Coffee Helps Teams Work Together, and It Doesn’t Have to be Labeled as a Carcinogen

June 25, 2018
Good teamwork begins with a cup of coffee for everyone. Researchers found that people gave more positive reviews for their group’s performance on a task – and their own contribution – if they drank caffeinated coffee beforehand. This is especially good to know, now that California no longer requires carcinogen warnings for coffee. 
A second study showed that people talked more in a group setting under the influence of caffeinated coffee – but they also were more on-topic than those who drank decaf.
Coffee seems to work its magic in teams by making people more alert, said Amit Singh, co-author of the study and a doctoral student in marketing at The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business.
“We found that increased alertness was what led to the positive results for team performance,” Singh said. “Not surprisingly, people who drank caffeinated coffee tended to be more alert.”
Singh conducted the study with Vasu Unnava and H. Rao Unnava, both formerly at Ohio State and now with the Graduate School of Management at the University of California, Davis. The study appears online in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.
While many studies have looked at how caffeine affects individual performance, this is the first to examine the impact it has on teams, Singh said.
The first study involved 72 undergraduate students who said they were coffee drinkers. They were instructed not to drink coffee before the experiment. Half of them first participated in what they were told was a coffee-tasting task. They were split into groups of five. After drinking a cup of coffee and rating its flavor, they were given 30 minutes of filler tasks to give the caffeine a chance to kick in. The other half of the participants did the coffee tasting at the end of the experiment.
Each group then read about and were asked to discuss a controversial topic – the Occupy movement, a liberal movement that highlighted social and economic inequality. After a 15-minute discussion, group members evaluated themselves and the other group members. Results showed that those who drank the coffee before the discussion rated themselves and their fellow team members more positively than did those who drank coffee after the discussion, Singh said.
The second study was similar, except that 61 students all drank coffee at the beginning of the study. However, half drank decaf and the others drank caffeinated brew.
Those who drank caffeinated coffee rated themselves and their fellow group members more positively than those who drank decaf. It had to do with alertness. All participants rated how alert they felt at the end of the study, and those who drank the caffeinated coffee rated themselves as more alert than the others.
A key finding was that people who rated themselves as more alert – whether they drank caffeinated coffee or not – also tended to give higher marks to themselves and their fellow group members. This suggests that any intervention that increases alertness (such as exercise) may also produce similar results, which the authors propose in the paper as a future research topic.
“We suspect that when people are more alert they see themselves and the other group members contributing more, and that gives them a more positive attitude,” Singh said.
But the caffeine does more than just increase good feelings. The researchers did an analysis of the group discussion in the second study, rating how much each group member talked and stayed on topic.
Results showed that people tended to talk more after drinking caffeine, but they also tended to stay more on topic. “They’re talking about more relevant things after drinking caffeinated coffee,” he said. One might think that if people are talking more about a controversial topic like the Occupy movement, that may cause friction in the group. But that’s not what the study suggests.
People who drank caffeinated coffee were more likely than those who drank decaf to say they would be willing to work with their group again. “Even though they are talking more, agreeing and disagreeing, they still want to work with them again,” Singh said. “Coffee didn’t seem to make group discussions too uncomfortable and disagreeable.”
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Protect Outdoor Workers from Heat
Cal/OSHA reminded employers to protect their outdoor workers from heat illness and to encourage their workers to take preventative cool-down breaks in the shade as temperatures rise.
“During heat waves, employers must closely observe their employees for signs and symptoms of heat illness,” said Cal/OSHA Chief Juliann Sum. “As always, workers should be encouraged to drink water frequently and take preventative cool-down rest breaks in the shade when they feel the need to do so.”
California’s heat illness prevention regulation, which acts as a good model for employers in all states, requires employers with outdoor workers to take the following four steps to prevent heat illness:
  • Plan – Develop and implement an effective written heat illness prevention plan that includes emergency response procedures. 

  • Training – Train all employees and supervisors on heat illness prevention. 

  • Water – Provide drinking water that is fresh, pure, suitably cool and free of charge so that each worker can drink at least 1 quart per hour and encourage workers to do so.
