The first National Poison Prevention Week was observed in March 1962 and the event now takes place annually, during the third week of March. Supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration, the aim of National Poison Prevention Week is to educate Americans of all ages about poisoning risks.
In his proclamation that the 2018 National Poison Prevention Week is to be held from March 19th to March 25th, President Trump noted that since the event’s first observance in 1962 childhood fatalities due to accidental poisoning have reduced from two hundred per year to just twenty-seven per year. He described the reduction as a “resounding achievement” but noted it was important to continue the successful policies that have reduced accidental childhood poisoning and injuries.
Despite the resounding achievement in reducing childhood fatalities, the rate of fatalities due to accidental poisoning in all age groups (deaths per 100,000, per population statistics) has more than tripled in the past fifty-fifty years. Although much of the increase is attributed to fatal drug overdoses by users of both legal and illegal drugs, accidental poisoning is now the most common cause of accidental death in America – ahead of motor vehicle accidents, firearm injuries, and falls.
What Is National Poison Prevention Week?
To try and reduce the number of poison-related accidental deaths, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) helps organizations plan and implement activities to raise awareness of poison prevention. Mostly these are community activities targeted at families, and hosted by schools, libraries, and church groups – one of the most popular each year being the Jungle Poison Safari at Caldwell Zoo in Tyler, TX which attracts up to five thousand participants each year.
Each weekday within National Poison Prevention Week is themed to focus on one particular area of poison prevention.
- Monday’s theme is “Children Act Fast …. So Do Poisons”.
- On Tuesday, the focus changes to the work done by Regional Poison Centers.
- On Wednesday, the consequences of poisoning are highlighted in “Poisonings Span a Lifetime”.
- Thursday is dedicated to “Home Safe Home”.
- Friday’s activities are related to “Medicine Safety”.
“Medicine Safety” day is not just relevant to families with young children; it is relevant to people of all ages. 91% of accidental poisoning deaths are a result of a drug overdose, with overdoses of prescribed opioid pain medications accounting for more than fifteen thousand deaths per year – more than the number of deaths attributable to heroin, cocaine or benzodiazepines. For every death caused by an overdose of pain medications, there are ten non-fatal hospital admissions.
Is Accidental Workplace Poisoning Being Overlooked?
Despite the many areas of accidental poisoning covered by the HRSA during National Poisoning Prevention Week, accidental workplace poisoning appears to be largely overlooked. Although the number of “instant” workplace fatalities attributed to poisoning is relatively small when compared to unintentional drug overdoses, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates more than fifty thousand employees die each year from long-term occupational hazards such as chemical exposure.
There are four different categories of occupational hazards classified as poisons – agricultural and industrial chemicals, drugs and healthcare products, radiation, and biological poisons. Few industries escape exposing employees to any of these hazards and are therefore subject to the regulations for workplace health and safety required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). However, not all hazardous events or hazardous environments can be protected against:
On January 4, 2010, a worker employed in a second floor administrative office of the California State Prison in Solano was overcome by spray paint vapors emanating from a paint booth located a floor below. The contractors working in the paint booth had been provided with Personal Protective Equipment, but – due to an unforeseen lack of ventilation – the administrative worker suffered from chemical overexposure and required hospitalization.
Environmental Threats to Employees in the Workplace
OSHA inspectors conduct more than five thousand tests each year for chemical exposure in the workplace. Although Personal Protective Equipment is frequently provided for employees in the immediate vicinity of a hazard, more are unprotected against environmental hazards. These hazards can also spread into neighboring areas to affect the health of local residents, without being the scale of an environmental disaster. Commonly found workplace environmental hazards include:
- Carbon Monoxide Poisoning.
- Exposure to Mercury Poisoning.
- Fumes from Iron Oxide or Zinc Oxide.
- Manganese Fumes.
- Exposure to Ammonia.
- Dust from Silica and Crystalline Quartz.
Due to much stricter regulations relating to asbestos, this particular hazard does not appear to be the threat it once was. However (and somewhat ironically), due to modern, sanitized living conditions, more employees are suffering from allergies than they were a decade ago. As a consequence, employees are more likely to experience potentially life-threating anaphylactic shock due to an allergic reaction. Whether or not a fatality due to anaphylactic shock is considered accidental workplace poisoning will likely depend on the trigger for the allergic reaction.
How Employers Can Mitigate the Consequences of Accidental Workplace Poisoning
In many workplace environments, it is impossible for employers to provide every possible protection against accidental workplace poisoning. However, there are various measures employers can take to prevent injuries and fatalities – the first of which is complying with OSHA health and safety regulations, and the second of which is requesting an OSHA inspection to check for chemical exposure if there is any doubt about air quality in the workplace.
In order to mitigate the consequences of accidental workplace poisoning, employers can arrange activities to coincide with National Poison Prevention Week. Some of the activities related to identifying the symptoms of poisoning and these will help employees recognize the symptoms in work colleagues – enabling emergency help to be summoned quickly when required. Local residents could also be invited to participate in the activities in order to develop a healthier relationship with the community.
Another way to develop a healthier relationship with the community would be to implement a mass notification system – not only, as some businesses do, to warn employees of the risk of danger, but also to warn local residents or local safety officials to a potential environmental hazard. This early warning system could help minimize the impact of a chemical leak or the airborne release of a hazardous substance.
One further measure employers could implement to mitigate the consequences of accidental workplace poisoning is a corporate Smart911 profile. Corporate Smart911 profiles can be populated quickly and easily from existing employee databases, and include information such as floor plans and points of access to accelerate the delivery of emergency care. Corporate Smart911 profiles also allow employees to add information that may be vital in the event of an emergency – such as allergies, or prior respiratory issues. By knowing about such issues in advance, first responders are able to administer the most effective treatment to an employee suffering from anaphylactic shock – potentially saving their life.
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