Wellness at Work


Your Health

Your health and safety is a priority for your Local Union. We make sure employers are held to the Occupational Health & Safety Act and that every member goes to work in the safest environment possible. But ensuring you stay healthy entails much more.Just like workplace safety, prevention is the key to overall good health. The `Your Health` publication is a series created to help you and your family stay healthy. Many of the health problems we experience can be prevented or at least mitigated by making better choices in our day-to-day lives.

Nutrition, health screenings, exercise – there are many ways you can take care of yourself to ensure you and your family live a long and healthy life. Prevention means we have to be proactive.Have annual checkups with your doctor, get your teeth cleaned on a regular basis and go to the optometrist. We seem to have trouble fitting these kinds of things into our busy lives but these regular visits can help catch diseases in their early stages – when many are treatable.

The Wellness section of this website and its associated materials are provided by the Local Union for information purposes only and no recommendations are implied. Information contained herein is sourced through reputable Canadian (or US when necessary) sources which are cited at the end of each pamphlet for your reference. Always consult your doctor to find out what’s right for you.


The rapid spread of bird flu, which is not uncommon among chickens and other fowl, caught the attention of global health authorities in 2005. In October/November of that year, fowl on a B.C. farm tested positive for the H5 strain – which is not the deadly strain that caused deaths in Asia. As a precaution, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) ordered the cull of thousands of birds on that farm. There are at least 15 different types of avian influenza that routinely infect birds around the world. Human cases have been caused by a strain known as H5N1, which is highly contagious among birds and rapidly fatal. Unlike many other strains of avian influenza, it can be transmitted to humans, causing severe illness and death. If you work with live poultry, please follow any safety guidelines put in place by your employer.

Why the concern?

Influenza viruses are highly unstable and have the ability to mutate rapidly, potentially jumping from one animal species to another. Scientists fear the bird flu virus could evolve into a form that is easily spread between people, resulting in an extremely contagious and lethal disease. This could happen if someone already infected with the human flu virus catches the bird flu. The two viruses could recombine inside the victim’s body, producing a hybrid that could readily spread from person to person.


In rural areas, the virus is easily spread from farm to farm among domestic poultry through the feces of wild birds. The virus can survive for up to four days at 71 F (22 C) and more than 30 days at 32 F (0 C). If frozen, it can survive indefinitely.

In the most recent outbreak, human cases were from direct contact with infected chickens and their droppings. People who catch the virus from birds can pass it on to other humans, although the disease is generally milder in those who caught it from an infected person rather than from birds. If the virus mutates and combines with a human influenza virus, it could be spread through person-to-person transmission in the same way the ordinary human flu virus is spread.


An outbreak in 1997 in Hong Kong was the first time the virus had spread to people, but it was quickly contained. A total of 18 people were hospitalized with six reported deaths. About 1.5 million chickens were killed in an effort to remove the source of the virus. The 2004 and even more recent outbreak spread more rapidly to other countries, increasing its exposure to people in varied locations and raising the likelihood that the strain will combine with a human influenza virus.


Bird flu can cause a range of symptoms in humans. Some report fever, cough, sore throat and muscle aches. Others suffer from eye infections, pneumonia, acute respiratory distress and other severe and life-threatening complications.


Flu drugs exist that may be used both to prevent people from catching bird flu and to treat those who have it. The virus appears to be resistant to two older generic flu drugs, amantadine and rimantadine. The newer flu drugs, however, Tamiflu and Relenza are expected to work – though supplies could run out quickly if an outbreak occurs. Currently there is no vaccine, although scientists are working to develop one.


Rapid elimination of the H5N1 virus among infected birds and other animals is essential to preventing a major outbreak. The World Health Organization recommends that infected or exposed flocks of chickens and other birds be killed in order to help prevent further spread of the virus and reduce opportunities for human infection. The agency warns, however, that safety measures must be taken to prevent exposure to the virus among workers involved in culling.

Most cases of H1N1 in Canada are mild with patients recovering at home with no need for medical care. However, it is important to know what you can do to protect yourself and your family.