  • Shade – Provide shade when workers request it and when temperatures exceed 80 degrees. Encourage workers to take a cool-down rest in the shade for at least five minutes. They should not wait until they feel sick to cool down. 
Cal/OSHA urges workers experiencing possible overheating to take a preventative cool- down rest in the shade until symptoms are gone. Workers who have existing health problems or medical conditions that reduce tolerance to heat, such as diabetes, need to be extra vigilant. Some high blood pressure and anti-inflammatory medications can also increase a worker’s risk for heat illness. 

In addition to the other requirements outlined in California’s heat illness prevention regulation, it is crucial that supervisors are effectively trained on emergency procedures in case a worker does get sick. This helps ensure sick employees receive treatment immediately and that the symptoms do not develop into a serious illness or death.
Cal/OSHA’s Heat Illness Prevention special emphasis program, the first of its kind in the nation, includes enforcement of heat regulations as well as multilingual outreach and training programs for California’s employers and workers. Online information on heat illness prevention requirements and training materials are available on Cal/OSHA’s Heat Illness Prevention web page and the Water. Rest. Shade. campaign site. A Heat Illness Prevention e-tool is also available on Cal/OSHA’s website.
Risk of Rhabdomyolysis in Firefighters
Four new NIOSH publications describe the risk for rhabdomyolysis in wildland and structural firefighters. Both wildland firefighting and structural fire response and training involve exposure to heat and prolonged, intense exertion, which can increase firefighters’ risk for rhabdomyolysis. Elements of fire response and training associated with an increased risk of rhabdomyolysis include carrying heavy loads such as turnout gear and packs; high levels of exertion while rescuing victims or carrying heavy loads over rugged terrain; and rigorous training and physical fitness tests. Rhabdomyolysis, the breakdown of muscle tissue, can be caused by overheating, overexertion, crush injury, and certain medications, supplements, or medical conditions. NIOSH described rhabdomyolysis in a 2016 health hazard evaluation report regarding the potential risk of rhabdomyolysis and heat-related illness in cadets and instructors participating in firefighter training courses.
“When muscle cells die, their contents of electrolytes and proteins are released into the bloodstream, which can result in potentially life-threatening conditions affecting the heart and kidneys,” the report states.
According to NIOSH, healthcare providers can prevent debilitating consequences of rhabdomyolysis. The agency urges providers and others to be alert to wildland and structural firefighters who report signs and symptoms of rhabdomyolysis. Healthcare providers should suspect rhabdomyolysis in firefighters with heat-related illnesses and dehydration, muscle pain, or exercise intolerance. NIOSH’s new publications are also intended to help wildland and structural firefighters recognize the signs and symptoms of rhabdomyolysis and urge them to seek immediate medical attention if they are not feeling well.
At the request of a fire department, NIOSH recently conducted a health hazard evaluation regarding the potential risk of rhabdomyolysis and heat-related illness in cadets and instructors participating in firefighter training courses. Rhabdomyolysis, the breakdown of muscle tissue, can be caused by overheating, overexertion, crush injury, and certain medications, supplements, or medical conditions. “When muscle cells die, their contents of electrolytes and proteins are released into the bloodstream, which can result in potentially life-threatening conditions affecting the heart and kidneys,” the HHE report states.
The training was conducted four days a week and consisted of classroom lectures as well as outdoor physical training and live fire suppression exercises in full protective gear.
During the on-site visit in August 2012, NIOSH staff conducted a four-day evaluation, provided a questionnaire to 32 participants regarding work and medical history and health symptoms, and measured the body temperature and heart rate of 22 participants. NIOSH staff also monitored fluid intake, analyzed blood markers for dehydration and muscle breakdown, measured environmental conditions and body weight before and after each training day, and asked participants about their knowledge of rhabdomyolysis.
The evaluation revealed one person with rhabdomyolysis. NIOSH also found that environmental conditions often exceeded heat stress limits, and at some point during the evaluation week, many participants met the agency’s criteria for excessive heat strain. Sixteen participants experienced muscle breakdown but did not require medical attention. The evaluation noted that in most participants, levels of markers for dehydration and muscle breakdown decreased from the beginning and end of each training day. This suggested the firefighters remained appropriately hydrated.
