Safety Office team helps employees maintain workplace health

Published Dec. 16, 2014

Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know.

Fortunately, expert industrial hygienists and safety technicians from the Safety Office do know how to help keep Jacksonville District employees safe and healthy. They are ready, willing and able to educate Corps employees and share their knowledge with anyone who requests assistance.

Though available to provide assistance throughout the year, the Safety Office team makes an annual trip to all of the district’s locks and dams in south Florida, including the Canaveral Lock and Dam on the east coast, and the St. Lucie, Port Mayaca, Moore Haven, Ortona, W.P. Franklin Locks and Dams along the Okeechobee Waterway in south Florida.

During the trip, the team provides training and ergonomic assessments, identifies potential issues and works to resolve them. Industrial hygienists like Rebecca Gray in the Safety Office, try to anticipate, evaluate, identify, prevent and reduce hazards in the workplace that have the potential to result in injury or illness, or may affect the well being of workers, such as chemical exposure, ergonomics, noise and more.

Gray offers training in a variety of areas, including chapter six of the Safety and Health Requirements Manual, or Engineer Manual (EM) 385-1-1, which addresses “Hazardous or Toxic Agents and Environments.”

“The Army has adopted the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) for hazard communication, and all employees who work with hazardous chemicals are required to have the training,” Eduardo Garcia, a safety technician in the Safety Office said.

According to the U.S. Army Combat ReadinessSafety Center website, “The Globally Harmonized System (GHS), a United Nations initiative recently adopted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, will standardize the way chemical-based hazards are communicated to workers, primarily through labeling and safety data sheets.”

Many people may be surprised to find out that commonly used household chemicals such as vinegar (acetic acid), bleach and ammonia are considered hazardous and Safety Data Sheets are available for them by contacting the manufacturer.

Industrial hygienists can evaluate your work environment to help keep you healthy and safe. Ingrid Bon was one of several team members in the South Florida Restoration Program Office in West Palm Beach, Florida to request and receive an ergonomic assessment of her workstation.

 “The keyboard should be positioned at the most neutral position, where you don’t have to reach or stretch,” Gray said. She suggests the installation of keyboard and mouse trays to keep them close enough to prevent excessive reaching, which strains the shoulders and arms. In addition, Gray says employees who use two monitors should place them close together, directly in front of them at eye level, to minimize the possibility of neck injuries.

“Following proper ergonomics is critical in maintaining workplace health and preventing long term ergonomic injuries. Identifying and correcting problems when you first recognize the signs and symptoms will go a long way in preventing more severe ailments,” Gray said.

Gray also encourages Corps employees who work in the office to move around during the day. “Our ancestors were hunter-gatherers and our bodies were built to move all the time, rather than staying in one position all day long,” she said. “Try to move around and change positions frequently during the day.”

District employees who have questions about safety in the workplace or would like an ergonomics assessment of their workstation should call the Safety Office.”We are here to serve and protect all Jacksonville District employees.”

“The safety program is here to protect our employees,” Garcia said. “Everything we do is for them. They have a right to work in a safe environment, and we are here to help make that happen.”