Symptoms of H1N1 are similar to that of a regular flu:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Cough
  • Muscle aches
  • Sore throat
  • Weakness/fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Chills

Most importantly, be conscious of how you feel. If you feel ill and/or experience flu-like symptoms – STAY HOME. Keep your distance from others and visit your doctor if necessary.

Everyone should follow these recommendations from Health Canada:

Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm/hot water. If soap & water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.Cover your mouth and nose when you cough and sneeze – DO NOT USE YOUR HANDS. Use a tissue or your arm/sleeve.The current strain appears to be treatable with Tamiflu and Relenza – consult your doctor. Mild cases, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada, do NOT require these treatments.

What are the World Health Organization (WHO) Pandemic Levels?

An influenza pandemic means the virus is spread easily between humans, and affects a wide geographic area. There are six phases in the WHO’s Pandemic Preparedness & Response:

  • Phase 1: Influenza viruses are circulating in animals, especially birds. No reports of animal viruses infecting humans.
  • Phase 2: Human infection by an animal influenza virus. Potential pandemic threat.
  • Phase 3: An animal or animal-human influenza virus has caused limiteddisease in people. Isolated human to human transmission may occur –but not widespread.
  • Phase 4: Verified human to human transmission of an animal or human-animalvirus causing widespread or “community-level” outbreaks. Risk of pandemic is considered much higher but not a foregone conclusion.
  • Phase 5: Human to human spread of the virus is confirmed in at least two countries in one WHO region. It is likely that a pandemic is imminent. Time to finalize organization, communication, and implementation of planned mitigation strategies is short.
  • Phase 6: The Pandemic Phase. Community outbreaks in at least one country from a second WHO region – indicating that a global pandemic is underway.

Workplace Pandemic Plan Checklist (visit www.whsc.on.ca for their full checklist)

Does your workplace have a pandemic influenza plan? If not, raise the issue at your next JHSC meeting or suggest that a meeting be held soon to address it. Below is a list of things to consider when creating your plan:

  • Your goal should be to eliminate worker exposure to the virus by containing its spread in your workplace.
  • Include the precautionary principle, as recommended in the SARS report, which (summarized) stated: “That action to reduce risk need not await scientific certainty.”
  • Control through the usual hierarchy: At the Source, Along the Path and as a last resort At the Worker. Use engineering and administrative controls, work design/organization and personal protective equipment.
  • Employers should ensure workers know how and are able to reduce transmission of the virus by providing proper training in consultation with the JHSC.
  • Establish a communicationsplan to keep workers informed before, during and after the pandemic.
  • If required, ensure provisions are made to stockpile personal protective equipment and other items. Ensure workers are trained properly on the use, care and removal of these items.
  • Social distancing is important during a pandemic. Cancel large gatherings, reduce or eliminate travel and use teleconferencing instead of face to face meetings.
  • Anyone advised to work from home should receive any proper equipment & training needed.
  • For health care facilities develop procedures for limiting exposure such as limiting access to facility, screening all entrants, isolating patients with symptoms, use negative pressure rooms where appropriate and keep at least two metres away from symptomatic patients.
  • Use test drills to find out where your plan has weak spots.
  • Ensure employees are washing their hands frequently and thoroughly. Employers should provide access to hygiene products including hand sanitizer (min. 60% alcohol), soap, tissues, hot water and a wash station. Avoid anti-bacterial soaps as they can create resistant bacteria as well as have other effects on the human body.
  • Ensure proper psychosocial support is available during and after the pandemic.
  • Provide all workers with a list of ways to keep up to date on what’s going on and protect themselves during the pandemic.

For more information see health links below.

Viral hepatitis refers to a group of liver diseases caused by consuming contaminated water or food, using dirty needles or syringes, or practicing unsafe sex. Three of the six identified Hepatitis viruses – known as A, B and C – cause about 90 per cent of acute hepatitis cases in Canada.People infected with hepatitis can experience effects ranging from mild illness to serious liver damage. Many people recover from an infection, while others become carriers of the disease and can spread it to others unknowingly.