The evaluation found that participants had no knowledge of rhabdomyolysis and its symptoms. “Participants noted that educational information should cover what rhabdomyolysis is, signs and symptoms, diagnostic criteria, and the necessity for immediate evaluation and medical treatment to prevent permanent damage,” the report says. “Participants mentioned that materials must clearly state that without proper medical treatment, rhabdomyolysis can cause permanent disability or death.”
NIOSH recommended the employer begin scheduling physically demanding activities during cooler parts of the day and training courses during cooler months, and educating all firefighters about the signs, symptoms, and dangers of heat-related illness and rhabdomyolysis. In addition, NIOSH recommended employees learn more about the signs and symptoms of rhabdomyolysis and other heat-related illnesses, alert a supervisor immediately if the signs or symptoms occur, drink plenty of fluids and take rest breaks, and talk to their healthcare provider about increased risk for rhabdomyolysis due to the type of job performed.
States Sue Manufacturers of Firefighting Foam
New York Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood and Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced a lawsuit against 3M and five other companies to recoup at least $38 million in costs incurred by the State in cleaning up environmental contamination caused by toxic chemicals in their products. The suit alleges that the use of firefighting foams made by the companies at military and civilian airports in Newburgh and New Windsor, Southampton, Plattsburgh, and Rome resulted in extensive contamination of soil, fish, and water by perfluorooctane sulfonic acid/perfluoroctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid/perflurooctanoate (PFOA). The suit charges that the companies are liable under state law for the contamination caused by their products, based on their conduct manufacturing and marketing products with defective designs, inadequate warning of product dangers, and the creation of a public nuisance. 
PFOA and PFOS contamination of the environment, and particularly drinking water supplies, is a problem associated with firefighting and firefighting training at and military and civilian airports across the nation. The action, filed in Albany Supreme Court, is the first-ever lawsuit brought by a state against the makers of firefighting products containing PFOA and PFOS to recover costs incurred in the cleanup of releases of these dangerous chemicals from airports into the environment. 
“The conduct of these manufacturers caused widespread contamination of our drinking water and our environment – and jeopardized the health of tens of thousands of New Yorkers,” Attorney General Underwood said. “My office will hold these companies accountable for endangering the health of New Yorkers, including forcing them to fully repay the state for cleaning up the toxic mess they created.” 
“As state experts continue to investigate contamination caused by firefighting foams, New York is working to end the dangerous practices that threaten our natural resources,” Governor Cuomo said. “By taking necessary legal action against these companies, we are sending a clear message that we will do everything in our power to protect New Yorkers.”
The six companies named in the suit – 3M Company, Tyco Fire Products LP, Chemguard, Inc., Buckeye Fire Equipment Company, National Foam, Inc., and Kidde-Fenwal, Inc. – allegedly designed, manufactured, marketed, and sold foams used for firefighting and firefighting training at Stewart Air National Guard Base and Stewart International Airport (Newburgh and New Windsor), Francis S. Gabreski Airport (Southhampton), former Plattsburgh Air Force Base (Plattsburgh), and former Griffiss Air Force Base (Rome). These firefighting foams contained PFOA or PFOS or compounds that degrade into PFOA and/or PFOS. The foams contained these chemicals to aid in extinguishing flammable liquid fires common to aircraft-related accidents. 
3M began developing firefighting foams containing PFOS in the early 1960s, and sold products containing PFOS and/or PFOA to the federal Department of Defense (DOD) through at least 2000. The suit alleges that the other five companies also sold products containing PFOA and PFOS, or compounds that break down into them, to the DOD. 
The suit further alleges that, by the 1970s, all of the companies knew or should have known that PFOA and PFOS were mobile and persistent in the environment, accumulated in fish and other wildlife, and could be linked to severe harms to fish, wildlife, and people. In fact, in April 2006, 3M agreed to pay a penalty of more than $1.5 million to EPA for its failure to disclose studies dating back decades that confirmed the potential hazards of these chemicals to public health and the environment, among other things. 
