Safety Tip of the Week: Preventing back pain and injury at work

Woman sitting at computer desk with hands holding waistline as if having pain in back

This week, Wendy Couture, the district’s safety and risk reduction manager, shares information about preventing back pain and injury at work.

Heavy lifting, repetitive motion and sitting at a desk all day can cause back pain. Get the facts about back pain and how to prevent it.

Whether it’s dull and achy or sharp and stabbing, back pain can make it hard to concentrate. Many different occupations can place demands on your back. Including routine office work can cause or worsen back pain. It’s important to understand what may cause back pain at work and what you can do to prevent it.

Common causes of back pain at work according to the Mayo Clinic.

  • Exerting too much force on your back — such as by lifting or moving heavy objects — can cause injury.
  • Repeating certain movements, especially those that involve twisting or rotating your spine, can injure your back.
  • An inactive job or a desk job can contribute to back pain, especially if you have poor posture or sit all day in a chair with inadequate back support.

Back pain and lifestyle factors

Of course, factors such as aging, obesity and poor physical condition also can contribute to back pain.

Start by making a healthy eating plan. Make sure you get enough calcium and vitamin D. These nutrients can help prevent osteoporosis, a condition that causes your bones to become weak and brittle and may lead to back pain.

Combine aerobic exercise, such as swimming or walking, with exercises that strengthen and stretch your back muscles and abdomen. Exercises that increase your balance and strength can also decrease your risk of falling and injuring your back. Consider tai chi, yoga and weight-bearing exercises that challenge your balance.

For most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity — preferably spread throughout the week — and strength training exercises at least twice a week.

Preventing back pain

You can take steps to avoid and prevent back pain. For example the Mayo Clinic recommends the following:

  • Pay attention to posture.When standing, balance your weight evenly on your feet. Don’t slouch. To promote good posture when sitting, choose a chair that supports your spinal curves. Adjust the height of your chair so that your feet rest flat on the floor or on a footrest and your thighs are parallel to the floor. Remove your wallet or cellphone from your back pocket when sitting to prevent putting extra pressure on your buttocks or lower back.
  • Lift properly.When lifting and carrying a heavy object, lift with your legs and tighten your core muscles. Hold the object close to your body. Maintain the natural curve of your back. Don’t twist when lifting. If an object is too heavy to lift safely, ask someone to help you.
  • Modify repetitive tasks.Use lifting devices, when available, to help you lift loads. Try to alternate physically demanding tasks with less demanding ones. If you work at a computer, make sure that your monitor, keyboard, mouse and chair are positioned properly. If you frequently talk on the phone and type or write at the same time, place your phone on speaker or use a headset. Avoid unnecessary bending, twisting and reaching. Limit the time you spend carrying heavy briefcases, purses and bags. Consider using a rolling suitcase.
  • Listen to your body.If you must sit for a prolonged period, change your position often. Periodically walk around and gently stretch your muscles to relieve tension.

Back pain can make everyday tasks difficult. Taking some simple steps to take care of your back will make your days more enjoyable.

Safety Tip of the Week: Seat belts save lives

This week, Wendy Couture, the district’s safety and risk reduction manager, shares information about how seat belts save lives.

Do you snap in your seat belt as soon as you get in a vehicle?

It’s been proven time and again that a seat belt can and will save a life in an accident. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), more than 15,000 lives are saved each year in the United States because drivers and their passengers were wearing seat belts when they were in accidents.

Seat Belt Safety: 5-Way Protection

  • Keeps the occupants of the vehicle inside. People thrown from a vehicle are four times more likely to be killed than those who remain inside.
  • Restrains the strongest parts of the body. Restraints are designed to contact your body at the strongest parts. For an older child and adult, these parts are the hips and shoulders.
  • Spreads out force from the collision. Lap-and-shoulder belts spread the force of the crash over a wide area of the body putting less stress on any one single area.  A shoulder strap also helps keep your head and upper body away from the dashboard, steering wheel, and other hard interior parts of the automobile if you stop suddenly or on impact.
  • Helps the body slow down. The quick change in speed is what causes injury and seat belts help extend the time it takes for your body to slow down.
  • Protects your brain and spinal cord. A seat belt is designed to protect these two critical areas.

Seat Belt Safety: Buckle Up Correctly

  1. Adjusting your seat belt properly is important: The strap that goes across your lap should fit snugly over your hips and upper thigh area.
  2. Shoulder belts should rest securely across your chest and shoulders. Don’t let the strap fall across your neck or face and never place the strap under your arms or behind your back as this may cause serious injury.