It is especially important for women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant to get tested for hepatitis. It is also important to know the symptoms of illness related to acute hepatitis, and how to minimize your risk. Below are some answers to frequently asked questions and additional hepatitis links. BACK TO TOP


Typical symptoms of acute hepatitis are fever, appetite loss, nausea, abdominal pain, and jaundice (yellowish colour on the skin and eyeballs).

Minimize Risk

Hepatitis A can be prevented by a variety of vaccines adapted to individual needs. Careful handwashing is one of the best preventive measures against hepatitis A. Contact your family physician, a local travel clinic, or the Canadian Immunization Guide to find out more about these vaccines. Antibiotics are ineffective against Hep A.

Hepatitis B can be prevented by adopting safe sex practices; giving hepatitis immune globulin to people who have had recent contact with infected body fluids (seven days or less); and immunization with a hepatitis B vaccine.

Hepatitis C can be prevented by avoiding sharing needles or any other drug equipment; wearing latex gloves if you are likely to be in contact with someone else`s blood; and practicing safe sex. If you are getting a tattoo, body piercing or acupuncture, choose a reputable licensed person and ensure all equipment is sterile. Do not allow anyone to use homemade or reused equipment, including needles, ink or jewelry.


Q. How is the hepatitis A virus transmitted?

  • A. The hepatitis A virus (HAV) is transmitted when we eat or drink something that is contaminated. Raw or undercooked food, food handled by people who have not washed their hands; or water contaminated by animal or human waste are often sources of the virus.

Q. How is the hepatitis B virus transmitted?

  • A. The hepatitis B virus (HBV) is the most prevalent hepatitis strain in the world. People with acute HBV or who are carriers can spread the virus by sexual contact or through blood or other body fluids.

Q. What are the long-term affects of the hepatitis B virus?

  • A. Many people infected with the hepatitis B virus recover completely and develop lifelong immunity to the virus. About 90 per cent of babies born to mothers who are hepatitis B carriers have a high chance of developing chronic HBV in later life, which can lead to diseases such as cirrhosis and cancer of the liver.

Q. How is the hepatitis C virus transmitted?

  • A. Injection drug use is associated with at least half of HCV infections but you can also get HCV through tattooing and body piercing. In Canada, it is estimated that between 210,000 and 275,000 people are currently infected with hepatitis C, of whom only 30 per cent know they have the virus. At present there is no vaccine against HCV.

Q. What are the health effects of hepatitis C?

  • A. HCV affects the liver, an essential organ that acts as a filter for chemicals and toxins that enter the body. The liver also helps digest food, stores vitamins and minerals and aids in manufacturing blood. The illness begins with flu-like symptoms such as fatigue, fever, body aches and pains, and perhaps nausea or vomiting. Urine might become dark brown and in severe infections, the skin and eyes may turn yellow (become jaundiced). The course of the disease in the chronic phase is slow and may last a lifetime. Up to 20 per cent of those infected develop cirrhosis, which severely damages the liver. A smaller percentage develop liver cancer.

Q. What is the treatment for HCV?

  • A. Currently, there is no vaccine or cure for HCV. Treatment usually involves a combination of the drugs interferon and ribavirin. If you think you may be at risk for hepatitis C, see your doctor. The disease can be detected by a simple blood test, and there are steps and medications you can take to minimize the effects of the disease.

Influenza is a respiratory infection caused by the influenza virus. In Canada, flu season usually runs from November to April and an estimated 10-25 per cent of Canadians may get the flu each year. Although most recover completely, an estimated 500-1500 Canadians, mostly seniors, die every year from pneumonia related to flu and many others may die from other serious complications of flu.

The influenza virus spreads through droplets that have been coughed or sneezed into the air by someone who has the flu. You can get the flu by breathing in these droplets through your nose or mouth, or by the droplets landing directly on your eyes. The flu virus is also found on the hands of people with the flu and on surfaces they have touched. You can become infected if you shake hands with infected persons or touch contaminated surfaces and transfer the virus to your own eyes, nose or mouth.