The suit alleges that the use of the companies’ products, as intended, at the four military and civilian airports resulted in the release of PFOA and PFOS into the surrounding environment and communities, contaminating drinking water, surface water, soil, and fish. For example, sampling by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) found concentrations of PFOA and PFOS in Lake Washington – a waterbody one mile southeast of Stewart Air Base and Stewart Airport and the primary drinking water supply for the City of Newburgh – as high as 282 parts per trillion (ppt). The federal Environmental Protect Agency’s current public health advisory for drinking water recommends that concentrations of PFOA and PFOS, either singularly or combined, not exceed 70 ppt. The toxic chemicals were found by DEC in groundwater at Gabreski Airport, former Plattsburgh Air Force Base, and former Griffiss Air Force Base at concentrations as high as 65,830; 1,045,000; and 61,233 ppt, respectively. 
DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said, “When New York’s precious natural resources are threatened, the responsible parties must be held accountable and the public should be compensated for the damage. Today’s legal action further cements Governor Cuomo’s legacy as a national champion for the environment and a fierce protector of public health.”
Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said, “Only through our own diligence do we now know that the very products used decades ago to promote public safety, contained chemicals that pose a threat to public health. Today’s legal action further cements Governor Cuomo’s legacy as a national champion for the environment and a fierce protector of public health.”
The DEC and the State Department of Health (DOH) have worked and continue to work together to investigate and respond to the PFOA and PFOS contamination released from the four airports. Among other things, DEC or DOH have tested public and private drinking water sources, groundwater, wildlife, and other resources in the surrounding areas for contamination. Consistent with the results, the DOH has issued a “catch and release” advisory to warn people about contaminated fish. DEC has also provided water treatment systems for public or private drinking sources, and bottled water or connections to uncontaminated drinking water sources for several communities. The agencies have also communicated with members of affected communities through public notices, public hearings, and door-to-door home visits when appropriate.  DOH also has, when appropriate, offered blood sampling for people living in some affected communities. 
To date, the state’s response to PFOA and PFOS contamination from the four airports has cost an estimated $38,982,200, and these costs are likely to continue to grow. The suit filed today alleges that 3M and the other companies’ role in this environmental contamination violated state law, including the marketing of defective products, inadequate warnings of product dangers, and the creation of a public nuisance. The suit asks the court to find the companies liable and require them to reimburse the state for at least the $38,982,200 in costs that it has incurred thus far in cleaning up the contamination.  Further, the suit asks the court to award the state punitive damages against the companies in an amount to be determined at trial. 
Attorney General Underwood thanked the DEC, DOH, and the State Department of Transportation for their assistance in this case. The matter is being handled for Attorney General Underwood by Assistant Attorneys General Philip Bein and Matthew J. Sinkman and Environmental Scientist John D. Davis. The Environmental Protection Bureau is led by Bureau Chief Lemuel M. Srolovic and is part of the Division of Social Justice, which is led by Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice Matthew Colangelo. 
Draft Toxicological Profile for Perfluoroalkyls Published by ATSDR
A draft toxicological profile for perfluoroalkyls is now available for review and public comment from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Perfluoroalkyls are a group of chemicals used to protect products such as carpet and fabric, and as a coating for paper and cardboard packaging. Some firefighting foams also contain perfluoroalkyls. Most companies have stopped making perfluorooctanoic acid and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid, or PFOA and PFOS, which were the two perfluoroalkyls made in the largest amounts in the U.S. According to ATSDR, the main sources of exposure to perfluoroalkyls are from eating food and drinking water containing these chemicals. Workers in facilities that make or use perfluoroalkyls can be exposed to higher amounts of these chemicals. According to ATSDR, high levels of certain perfluoroalkyls may cause health effects such as increased cholesterol levels, increased risk of thyroid disease, and decreased fertility in women.
ATSDR toxicological profiles characterize the toxicologic and adverse health effects information for hazardous substances. Each peer-reviewed profile identifies and reviews the key literature that describes a substance's toxicological properties. Information on the potential for human exposure; regulations, advisories, and guidelines; and health effects can also be found in ATSDR’s toxicological profiles. A full list of toxic substances with published profiles is available on the agency’s website.
The new draft toxicological profile for perfluoroalkyls is also available as a PDF.
Has Your Schools Drinking Water Been Tested for Lead?
