New facilities eligible for indoor air quality funding

**As of August 6, the deadline for the COVID-19 Indoor Air Quality Assistance Program has been extended to October 15, 2021. **

Over the past year, we’ve learned a lot about COVID-19, including the impact indoor air quality (IAQ) has on the spread of COVID-19. That’s why we’re so proud to offer the COVID-19 Indoor Air Quality Assistance Program. The program started in December 2020 and has received over 700 applications so far.

Because of the success of the program and the positive feedback we’ve received, we’ve decided to expand the number of eligible facilities. Previously, the program was limited to nursing homes, assisted living centers, and adult day centers. We’ll now include:

  • Intermediate care facilities.
  • Hospices.
  • Senior centers.
  • Adult care facilities.
  • Waiver settings (group homes).
  • Substance use treatment centers.

With the inclusion of these new facilities, we’ll be able to protect additional vulnerable Ohioans. If your facility falls under one of these categories, we encourage you to apply today. The program offers up to $15,000 in reimbursement to inspect heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, assess air quality needs, and make improvements through maintenance, increased filtration, portable air cleaners, and other interventions.

If you’ve made any improvements to your HVAC systems throughout the pandemic, we encourage you to apply. The program will reimburse costs incurred from March 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021. Applications are open until June 30, 2021.

Not an eligible facility?

If your facility doesn’t fall under one of these categories to qualify for funding, don’t worry, we have resources for you too. We know that maintaining safe and heathy IAQ is imperative to prevent the spread of COVID-19, so we’ve put together some resources your facility can use to learn more.

You can watch a recording of one of our IAQ webinars here:

For more on IAQ, we encourage you to check out these resources:

Visit our website to apply now. You can also contact BWC’s Division of Safety & Hygiene or call 1-800-644-6292 with questions.

Prevent COVID-19 spread through HVAC improvements

Indoor Air Quality focus of March 3 webinar

By Jeff Hutchins, MS, CIH, Regional Loss Prevention Manager

We all know a mask, social distancing, frequent handwashing, and cleaning can weaken the spread of COVID-19. So can improvements to your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.

How to do that in a smart, step-wise fashion will be the subject of a free webinar we’re hosting from 2-3:15 p.m. Wednesday, March 3, in partnership with the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission. Employers and building owners wanting to improve their indoor air quality will benefit from this webinar.

In the age of COVID-19, indoor air quality, or IAQ, has taken on a whole new dimension. Since the virus that causes COVID-19 can be transmitted through the air, maintaining safe and healthy IAQ becomes a vital link in preventing the disease. It also reduces the risk of other indoor health concerns. (IAQ, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, refers to the air quality within and around buildings and structures, especially as it relates to the health and comfort of building occupants.)

Register for the webinar here.  (We will also offer the webinar during our Ohio Safety Congress & Expo  March 10-11.)

Topics covered include:

  • Increasing outside air and room (or building) air exchanges.
  • Improving central HVAC filtration.
  • Using high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration to enhance central HVAC system air cleaning, particularly in high risk areas.
  • Deploying ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) as a supplement where increased ventilation and/or filtration options are limited.

The webinar also details BWC’s COVID-19 Indoor Air Quality Assistance Program. This federally funded program originally targeted nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and adult day centers, but we are expanding the program to include the following:

  • Intermediate care facilities.
  • Hospices.
  • Senior centers.
  • Adult care facilities.
  • Waiver settings (group homes).
  • Substance use treatment centers.

For more on IAQ, I encourage you to check out these resources:

A look back at our most-popular posts of 2020

By Danielle Alley, Social Media Coordinator

While we all might be ready to close the book on 2020, we think some pages are worth reading again, or perhaps for the first time if you missed them earlier.

