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Health and Safety Concerns at the 2016 Olympics

by Julie on August 18, 2016

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There’s a lot more to the Olympic Games than competition for medals. To make sure that everyone has the best possible experience, health and safety should always be kept top of mind.
The Summer Olympic Games always have their fair share of triumphs as well as controversies. In the past, the triumphs have largely been tied to the games, themselves. But the controversies have peppered the health and safety of athletes, workers, and spectators with varying shades and degrees of risk.

Unfortunately, there are risks involved with any major event — especially ones where so many different people gather and so much construction is undertaken to prepare for it. The 2012 London games were an example of the right way to do safety at the Olympics — well, at least as far as worker safety goes.

Sadly, in Rio, there have been safety concerns problems at almost every turn this year. However, once the 2016 summer games come to a close on August 21st, the world will have yet another event from which to learn valuable health and safety lessons. Here are a few of the things we’ve learned about health and safety at this year’s Olympic games, as well as some of the steps that spectators and athletes alike can take to keep themselves safe at the games:

1. Good News on the Zika Virus Front:


One of the biggest concerns of anyone visiting Rio this summer is the risk of contracting Zika virus. Everyone should use insect repellent, says the Centers for Disease Control, and some athletes have gone as far as to wear special uniforms that repel mosquito bites.

However, Rio actually experiences winter during the month of August. Given the climate during this time of the year, as well as the fact that the mosquito population isn’t as fierce right now as it is in other parts of the world, the good news is that the danger is actually lower than expected.

The CDC explains that Zika virus poses a special risk for pregnant women. Because Brazil has an ongoing outbreak of the virus, even when the mosquito population is low, there’s a persistent CDC travel warning for women who are or may become pregnant.

Typically, women who are pregnant are urged not to attend the Olympics. Although the risk of Zika is lower right now, there is still a possibility of contracting it. For this reason, the safest option for pregnant women is to remain at home — especially considering the risk of serious birth defects. After returning home, the CDC also recommends that men and women undergo screening right away to rule out the possibility of the virus.

2. Other Health-Related Risks for Spectators and Athletes:

Unfortunately, Zika isn’t the only safety risk at this year’s Olympic games. Other mosquito-borne diseases include malaria, dengue, and yellow fever. Because of this, the CDC urges everyone to get vaccinated before travelling to Brazil. (Always remember: it’s better to be safe than sorry).

Additionally, hepatitis A, typhoid, hepatitis B, and rabies are other potential threats. Vaccinations against them are advisable. The CDC also recommends taking precautions to prevent MMR, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, chickenpox, polio, and influenza by getting the relevant vaccinations.

Water might also pose a problem, as may some foods. For this reason, choosing to only drink bottled water and eating safe foods will help champions and spectators alike avoid these issues. (Looking for an easy reference guide that you can use while you’re on the go? Download the CDC’s helpful app called “Can I Eat This?”)

As for recreational risks, some water sites around Rio are known to be contaminated with untreated sewage. This is a risk for both athletes and spectators. Guanabara Bay, in particular, has been the subject of intense cleanup efforts, but Port Washington News suggests that it could take as much as 25 years to clean the bay. Some preparation and cleanup efforts require an extensive lead time.

3. Construction Issues Continue to Affect Both Travellers and Athletes:

By now, it’s no secret that the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio have been fraught with construction delays and problems. While many of the issues were resolved before the opening ceremony, unfortunately, some will take weeks, months, and even years to sort out.

In April, a tidal wave struck the newly-built Tim Maia Cycling Path. Tragically, three bicyclists suffered injured, and two were killed when a portion of the path broke off.

According to the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, a structural investigation surrounding the path failure began in June to determine the cause and to learn whether or not criminal negligence was a factor. Local authorities attributed the accident to “financial pressures” and “evasion of public funds” intended for construction.

The Olympic Velodrome, the official biking stadium used in the games, was another pitfall during preparation for this year’s Olympics: unfortunately, the construction company overseeing the project filed for bankruptcy, and another company was enlisted to take over to complete the project. These kinds of changes in leadership on such huge projects can cause errors and affect the project’s timeline and completion. For this reason and for the safety of everyone involved, the best thing to do is to keep communication as clear and open as possible, in order to ensure that everyone is on the same page.

4. Construction Worker Conditions Influence Both Production and Worker Safety


A solid health and safety plan keeps everyone safer and helps ensure that the job is completed.
Perhaps the most troubling issue surrounding the 2016 Rio Summer Games was the death of 11 construction workers. These workers contributed to several different Olympic sites — including Olympic Village, says Think Progress. And, sadly, because of their involvement in these projects, many of these workers were subjected to extreme and unsafe work and living conditions.

Pressure to complete all of the construction sites is the most obvious culprit. Even the comparatively pristine 2012 London Olympics wasn’t immune to tight schedules. Even in China there were 6 worker deaths leading up to the 2008 games! But, in comparison to other years, where Rio fell short was with the combination of inferior standards and undue pressure on workers, as well as the lack of attention to both health and safety as a whole.
Some workers reportedly performed 23-hour shifts — which is frightening because fatigue makes workers much more likely to make mistakes and experience on-the-job injuries. And, in March, Think Progress also stated that the Ministry of Labor issued 1,675 infractions for issues ranging from lack of training, lack of safety equipment, excessive work hours, insufficient down time, and a lack of drinking water.

Sadly, eleven migrant workers seemed to fare worse than others. They were hired under the promise of room, board, and round-trip airfare. But the Ministry found that all of them were living in an unsanitary Rio slum, and the hiring company ultimately stopped providing food and paying their rent. In stark contrast, the London Olympics workers were so well cared for that they were provided a free breakfast every morning to help them remain focused and reduce accidents. It’s amazing how much of a difference these factors can make.

The 2016 Rio Olympics appears to be a big teaching point for those who prepare for large scale events, as well as for spectators and athletes who plan to participate in the games in future years. While skilled athletes compete for medals and spectators watch in awe, workers are, and have always been, at risk. This is a step back from the progress of generations past.

One of the first projects that focused heavily on worker safety was the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge. Chief project engineer, Joseph Strauss, had a zero tolerance policy for fatalities. So, his safety program included every feasible measure to prevent them.

Bridge builders were required to use hard hats, safety nets, belt harnesses, respirators, special goggles, hearing protection, and even eat a diet that was intended to ward off dizziness. Eleven workers died, and Strauss believed that was 11 far too many.

Eleven construction workers have also died in Rio. However, if proper attention had been paid to a healthy work schedule, reasonable rest, adequate food and lodging, and the right PPE were provided, these deaths might have been prevented. A clean safety record begins with a strong safety program. And that can only happen with ample planning, preparation, and participation from everyone involved, every step of the way.

Even if you don’t have Olympian ambitions in your workplace, one way that you can enhance your own safety program is by evaluating the risks in your workplace, and by making sure your workers are wearing the best PPE for the job. An easy way to do this is by requesting a glove audit. We’ll send our glove experts right to your workplace to evaluate your current PPE selections, and help you ensure that everyone is wearing the best work gloves and/or sleeves for the task at hand. And, did we mention that it’s free?

Learn from the 2016 Olympic Games and take safety into your own hands: click the button below to set up your free glove audit now.

Request a free glove audit from our glove experts today.

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