The California Water Resources Control Board has released a new map-based web tool that shows which public schools in California have had their drinking water tested for lead.
The newly developed website allows the public to search the status of lead testing of drinking water at schools in their area, said Darrin Polhemus, State Water Boards Division of Drinking Water deputy director. This tool allows the public to stay informed as we continue to receive more results from the mandatory testing of public schools.
Under Assembly Bill 746, which took effect Jan. 1, community water systems statewide are now required to complete lead sampling on the drinking water supplies of K-12 public schools and day care and preschools on public school properties built before 2010. Water systems must complete this mandatory sampling by July 1, 2019.
With about 12 months to go before the deadline, approximately 30% of California’s 10,000 public schools have been sampled for lead. Water systems that do not complete this mandatory sampling could face enforcement action from the State Water Boards Division of Drinking Water.
Most public, K-12 schools in California are served by the more than 1,200 community water systems in the state. While these community water systems extensively and regularly test their drinking water for lead, lead could get into clean water at a school campus if there were corroded pipes or old fixtures at the school.
Lead sampling is done at drinking fountains and faucets used for consumption and preparing food. A water system must report the testing results within two business days if any samples show lead levels above 15 parts per billion (ppb). Water systems have 10 business days to report results if samples show lead levels less than, or equal to, 15 ppb.
If a school’s lead level exceeds 15 ppb, then the water system is required to sample water entering the school to help determine the possible source of lead. The school must also take several actions, including shutting down all fountains and faucets with high lead levels, providing potable drinking water until the situation is resolved, and notifying parents and guardians of students. Additional testing may be required to determine if all or just some of the school’s fountains and faucets are required to be shut down.
Private schools are not required to be sampled under AB 746 but may request free sampling under the State Water Boards voluntary Lead Sampling in Schools Program, which remains in effect until Nov. 1, 2019.
Because California has newer infrastructure and less corrosive water than other parts of the country, less than 1 percent of all samples collected so far have detected elevated levels of lead.
However, national events have highlighted the importance of ongoing water quality monitoring and in 2015 Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. directed the State Water Board to incorporate schools into the regular water quality testing that community water systems conduct at customers taps.
For more information on the Lead Sampling in Schools Program and information on AB 746, visit the State Water Boards webpage here.
South Florida Utility Contractor Cited for Exposing Employees to Trenching Hazards
OSHA has cited Douglas N. Higgins Inc., a South Florida utility contractor, for exposing employees to cave-in and other hazards at a Naples worksite. The company faces $18,659 in proposed penalties.
OSHA inspected the worksite as part of the Agency’s National Emphasis Program on Trenching and Excavation. OSHA inspectors cited Higgins for allowing employees to work in a trench without cave-in protection, and for failing to maintain a safety and health program on excavation hazards. OSHA cited the contractor for violations in January 2017 when three employees succumbed to toxic gases while working in a manhole, and again in May 2018 after a steel plate fell on and fatally injured an employee.
“Despite being recently cited for violations that contributed to four worker fatalities, this employer continues to disregard well-known safety and health requirements,” said Condell Eastmond, OSHA Fort Lauderdale Area Office Director. “Employers involved in excavation work must follow safety procedures to ensure that workers are properly protected from a trench collapse and other trench hazards.”
Excavating Company Fined Following Fatal Trench Collapse
OSHA has cited JK Excavating & Utilities Inc. after an employee suffered fatal injuries in a trench collapse. OSHA proposed penalties of $202,201 and placed the company in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program.
OSHA investigators determined that employees at a residential construction site in Morrow, Ohio, were working in trenches up to 16-feet deep without adequate cave-in protection. OSHA cited the company for failing to use protective systems to prevent a cave-in; implement methods to remove accumulating water; properly use ladders to enter and exit the trench; prevent employees from working beneath a suspended trench box; ensure employees wore hard hats; and make provisions for prompt medical attention in the event of injury.
"A trench can collapse in seconds, burying workers under the weight of thousands of pounds of soil," said Ken Montgomery, OSHA Cincinnati Area Office Director. "This tragedy was preventable, and could have been avoided if the employer had installed required protective systems to prevent a trench cave-in."
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