Our most popular blog posts from the past 12 months focused primarily on the COVID-19 pandemic and how it upended our lives and routines, personally and professionally. We heard from a BWC nurse fighting COVID-19 on the front lines in her weekend hospital job. We heard from employers praising our efforts to mitigate the pandemic’s impact on their employees and bottom line. We heard from others sharing deeply personal stories about tragedy and triumph in their lives.

In short, these stories are about people. That’s what BWC is about, too. Thank you for following us in this space.

  1. Amy Phillips’ family tragedy saved many lives.
  2. Customers show us the love during COVID-19.
  3. My family’s trauma changed my world.
  4. BWC nurse battles COVID-19 on front lines.
  5. In challenging times, BWC delivers.

As always, if you have ideas for blog topics, please let us know. Leave a comment or connect with us on social media and we’ll do our best to make it happen.

Have a happy and SAFE new year!

 

My experience in BWC’s Safety Leaders Fellowship Program

By Meleesha Hodge, BWC Occupational Safety & Hygiene Fellow

After graduating from the University of Cincinnati in 2018, I struggled to figure out what career path was right for me. I had obtained my Bachelor of Science degree in biological sciences but did not have much experience in that field. I knew to thrive in the job market I would need to develop skills and gain experience.

I was grateful to have the opportunity to work for BWC’s Division of Safety & Hygiene (DSH) as part of the Safety Leaders Fellowship Program*. During my time as an Occupational Safety & Hygiene Fellow, I’ve had the pleasure of shadowing and learning from BWC safety consultants, ergonomists, and industrial hygienists on about 85 consultative safety visits.

Some visits were on-site at Ohio employers, and since March 2020, I have assisted with virtual consultations. During these visits I actively participated in the delivery of DSH programs, products, and services to employers. I progressed from helping with pre-visit planning and employer research to making field observations, answering employer questions, making recommendations, and writing post-visit reports and correspondence. Each consultant I shadowed had their own unique way of how they did their jobs and shared their expertise with me whenever they had the chance.

Training and education are important aspects of this program. I completed more than 23 educational readings, more than 15 in-class trainings, and about 18 online courses within the first year, all centered around safety and health topics. After learning more about safety topics, I worked with BWC’s Education and Training Services staff members to create and revamp online training courses. One course I was particularly involved with revising focuses on preventing cuts and lacerations. This course educates employers on this topic and ultimately can reduce the number of claims from these types of injuries.

Meleesha Hodge performs a slip meter test that measures the coefficient of friction to determine if a floor or walkway is safe for use.

DSH managers assigned different projects to me that pertained to fulfilling DSH’s aim of making Ohio workplaces safer and healthier for the employer and their employees. For example, for the 2020 Safety Innovation Awards, I served as a project lead and coordinated meetings, took meeting minutes, and participated in semifinalist site visits and scoring of the innovations. For another project to promote health awareness, I had the opportunity to create the Wellness Wednesday Tips featured on BWC’s social media pages that highlight current health issues in the U.S. A few of the topics I prepared tips for were childhood obesity, fall prevention, and breast cancer awareness.

In my second year, I expressed interest in helping with BWC’s health and wellness initiatives and my supervisor created a great development plan to get me more involved in that specific area. That evolved into me joining our department’s internal wellness team, where I assisted by creating health bulletins and developing health activities for our staff members. In addition, I worked on projects for BWC’s Better You, Better Ohio!® health and wellness program. I realized my passion for health and wellness and am now pursuing my master’s degree in public health with a concentration in social and behavioral sciences online through the University of Florida.

Working for BWC has helped me find my passion and gave me the necessary knowledge and skills to move forward in this ever-changing workforce. I will be forever grateful for this opportunity to not only help save the lives of Ohio workers but to also discover a career path that would truly bring me joy!

*The Safety Leaders Fellowship Program provides recent college graduates in the fields of occupational safety and health, engineering, industrial hygiene, and/or physical/ natural sciences an opportunity to receive on-the-job training to build a professional career in the fields of occupational safety and health, ergonomics, industrial hygiene and risk management. Selected candidates are offered a two-year project/contractual position where they receive hands-on and classroom training along with mentoring and coaching by highly experienced professionals in all areas of occupational safety and health.