Wearing a seat belt when you are driving a district vehicle is important not only for your personal safety. If a driver is in a van with students and everyone including the students are wearing their seat belts, in the event of an accident there is a reduced liability to the district. Wearing a seat belt is a critical preventative measure.

Safety Tip of the Week: Flu Season Safety

This week, Wendy Couture, the district’s safety and risk reduction manager, shares information about flu season safety.

Road sign stating "Flu Season Ahead" against backdrop of dark gray storm clouds

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Influenza (also known as the flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by flu viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. The flu is different from a cold. The flu usually comes on suddenly. People who have the flu often feel some or all of these symptoms:

  • Fever* or feeling feverish/chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.

*It is important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.

Flu Complications

Most people who get influenza will recover in a few days to less than two weeks, but some people will develop complications (such as pneumonia) as a result of the flu, some of which can be life-threatening.

Pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus and ear infections are examples of complications from the flu. In addition, it can make chronic health problems worse. For example, people with asthma may experience asthma attacks while they have the flu.

People at High Risk from Flu

Anyone can get the flu (even healthy people), and serious problems related to the flu
can happen at any age, but some people are at high risk of developing serious flu-
related complications if they get sick. According to the CDC this includes people 65
years and older, people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions (such as
asthma, diabetes or heart disease), pregnant women and young children.

What are the emergency warning signs of flu sickness?

In children

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish skin color
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Not waking up or not interacting
  • Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
  • Fever with a rash

In adults

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough

The CDC recommends getting the flu vaccine as soon after the vaccines become
available or by the end of October if possible. They still encourage getting a vaccine in
January or later since the flu season typically peaks in January or later and it takes
about 2 weeks for the antibodies to develop in the body to provide protection. Therefore,
getting the vaccine early helps with prevention.

Stop the spread of germs that make you and others sick by following some simple preventative actions:

  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
  • If you are sick with flu-like illness, CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone for 24 hours without the use of a fever-reducing medicine).
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.

For more information about seasonal flu, visit the CDC website.

Safety Tip of the Week: Understanding air quality and your health

This week, Wendy Couture, the district’s safety and risk reduction manager, shares information about air quality, especially in light of the recent fires in Washington and related air quality concerns.

Screen Shot 2017-09-15 at 4.33.12 PM copy

Some days, the air is clear and smells fresh and clean. Clean air is air that has no harmful levels of pollutants (such as dirt and chemicals). However, on a hot day with no wind, the air can feel heavy and may have a bad smell. Sometimes, the air can even make your chest feel tight or make you cough. When too much dirt or too many pollutants get into the air, the air is dirty or smoky. Recently there have been many fires contributing to air quality concerns here and across the state.

The Air Quality Index (AQI) is a number used by government agencies to communicate how clean or polluted the air is and what associated health effects might be a concern. To make it easier to understand, the AQI is divided into six categories, each noted with a different color.

You can protect your health in three ways when the air is polluted:

  1. Check the AQI at AIRNow. The AQI uses color-coded maps and health messages to tell you how clean or polluted the air is. The higher the AQI value, the greater the level of air pollution and the greater the health concern. For example, green means the air is clean. Red means the air is unhealthy. You may hear about the AQI on TV or radio during weather forecasts, or you might see it on the weather page in the local newspaper. Download the AirNow App to get the AQI on your smartphone.
  2. If you’re outside when you know the air is polluted, you can protect your health by taking it easy. It’s important to exercise and be active to maintain good health. But when the air is polluted, you can reduce the time you spend exercising, walk instead of run, take frequent breaks, or go outside at another time or on another day when the air is cleaner.
  3. If you notice any symptoms when you’re outside like coughing, pain when you take a deep breath, chest tightness or wheezing, stop your activity and tell an adult. This is especially important if you have asthma.

Safety Tip of the Week: Register for the Great Washington ShakeOut on Oct. 19

This week, Wendy Couture, the district’s safety and risk reduction manager, shares some tips about heading back to school safely.

The Great Washington ShakeOut!

Participating in the Great Washington ShakeOut is a good way for the Olympia School District and the local community to get prepared for an earthquake emergency. Practicing together as a voluntary nationwide earthquake drill will help prepare the district in coordination with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

The Great Washington ShakeOut is scheduled on October 19, 2017. Schools or individuals may register for the ShakeOut any time prior to the event. In addition, if a school is unable to do the drill on October 19, it can choose a date that works for that building and may still register and log the drill for participation.

