon hearing this startling statistic, my mind immediately turned to thinking about how I could get out of my chair, yet still be productive during working hours.  I remembered conversations I’ve had with several employees about standing desks, and decided to start using one at my home office – that way, I’d have no excuse not to stand for most of the day.  Using some textbooks and an extra shelf I had lying around, I rigged a pretty decent – and ergnomically-correct – standing desk that I now use whenever I work from home.  It only took a few minutes to set up the desk, and it hasn’t been difficult to make the switch from being totally sedentary to on my feet for several hours at a time. 

Hard at work, at my standing desk!

Hard at work, at my standing desk!

If you’d like to follow my lead (and the lead of several other state employees who inspired me), here are a few tips for setting up a standing desk at your workspace:

  • Use a box, basket, or a stack of books to elevate your keyboard and mouse (when you stand, your forearms should be parallel to the floor, without any creases in your wrists)
  • Prop up your monitor so that the top toolbar on your screen is at or below eye level (your goal:  glance at the screen as if you’re reading a book)
  • Keep monitor and keyboard at a comfortable distance for you – arms-length away or closer
  • If you have trouble seeing the screen, adjust the monitor, not your body
  • First-timers:  start by standing for 30 minutes every 2 hours

Be Sun Smart This Summer – and Beyond

Summer may be halfway over, but that doesn’t mean it’s too late to take steps to protect yourself from the sun.  The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can be dangerous all year long, not just to your skin, but to your entire body.  There are two types of UV rays, both of which can have negative effects on your health.  UVA rays cause skin tanning and aging, while UVB rays cause sunburns and skin cancer.  Therefore, it’s important to choose a sunscreen that protects against both types of rays; such products are usually labeled “broad-spectrum.”

When choosing a sunscreen, aim for an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of 15 or higher, and be sure to apply it at least 30 minutes before heading outside.  Reapply it every 2 hours, or sooner if you get wet or are sweating a lot; just because a sunscreen is “waterproof,” that doesn’t mean that a single application of it will last all day.  You can also minimize your skin’s exposure to the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat to protect your face and ears, and avoiding direct sunlight between the hours of 10:00 am and 4:00 pm, when the sun’s rays are strongest.

Your skin is not the only part of your body at risk for sun damage, so take steps to protect other sensitive areas like your lips and eyes.  Wear a lip balm with an SPF of 15 or higher, and follow the same rules for applying sunscreen.  Make sure your sunglasses are not just providing a cosmetic benefit; choose ones that feature an ANSI label that will let you know how much sun protection they’re providing.  ANSI, or the American National Standards Institute, divides sunglasses into three categories:

  • Cosmetic: Lightly tinted lenses, good for daily wear. Blocks 70% of UVB rays, 20% of UVA, and 60% of visible light.
  • General purpose: Medium to dark lenses, fine for most outdoor recreation. Blocks 95% of UVB, 60% of UVA, and 60% to 90% of visible light. Most sunglasses fall into this category.
  • Special purpose: Extremely dark lenses with UV blockers, recommended for places with very bright conditions such as beaches and ski slopes. Blocks 99% of UVB, 60% of UVA, and 97% of visible light.

If you’re outside most of the day, during the summer or any time of the year, make sure you’re wearing Special Purpose glasses and applying sunscreen and lip balm with an SPF of 15 or higher.  By taking these simple steps, and performing monthly skin checks to look for new or changing moles, you’ll be reducing your risk of melanoma and leaving your skin looking healthier for years to come.

Skills for a Savvy City Cyclist

By Guest Blogger Catharine Hornby, GIC

Are you seeking the skills to be a savvy city cyclist this summer?  Read on!  The warm days and long evenings make summer the perfect opportunity to be active outdoors.  Many State employees bike to work or on recreational trips or to run errands around their neighborhood.  Biking in cities and town centers is more fun and less stressful if you learn a few urban biking skills.

Here’s a quiz:  Typically, trucks are: A. Tiny.  B. Large.  C. Small.  Answer?  Yes, you there with your hand up?  That’s right, B!  Trucks are impressively large.  Toddlers watching construction sites and long-time cyclists pay particular attention to trucks, but some inexperienced cyclists do not give enough thought to the nature and habits of trucks. 

Here are some facts to consider when developing your strategy for sharing the road with large vehicles: Trucks, especially semis, make wide right turns, meaning they pull slightly left before turning right, and when they do turn right, the body of the truck swings sideways.  Trucks also have blind spots to the right of the trailer where the driver cannot see other vehicles.  These blind spots overlap with the area where the trailer swings sideways as the truck turns right. 

Next quiz:  So what is a master cyclist to do when sharing space with a truck at an intersection?  A. Panic!  B.  Pull up to the right of a truck stopped at an intersection, but stay out of the driver’s sightline, then leap crazily onto the sidewalk if the truck starts to move.  C. Stay fully clear of a truck at an intersection, meaning stay entirely behind the truck, or pull far enough ahead of the truck that the driver can see you.

What’s the answer?  That’s right, C, Stay clear.  You say the truck was not signaling to turn…?  Not good enough.  Trucks, like all drivers, sometimes fail to signal. 

For those of you who chose “A, Panic!,” here’s an extra credit question.  In what state was the nation’s first 100-mile bike race staged, in 1882?  That’s right, Massachusetts!  Learn more at Mass Moments.

Finally, here are some bonus strategies:

  1. Stay clear of the “door zone” of parked cars – too many drivers do not look before they open their car doors. 
  2. Stop at red lights.  Running red lights is illegal and causes ill will among drivers.
  3. Drivers’ failure to yield while turning is a major cause of crashes involving bicycles.  When on your bicycle, pay attention to your surroundings.  And when you are driving?  Pay attention to bicycles around you.
  4. If you are not in the mood for dealing with motor vehicle traffic, Massachusetts has lots of off-road options, including the Paul Dudley White Charles River Bikepath along both sides of the Charles River from the Museum of Science in Boston to Watertown Square and beyond, and the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway from Alewife T Station to Bedford.