 

At BWC, we still have your safety needs covered

By Bernie Silkowski, Superintendent, BWC Division of Safety & Hygiene

Like every other Ohio employer, we have had to adapt to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are working from home to slow the spread of the virus, but our Division of Safety & Hygiene still offers plenty of resources to keep Ohio’s workplaces and workers safe. 

Although we are not making on-site visits, we are assisting thousands of employers virtually. We can do this for you, too. We have created a list of resources and FAQs to help Ohio businesses restart safely in conjunction with the Responsible RestartOhio initiative. The following are other options we offer.

Online safety courses and webinars  

With many still working from home, online courses are an excellent option to teach workers about workplace safety. We offer free online safety training courses and weekly webinars on a wide variety of topics.Online course times range from 30 minutes to approximately two hours. To get started, register for courses and webinars online using the BWC Learning Center, or call 1-800-644-6292.

Join a safety council – virtually

Although our Ohio safety council partners are not currently offering in-person meetings, the vast majority will be offering virtual meetings throughout the program year. These virtual meetings are another way to stay up to date on safety practices and to learn new methods for protecting your workers. We’ve also modified some aspects of the program to reduce the burden on employers as they face the challenges of reopening and maintaining economic viability.  Contact your local safety council to learn more.

Virtual safety consultations – Be proactive in making your workplace safe

With such an intense focus on protecting workers from COVID-19, it’s easy to miss other hazards in your workplace that can cause harm. BWC’s specialists can provide virtual consultative services in the areas of industrial safety, construction safety, ergonomics, and industrial hygiene. Every employer is eligible to use these services. We can talk on the phone or do a video chat depending on your preferences. You can also send us pictures, videos, or a written safety program to review and make recommendations. You can request a consultation through our website or by calling 1-800-644-6292.

Public employers can also take advantage of the specialized virtual consulting services of the Public Employment Risk Reduction Program (PERRP). In fact, right now PERRP is scheduling virtual safety training about work zones, tree operations, confined spaces, and trenching and excavation. If you have questions or need assistance, please request a consultation through our website, send an email to Perrprequest@ohio.gov, or call 1-800-671-6858.

For small- to medium-sized, private employers in high-hazard industries, the OSHA On-Site Consultation Program is also available to help with specialized virtual consulting. You can request a consultation through our website or call 1-800-282-1425.

Library reference services and streaming safety videos

Our library staff is working remotely and has access to materials to help you with your safety questions. The library’s streaming video services are available 24 hours a day/seven days a week for remote viewing from any computer. Our selection of online streaming videos covers a range of popular safety and human resource topics. Email us at library@bwc.state.oh.us for information about any of these services.

Better You, Better Ohio!® – workplace health and wellness program

Better You, Better Ohio! is a free health and wellness program for eligible public and private workers. It provides online education and resources you and your employees can access online or on your phone. The program offers information on healthy eating, exercise, and stress management, as well as tips for handling the changes we are all facing. Also, eligible workers can complete an online health assessment, request a biometric screening kit to complete at home, and receive a $75 incentive in the mail! Email BWCBetterYouBetterOhio@bwc.state.oh.us with questions.

Thank you for being our partners in helping keep Ohio’s workers safe. For more information about Ohio’s response to COVID-19, please visit The Ohio Department of Health’s COVID-19 website or contact them via phone at 1-833-4ASKODH.

For BWC-specific COVID-19 questions, visit our Coronavirus (COVID-19) Frequently Asked Questions or email BWCCOVID19@bwc.state.oh.us.

We’re here and ready to help, so reach out to us today!