It is important to know the symptoms of illness related to influenza, and how to minimize your risk. Below are some answers to frequently asked questions and additional influenza links.


A case of influenza typically starts with a headache, chills and cough, which are rapidly followed by: fever; loss of appetite; muscle aches and fatigue; runny nose; watery eyes; and, throat irritation. Children may have nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, but these symptoms are uncommon in adults.

Minimizing Risk

The most effective way to protect yourself from flu is to be vaccinated each year in the fall. Flu shots are especially important for: adults and children with chronic heart and lung disease; anyone living in a nursing home or chronic care facility; people 65 years of age older people with chronic conditions such as diabetes, anemia, cancer, immune suppression, HIV or kidney disease; children and adolescents on long-term acetylsalicylic acid (ASA) therapy; health care workers, other caregivers and household contacts capable of transmitting influenza to the above at-risk groups; people at high risk of influenza complications who are traveling to areas where the flu virus is likely to be circulating.

Certain groups should not be vaccinated. These include children under six months of age and people who have had a severe allergic reaction to eggs or a previous dose of vaccine.

Regular hand-washing is another way to help minimize your risk. By washing your hands often, you will reduce your chances of becoming infected after touching contaminated surfaces. If you get the flu, you should increase the amount of fluids you drink (water, juice, soups) and get plenty of rest for seven to ten days. There are also new medications to treat influenza. If you take them within 48 hours of the start of your symptoms, they may reduce the length of your illness by an average of one or two days.


Q. What are the side effects of the flu shot?

  • A. The most common side effect of the flu shot is soreness at the site of injection, which may last a couple of days. You might also notice fever, fatigue and muscle aches within six to 12 hours after your shot, and these effects may last a day or two.Some people develop a condition called “oculo-respiratory syndrome” after a flu shot. The symptoms include red eyes and respiratory effects such as cough, wheezing, chest tightness, difficulty breathing, or sore throat. In most cases, the symptoms are mild and disappear within 48 hours.Another rare side effect of the flu shot is Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS). This is an autoimmune disease that attacks the nervous system and results in weakness and abnormal sensations. But most patients recover fully. Your chance of developing GBS as a result of a flu shot is one in a million.

Q. How does the flu vaccine work?

  • A. After you get the flue shot, your immune system produces antibodies against the strain of virus in the vaccine. The antibodies are effective for four to six months. When you are exposed to the influenza virus, the antibodies will help to prevent infection or reduce the severity of the illness.

Q. Are there other health effects related to the flu?

  • A. Another possible side effect related to flu is Reye`s syndrome, which can develop in children and teenagers who are given salicylates (aspirin) when they have the flu or chickenpox. Reye`s syndrome affects the central nervous system and the liver, and can be fatal. Do not give aspirin to children or teenagers with the flu, unless it is specifically directed by the doctor.

National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) recommendations

NIOSH recommends that health care facilities use safer medical devices to protect workers from needlestick and other sharps injuries. Since the passage of the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act in 2000 and the subsequent revision of the OSHA Bloodborne Pathogen Standard, all health care facilities are required to use safer medical devices.

To assist health care facilities that are working through this process, NIOSH has asked a small number of health care facilities to share their experiences on how they implemented safer medical devices in their settings. These facilities have agreed to describe how each step was accomplished, and also to discuss the barriers they encountered and how they resolved, and most importantly, lessons learned. To maintain confidentiality, we removed all corporate or personal identifiers from their submissions. The health care facilities are located in 4 major cities in the United States that were selected because the AIDS rates for those cities were above the national and state averages. The health care facilities will be following the process as described in the NIOSH publication, Alert: Preventing Needlestick Injuries in Health Care Settings.