Between now and October 19:

Earthquake hazards vary from region to region, but most of Washington is prone to earthquakes, and the Olympia Region definitely is a hazard area. You may be anywhere when an earthquake strikes — at work, home, school or the store.

How we prepare now in advance of an earthquake will impact the response and recovery at the time of the event. The ShakeOut is organized to help get organizations and our district up-to-date by reviewing and updating our emergency preparedness plans and supplies.

EVERYONE in Washington state can participate in the Great Washington ShakeOut and is encouraged to do so!

The ShakeOut drill is scheduled for 10:19 a.m. on October 19. The main goal is to help Washingtonians prepare for a major earthquake, so don’t miss out on this annual opportunity. 

Safety Tip of the Week: Heading back to school safely

This week, Wendy Couture, the district’s safety and risk reduction manager, shares some tips about heading back to school safely.

Heading back to school safely

Summer vacation is drawing to a close, and soon the bells will be ringing to bring in the new school year.

Keeping children safe is the Olympia School District’s top priority, especially for younger students and those heading to school for the first time. Parents and/or teachers can take the following steps:

  • Teach students not to talk to strangers or accept rides from someone they don’t know.
  • Make sure the student knows their phone number, address, how to get in touch with their parents at work, how to get in touch with another trusted adult and how to dial 9-1-1.

School bus safety 

The school district has a list of bus rules and regulations posted on the district website to assist parents and staff in making sure students are safe. OSD bus rules and regulations may be viewed on the Transportation page on the district website.

What drivers know

Drivers are aware that students are out walking or biking to school and slow down, especially in residential areas and school zones. Motorists should know what the yellow and red bus signals mean. Yellow flashing lights indicate the bus is getting ready to stop and motorists should slow down and be prepared to stop. Red flashing lights and an extended stop sign indicate the bus is stopped and students are getting on or off. Drivers must stop their vehicles and wait until the lights go off, the stop sign is back in place and the bus is moving before they can start driving again.

Get to school safely

If students ride in a car to get to school, they should always wear a seat belt. Younger children should use car seats or booster seats until the lap-shoulder belt fits properly (typically for children ages 8-12 and over 4’9”), and ride in the back seat until they are at least 13 years old.

Don’t drive distracted. Drivers should not use their cell phone to text or make calls while driving (it’s the law!), and should avoid eating or drinking while driving.

Some students ride their bike to school. Bike riders should always wear a helmet and ride on the right side of the road in the same direction as traffic is moving.


Safety Tip of the Week: What is ‘Safe and Well’ for disaster recovery?

This week Wendy Couture, the district’s safety and risk reduction manager, shares information about the Safe and Well website related to disaster recovery. 

“Safe and Well” is a website through the American Red Cross designed to help make communication with loved ones easier during a disaster emergency. At this website, provided and sponsored by the American Red Cross, people can register and list themselves as “Safe and Well.” This resource helps people who may be concerned about a loved one during a disaster search for them. Once the person in the affected zone is registered, others can look them up and see if they are listed. In emergencies, telephone communications may not be available for many hours.

After a disaster, letting your family and friends know you are safe and well can bring them peace of mind.

I found that reading through the “help” section of the Safe and Well site was very helpful as a tutorial on what to do, how to register and how it can be used as a resource.

There is also a frequently asked questions (FAQ) tab to help explain what Safe and Well can do and can’t do. This resource is provided as a communication tool for people in an affected disaster area to get messages to loved ones outside the area. Here is a list of the types of messages a person may be able to post for someone searching for them:

  • I am safe and well.
  • Family and I are safe and well.
  • Currently at a shelter.
  • Currently at home.
  • Currently at a friend’s/family member’s/neighbor’s house.
  • Currently at a hotel.
  • Will make phone calls when able.
  • Will send emails when able.
  • Will mail letter or post card when able.

It is important that the information that is requested be filled out in full and as accurately as possible since this is a search for a specific person. There are privacy regulations which limit the information about the listed person which can be publicly displayed on the website. Your loved ones will need to know your current address, phone number or email to search for you. In the event of an emergency, it is important that these types of resources are utilized.

To learn more about this service through the American Red Cross, visit the Safe and Well website.