BWC safety grants protect worker health, save employers time, money

NIOSH-BWC study published in industry journal

By Steve Naber, Ph.D., BWC Business Intelligence and Analytics Manager

For more than 10 years, our Division of Safety & Hygiene has enjoyed the benefits of being in a cooperative research program with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

Through the program, we share claims with personal information removed and employer data with NIOSH and assist its researchers in various studies that use our data. Working together, we recently completed a study to evaluate the effectiveness of construction equipment Ohio employers purchased using our Safety Intervention Grant program from 2003 to 2016.

The findings

Though the study did not conduct a complete cost-benefit analysis, the data suggest our safety grants help improve worker safety and may also lead to cost savings for Ohio construction industry employers. In terms of cost savings, the study found:

  • An average productivity savings of $24,462 per grant.
  • The average savings due to less rework was $2,931 per grant.
  • The average savings due to reduced absenteeism was $859 per grant.

It also found equipment for cable pulling in electrical trades to be among the most effective. 

Other equipment scoring highly included concrete sawing equipment, skid steering attachments for concrete breaking, and boom lifts. The study’s results appear in the April edition of the Journal of Construction Engineering and Management. You can read the article here.

The objective

The objective of the study was to apply a systematic method to identify the types of construction equipment that were more effective in improving the safety and health of workers. The study’s authors focused on the construction industry because “it is a high-risk industry, and construction employers need more information about effective solutions (interventions) to address safety and health.”

The methodology

The researchers evaluated 153 construction industry safety grants, totaling $6.5 million in equipment costs. The study placed the grants into 24 groups based on the function of the equipment purchased. The analysis emphasized equipment that was purchased in multiple grants and that had high scores for both risk reduction for work-related musculoskeletal disorders and quality of information contained in the safety grant reports.

We provided the data for the study, which included pre-grant and post-grant claims information and employer survey results regarding risk-factor abatement, equipment effectiveness, employee acceptance, and the effects on productivity. The research team developed an evaluation system that assigned scores to each grant based on the quality of the information employers provided addressing these factors. The team then tallied the component scores in these categories to get a total score for each grant that reflected the quality of the information and the equipment effectiveness. BWC researchers also contributed by reviewing and assisting in the development of the scoring system and in preparing the study’s manuscript.

Conclusion

This study supports our belief that employers will see long-term cost savings when they invest in workplace safety. More importantly, investing in safety protects the health and well-being of workers throughout our state. That’s why we’ve been offering these grants to Ohio employers for more than 15 years.  

NIOSH researchers contributing to the study and paper include Brian Lowe, James Albers, Marie Hayden, and Steve Wurzelbacher; BWC’s contributors are Mike Lampl and Steve Naber.

BWC honors five Ohio employers for workplace safety innovations

By Jeff Hutchins, Manager, BWC Quality Assurance & Technical Safety Support

We recently awarded cash prizes to five Ohio employers as part of our annual Safety Innovation Awards. We typically announce the winners at our annual Ohio Safety Congress & Expo, which did not take place as planned due to the COVID-19 pandemic.    

The awards recognize a handful of Ohio employers for developing innovative solutions to safety concerns in their workplaces. Because in-person judging did not happen at safety congress, we made the decision to award the five finalists $3,500 each.

More recently, we decided to place the awards on hiatus for 2021. We will use this time to review the program and prepare to return for 2022. 

“The COVID-19 emergency has forced us to adapt the way we do many things, including our Safety Innovation Awards,” said BWC Administrator/CEO Stephanie McCloud. “Even though we couldn’t provide these finalists the usual ceremony at safety congress, we applaud them for their innovative spirit and commitment to protecting their workers.”

This week, we’ve been posting videos on social media about this year’s award winners. If you missed them, you can learn about all the award winners below.

Diversified Fall Protection (Westlake) – Portable Truss Anchor

Diversified Fall Protection engineers, manufacturers, and distributes fall-protection equipment.

In an industrial setting, working at a height above machinery poses a fall hazard. Unstable ladders and limited styles of fall protection when working in such an environment are ineffective. Contributing to this hazard is the practice of tying off to structures that are not capable of supporting the load if a fall does take place.