Read the healthcare facility reports for each step:

  1. Form a sharps injury prevention team
  2. Identify priorities
  3. Identify and screen safer medical devices
  4. Evaluate safer medical device(s)
  5. Implement and monitor the use of the new safer medical device


Q. Who is at risk of needlestick injury?
  • A. Any worker who may come in contact with needles is at risk, including nursing staff, lab workers, doctors and housekeepers.

Q. What kinds of needles usually cause needlestick injuries?

  • A. Hypodermic needles, blood collection needles, suture needles and needles used in IV delivery systems.
Q. What infections can be caused by needlestick injuries?
  • A. Needlestick injuries can expose workers to a number of bloodborne pathogens that can cause serious or fatal infections. The pathogens that pose the most serious risks are: Hepatitis B virus (HBV) Hepatitis C virus (HCV) Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) – the virus that causes AIDS

Health experts are concerned that SARS could re-emerge. It is important to remain aware of the symptoms and risk factors for SARS and know how to minimize your risk. Below are answers to some frequently asked question and additional SARS links.

There is still a great deal about SARS that remains unknown. It will take time to discover how to diagnose SARS rapidly and how to prevent it or treat it successfully.


People with SARS develop a fever, followed by respiratory symptoms such as coughing, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. In some cases, the symptoms become increasingly severe. Patients may require oxygen support and mechanical help to breathe. Other symptoms of SARS may include muscle aches, sore throat and diarrhea.

Minimize Risk

At this time, the only known risk factors for developing SARS are recent travel to areas where SARS is spreading locally or recent close contact with someone who has SARS or is ill and has been in an area where SARS is spreading locally.The health effects of SARS may be more severe for people who are older or have an underlying medical condition. The following precautions will help to minimize the risk of SARS, not only for you and your family, but also for others:

  • Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly for at least 20 seconds using soap and warm water;
  • If traveling, check the Health Canada travel advisories for information about regions affected by SARS;
  • Refrain from donating blood for at least 21 days if you have been in a region outside Canada currently affected by SARS, or have been in a site identified by public health authorities as at-risk for SARS; and,
  • Call ahead to your health care provider to seek advice if you feel you have the symptoms of SARS.
  • Above all, remain calm yet alert.


Q. How is SARS spread?

  • A. SARS is caused by a previously unknown type of corona virus. In addition, there may be factors related to the infected person`s immune system or factors in the environment that affect the symptoms and severity of SARS. Normally, corona viruses cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory symptoms, such as the common cold. SARS is spread through close contact with someone who is infected with the SARS corona virus. Examples of close contact include living in the same household, providing care to someone with SARS, or having direct contact with respiratory secretions and body fluids of someone infected by SARS.

Q. Are people with SARS contagious before they develop symptoms?

  • A. To date, it appears that people with SARS are not contagious until they develop symptoms. This may take up to ten days from the time they were in close contact with someone who has SARS.

Q. Will a flu shot protect me against SARS?

  • A. A flu shot does not offer any protection against SARS or other respiratory viruses. If you experience flu-like symptoms and have been vaccinated against the flu, you may still have the flu or another common respiratory virus. Flu shots will help to reduce the number of severe cases of flu coming to emergency rooms and may help to reduce the number of false alarms about SARS.

Q. Is there a test for SARS?

  • A. There is no quick test for SARS. If you have symptoms that could be SARS, your doctor or health care professional will decide how to manage your case, including whether you should be isolated, based on your specific symptoms and risk factors for contracting SARS. If necessary, your doctor will perform specific tests for the SARS virus.

For most Canadians, the risk of illness from West Nile virus is low, and the risk of serious health effects is even lower. It is still important to know the symptoms of illness related to infection and how to minimize your risk, especially if virus activity is reported in an area near you. Also provided below are answers to some frequently asked questions and additional West Nile links.

The evidence to date shows that most people with West Nile virus contracted it from the bite of an infected mosquito. A mosquito becomes infected when it feeds on the blood of a bird that carries the virus. About two weeks later, the infected mosquito becomes capable of spreading the virus.

