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Columns

May 7, 2011

HealthWorks helps keep workers safe on the job

As emergency response and local cleanup crews work to respond to accidents, road and property damage resulting from recent flooding, they are exposed to a range of serious hazards. Every year, public employees die during emergency response work, hit by cars, tree limbs, and even via electrocution from live power lines.

Workers killed on the job during 2010 were remembered with Workers' Memorial Day, on Thursday, April 28. Thousands die across the country, and roughly 200 die each year in New York.

"This is not just a day of remembrance, but a time to reflect on the year's on-the-job deaths, ask why they happened, and to resolve to work harder to prevent future tragedies," said Dr. Giulia Earle-Richardson, Deputy Director of NYCAMH. "In 2009, 184 New Yorkers went to work, but never made it back home, leaving families and communities behind."

According to the New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health, 184 people in New York died on the job in 2009. This statistic has improved slightly every year for the past decade, thanks in part to HealthWorks, NYCAMH's rural workplace safety and health program.

The HealthWorks staff work with 600 local, regional and national businesses throughout central New York to improve worker safety and health. They provide health evaluations, which give firefighters a better understanding of their health conditions and potential risks on the job. It also ensures that workers in all industries are not exposed to harmful chemicals or other jobsite hazards. Farmers and farm workers are trained in English and Spanish to make sure that everyone can understand their job and its safety precautions and, ultimately, to prevent worksite tragedies.

HealthWorks' services include wellness initiatives, such as immunizations and health screenings; cardiac risk screening; respiratory protection programs; occupational hearing testing; and drug and alcohol testing.

Last year in Otsego County, HealthWorks administered the hearing tests for the towns, villages and county highway departments and 911 dispatchers, and conducted 1,027 physicals for Otsego County firefighters and EMS workers. These efforts have contributed to reducing rural worker fatalities.

"The thing that makes these workers' deaths a matter for action rather than just sadness is that they are entirely preventable," Earle-Richardson said. Steps as simple as safety harnesses, additional training and better communication can prevent fatal injuries. The HealthWorks team implements these changes each day to make workers healthier and safer on the job.

HealthWorks offers assistance to employers and worksites in developing Worksite Wellness Programs. Call 547-6023, ext. 237, for more information.

The New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health is a program of Bassett Healthcare Network.

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