This innovation is a portable personal fall protection anchor that installs quickly overhead into the opening of the bottom chord of a roof application. The Portable Truss Anchor uses the overhead truss system in a building to create an Occupational Safety and Health Administration-compliant anchorage point for working in high places. Unlike permanently attached fall protection anchor systems that require a self-retracting lanyard at each location, the Portable Truss Anchor is an alternative solution that installs in minutes – where and when workers need it.

More than 1,000 workers currently use the Portable Truss Anchor with no reported fall-related injures associated with its use.

Watch a video about Diversified Fall Protection’s Portable Truss Anchor on BWC’s YouTube Channel.

Fort Amanda Specialties (Lima) – Custom Cleaning-in-Place Safety Solution

Fort Amanda Specialties LLC is a joint venture of Nouryon and BASF Corporation. It is a chemical producer of high-quality chelates.

The production process uses transport screws to move solid product in a multi-product processing unit. Cleaning out these screws during product changes created safety exposures as workers had to remove the lids to wash the screws. This exposed workers to unguarded moving machinery, high-pressure water spray, and slip hazards from overspray on walking-working surfaces.

The company designed custom-made wash lids with Plexiglass windows for inspection as well as permanently mounted spray nozzles inside.  

The solution eliminates contact with moving equipment and exposure to high-pressure water. The enclosure contains wash water, reducing water use and eliminating slip hazards.

Watch a video about Fort Amanda Specialties’ Custom Cleaning-in-Place Solution on BWC’s YouTube Channel.

Mt. Vernon City Schools (Knox County) – Rapid Barricade

Mt. Vernon City Schools is a school district serving 3,800 students at six elementary schools, one middle school, one high school, and a digital academy. 

If a school or other public building experiences a threat, most will activate a lock-down procedure. Door locking devices must be easy to deploy and remove and must withstand extreme force. Some locking devices do not comply with building/fire codes, require facility modifications to install or tools to deploy, and some require workers to verify deployment from a public area (i.e. the hallway), which exposes them to the threat.

The need was for a temporary door-locking device that meets all the fire code and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements and was always available, not stored somewhere.

School maintenance personnel worked with a local machine shop to create the now-patented Rapid Barricade. Workers can install the Rapid Barricade on any ADA-compliant door. It deploys in seconds and can withstand 1,200 pounds of force.

Watch a video about Mount Vernon City Schools’ Rapid Barricade on BWC’s YouTube Channel.

TFO Tech Co., LTD (Jeffersonville) – Furnace Pulley Unloader

TFO Tech Co. LTD produces automotive wheel hubs, crankshafts, CVT pulleys, and other parts.

Workers had to manually rake 10- to 13-pound parts approximately 2.5 feet into a bin as the parts exited the heat treat furnace. The parts coming from the furnace are near 300 degrees Celsius, meaning excessive heat was a hazard. The raking motion also exposed workers to ergonomic hazards – shoulder, elbow, back, and chest were the main areas of the body affected.

The innovation drops down and encloses the parts in a steel frame. The frame slides the product off the side of the conveyor and into the basket. Rather than manually raking the parts, workers complete the process with the push of a button. This removes the physical (ergonomic) aspect of the process and reduces the employees’ heat exposure because the operator’s panel is about 5 feet farther from the hot parts than the original operating position.

Watch a video about TFO Tech Co., LTD.’s Furnace Pulley Unloader on BWC’s YouTube Channel.

thyssenkrupp Bilstein of America (Hamilton) – Near Miss Reporting App

thyssenkrupp Bilstein of America manufactures shock absorbers for high-performance automobiles, motorsports, and off-road vehicles.

In a manufacturing facility that works around the clock with nearly 700 employees, unsafe acts and unsafe conditions were occurring. Unfortunately, they were often not reported, nor addressed. Before implementation, workers reported an average of four near misses per month, most coming from a few supervisors. Reporting was a cumbersome process, requiring the worker to download a four-page document from the intranet before completing it, printing it, and having it signed by multiple people.