In 2002, scientists discovered other ways that West Nile virus could be spread, i.e. through blood transfusions and organ or tissue transplants. The risk of getting WN virus through these procedures is considered to be quite low. There is evidence the virus can also be spread through breast milk, and from a pregnant mother to her unborn baby. In addition, laboratory workers who handle specimens with WN virus can become infected through needle punctures or small cuts.


Most people who become infected have no symptoms, and do not get sick. When infection does cause illness, symptoms generally appear within two to 15 days. In mild cases, people may have flu-like symptoms including fever, headache and body aches. Some may also develop a mild rash or swollen lymph glands.

Some individuals, including older people, have weaker immune systems. This puts them at greater risk for serious health effects including meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain or spinal cord) and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain).

In these cases, symptoms could include: Rapid onset of severe headache; High fever; Stiff neck; Drowsiness; Confusion; Loss of consciousness; Muscle weakness; and, Paralysis. Severe cases of illness due to West Nile virus can be fatal.

Anyone who experiences the sudden onset of these symptoms should seek medical attention.

Minimize the Risk

Your chance of being bitten by a mosquito capable of spreading the West Nile virus is small. If, however, there are reports of infected mosquitoes, infected horses or dead birds in your area, you should take immediate action to minimize your risk of mosquito bites by:

  • Limiting the time you spend outdoors at dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes are most active.
  • Wearing light-coloured long-sleeved shirts, long pants and a hat when outdoors.
  • Using insect repellents (read and follow the manufacturers` directions for safe use).
  • Making sure that door and window screens fit tightly and have no holes.
  • Reduce mosquito populations around your home and property by removing standing pools of water, which they use to breed. Empty and clean bird baths twice a week.
  • Clean eaves troughs regularly to prevent clogs that can trap water.

Q. Can you get West Nile virus through casual contact?

  • A. There is no evidence to suggest you could get the WN virus by touching or kissing an infected person, or from being around a health care worker who has treated an infected person. Additionally, there is no evidence the virus can pass from infected animals, such as horses or pets, to people.It is, however, still important to follow standard health and safety practices if you are going to handle dead birds or animals. The same is true if you work with animals at risk for WN virus infection, such as horses, or flocks of domestic birds. For example, you should cover open wounds and wear protective gloves.

Q. Who is at risk for serious health effects from WN virus?

  • A. While persons of any age and health status can be at risk for serious health effects associated with West Nile infection, the overall risk of serious health effects increase with age. People with weaker immune systems are considered to be at greater risk for serious health effects. This higher risk groups includes: People with chronic diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, alcoholism or heart disease. People that require medical treatment that may weaken the immune system, i.e. chemotherapy.

Q. What are the long-term effects of WN virus?

  • A. Because WN virus is an emerging disease, the long-term effects are not fully understood. Studies to date show that some people with serious symptoms and health effects recover completely, while others experience prolonged health problems.These problems can include: Physical effects, such as long-term muscle weakness and paralysis, fatigue and headache; Cognitive effects, such as confusion, depression, problems with concentration and memory loss; and, Function effects, such as difficulty with preparing meals, going out, shopping etc. Scientists do not know why some people recover while others continue to have varying degrees of health problems.

Q. What can I do to protect myself and my family?

  • A. To protect yourself and your family, you should avoid being bitten by mosquitoes. You can take action by minimizing your exposure to mosquitoes by: Using insect repellents that contain DEET or other approved ingredients. Trying to avoid spending time outdoors at dawn and at dusk when mosquitoes are most active. Wearing protective clothing such as long-sleeved shirts, long pants and a hat. Light coloured clothing is best because mosquitoes tend to be more attracted to dark colours.You can also eliminate breeding sites around your home and cottage by getting rid of standing water around your property by: Draining standing water from items like pool covers, saucers under flower pots, recycle bins, garbage cans etc. Removing old unused items from around your property including old tires. Changing the water in wading pools, bird baths, pet bowls and livestock watering tanks twice a week. Covering rain barrels with screens. Cleaning out eaves troughs regularly to prevent clogs that can trap water.

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