This innovation changed the reporting process from a tedious paper document to a short, quick, and easy electronic submission via app. The company developed it using web-based software called Smartsheet. Now, any worker can submit the online form in the app, which inputs the information into a database similar to an Excel spreadsheet.

Near miss reports have increased from approximately 48 per year to more than 500 per year. The company’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration recordable rate dropped from 3.03 to .91, and its lost-time accident rate dropped from 3.61 to 0.

Watch a video about thyssenkrupp Bilstein of America’s Near Miss Reporting App on BWC’s YouTube Channel.

Customers show us the love during COVID-19

BWC’s economic, health and safety initiatives draw high praise

By Winnie Warren, BWC Interim Chief of Employer Services

Working for the state of Ohio, we all know our job is to serve our fellow Ohioans and hopefully make a positive difference in their lives, so it’s gratifying when our colleagues and leaders take note — an email or video message from Administrator Stephanie McCloud, for instance, or a nod from Governor Mike DeWine at his daily press briefings.

But it’s doubly rewarding when the people you serve reach out and thank you themselves. We’ve received many emails, phone calls and social media posts in recent weeks praising our efforts to help business owners through the COVID-19 pandemic. One call in particular stands out. It was from Heather Baines, the founder and president of HR Construction Services LLC in Cleveland.

Heather Baines, founder and president, HR Construction Services in Cleveland

Heather wanted to personally thank us for two things — a check she received in late April for $9,450, her company’s share of the $1.6 billion dividend we sent to Ohio employers to ease the impact of COVID-19 on their bottom line. She also appreciated the box of 50 face coverings we sent her as part of our Protecting Ohio’s Workforce – We’ve got you covered initiative.

She said both were blessings at a critical time.

“Between the financial help and the masks, it almost made me want to cry because it shows I’m not forgotten,” Heather said. “There have been some terrible days – days where I questioned, ‘What am I doing and why am I still doing this?’”

Heather told me about her business, that all the reasons she started her company — to hire local contractors and bring diversity to jobsites in her hometown while growing a minority-owned business — were coming to fruition. Then the pandemic hit and made a mess of everything.

Getting that check from BWC meant everything, she said. It meant she could pay her workers, her office rent, purchase jobsite materials and fund her employees’ benefits. (Nearly 200,000 Ohio employers received a dividend, which roughly equaled their entire BWC premium in policy year 2018.)

“We’re still new in the construction industry, so paying on time is huge for me,” said Heather, who founded her company in 2015. “That’s a great reputation to have. The money goes out as quick as it comes in, but that check was tremendous and made a big difference.”

The face coverings were another godsend, she said. In late May we started sending at least 2 million face coverings to employers across the state to weaken COVID-19’s spread. We’re not billing employers for this initiative. At less than a dollar a piece, we’re picking up the tab from this year’s budget.

Heather told me her employees had been wearing disposable masks that cost her up to $5 a piece, and they were using the same one on multiple days because supply was hard to find. Her neighbor, who was making masks for health care workers, made some for Heather’s employees, too. Then BWC’s shipment arrived.

“It meant a whole lot that my company was a part of the distribution,” she said. “So often things are given to larger companies, and it’s the smaller ones that can really use the help.”

Thank you to Heather for sharing her story. We’re so glad our mission and agency values of providing superior customer service show up in a myriad of ways. We’re proud to serve Ohioans every day, but especially in their greatest time of need.

Crew members of HR Construction Services in Cleveland wear face coverings provided by BWC while working on an overpass in Cleveland.

Stand down focuses on keeping workers safe in trenches

By Michael Marr, BWC Safety Technical Resources Consultant

In February, a 34-year-old worker died when a trench he was working in collapsed in Licking County. Just last month, a trench collapse killed two workers in Starkville, Mississippi.

Unfortunately, these tragic incidents are reminders of the potential dangers of trenching and excavation work. However, most trenching injuries and fatalities are preventable with proper training and safety equipment.

The 2020 Trench Safety Stand Down, scheduled for June 15-19 and sponsored by the National Utility Contractors Association, gives employers an opportunity to talk directly to their workforce and others about trenching and excavation hazards and to reinforce the importance of protecting workers from them.

The Trench Safety Stand Down encourages employers to take a break to have a toolbox talk or another safety activity to draw attention to the specific hazards related to working in and around trenches and excavations.

At BWC, we support the stand down and we are strongly committed to preventing trenching accidents, which are often deadly. Earlier this year, we launched the Trench Safety Ohio campaign with accompanying website, TrenchSafetyOhio.com, to increase awareness of the hazards of working in trenches and promoting safe trenching work practices.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we realize it may be a challenge to conduct in-person events, but you can still share resources like our trench safety card (in English and Spanish) with your workers. You also can find additional items and information on our Trench safety resources page.

Additionally, the BWC Learning Center has a recorded webinar – Trenching Overview: A Focus Four Initiative – you and your employees can view for free. Simply log in to the BWC Learning Center, search for Trenching Overview, click the link, and enroll. Employers who have not yet established a BWC Learning Center login can view instructions here.

Whether it’s watching a webinar, sharing videos or information online, or having a smaller event, following proper physical distancing protocols, we hope you’ll take part in the 2020 Trench Safety Stand Down.

Additional resources
OSHA Trenching and Excavation webpage
NIOSH Trenching and Excavation webpage
CPWR Trench Safety webpage

BWC nurse battles COVID-19 on front lines

May is National Nurses Month. BWC nurse tells her story.

By Jennifer Wolford RN, Medical Service Specialist, Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation

Away from my BWC job as a medical service specialist, I work as an intermittent nurse in an emergency department (ED) at an Akron-area hospital on weekends. Since the community spread of COVID-19 began, being an ED nurse means the odds of being exposed again and again to this virus are virtually guaranteed.

BWC nurse Jennifer Wolford, RN, works on weekends in the emergency department at an Akron-area hospital.

My colleagues and I can’t see this invisible killer, of course, but we see its impact on our patients and on each other. Not just the physical symptoms, but the fear — you can see it on their faces, you can feel it. We’ve watched patients die from this disease.

I wear a face mask and face shield for my entire 12-hour shift to protect myself and my co-workers. After my shift ends, I cover my car seat with a towel and wipe down my door handles, steering wheel, and other parts with Clorox wipes. When I come home, I immediately put my clothes into the washing machine on sanitize. I use a Clorox wipe to clean anything I touched.

After I shower, I again sanitize everything I touched. I keep a safe distance from my family. Basically, I treat myself as though I actually have COVID-19 because we know people with the disease might have it for days and weeks without showing any symptoms.

This is my life. I have a son with multiple disabilities; I can’t take any risks. Until there is a vaccine, my reality looks a lot different – this is my new normal.

Respect the virus

This is everybody’s new normal, actually. That’s why I support Governor Mike DeWine’s encouragement for all of us to wear a face mask in public where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain. You may believe you don’t have the virus, or you may feel silly wearing a mask, but none of us is safe from this disease.

Case in point: My family has a friend who is just 58 and otherwise healthy, no co-morbidities. He had the coronavirus and was on a ventilator for nearly three weeks. Thankfully, he is recovering now. Unlike my friend’s mom, my ex-husband’s stepfather, and perhaps someone you know, too.

A colleague asked me the other day, “You work at BWC now, why put yourself at risk working in an emergency department, especially these days?”

I’m a nurse, I told him. It’s what we do.

The American Nurses Association promotes May as Nurses Month to support and recognize nurses for their contributions in crises and for their ongoing roles in meeting the needs of patients and their communities.