OSH Matters

Growing interest in Occupational Safety and Health

HOLES in Safety and Health

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holes

In 1998 when Louis Sachar wrote the book “Holes” it was only in time that such an epic novel would be turned into a film filled with adventure, comedy and of course what is a movie without a touch of romance? In 2003, Walt Disney Productions brought the book to life filling our lives with laughter and of course leaving us a bit more knowledgeable as would be seen later in the blog. Stanley Yelnats, (whose title is actually his first name backwards!) is a misfortuned teen from a family where the males have been cursed for centuries as his ancestor broke a promise to a fortune teller Madam Zeroni. The plot is centered around him, his family struggles for a cure for smelly sneakers and the hilarious yet concerning path the curse paves for him. The movie begins with him being falsely accused of stealing a pair of sneakers (to which the family curse is blamed), he is then shipped of to a juvenile correction camp, Camp Green Lake for eighteen months where the real drama and comedy begins. The camp is situated on a dried up lake and is overseen by Louise Walker and her very strict assistant Mr. Sir. They gear the inmates with exactly two coveralls and a shovel to dig holes as a means of teaching them to build character. However, while the movie’s main purpose is to entertain, it is filled with obvious health and safety hazards which can be a serious call for concern and is addressed below.

  1. PHYSICAL HAZARDS-  

POTENTIAL HEAD INJURIES

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Stanley being hit by shoes

The great family curse that hovered over the minds of Stanley and his family for centuries led him to the belief that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time when a pair of stolen sneakers hit him on the head causing him to fall face down to the ground. While this is meant to be amusing, one cannot help but notice that this physical hazard can actually lead to severe injuries to the head which can cause memory loss, chronic migraine, internal head bleeding or cuts and bruises, none of which occurred.         

LACK OF PROPER PPE (PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT)

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Inadequate PPE being worn by the boys

 Very few of the guys had protective head gears, most were seen wearing caps, pieces of cloth tied on their heads and some not fully wearing their PPE because of the heat of the atmosphere. However, like coal mines, working in such conditions means that they are constantly exposed to dust in which bacteria can be found.  Also, most of these guys were young inmates and therefore they had no guidance on how to be cautious when digging the holes. The most precautions would be to look out for the lizards and rattlesnakes. However, it is remiss to say that the PPE, by just their boots and the orange coverall, which certainly represented the colour of a well sentenced prisoner and a pair of gloves that were stocked in the storage room was well enough. The boys lacked working equipment such as hard helmets and dust masks. Even though sand or dirt may seem soft in texture, there is the risk of the holes collapsing or caving in burying someone causing asphyxiation or injury to some part of their body. Therefore, hard helmets were certainly needed.

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Sam offering to fix… well everything

 Further along the movie, the issue with the lack of proper PPE comes up again. This time the viewers are given various flashbacks to link the situation at hand with the real history behind it and here we meet Mr Fixer, The Hopeless Romantic or as he is portrayed in the movie… plain ole Sam. Sam, as we all see has definitely fallen head over heels in love with the beautiful teacher Kate Barlow… so of course he jumps to the opportunity to rescue this damsel in distress by offering to fix the leaking roof of the school where she works. While he is all in it because of his heart desires, Sam forgets an important thing… protection. Of course we mean safety wear! He willingly climbs onto the roof in his shirt, dress pants and a hat… however, not a safety hat but a sun hat…

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Sam and Kate expressing their love

As the romance builds Kate encourages Sam to fix other things around the school not even advising him to put on a pair of gloves… Well if that is not true love what is? On a serious note however, little things like a helmet, coveralls, eye protection with the use of a goggles, dust mask and gloves makes a huge difference. Without them the risk of being injured multiplies significantly. The coverall would ensure some form of bodily protection, the gloves would prevent injuries to the hand, the dust mask would prevent the inhalation of dust as one is working, the goggles would protect the eyes from dust as they dig and the helmet would ensure protection of the head thus ensuring that any possible head injuries can be avoided. As skillful as Sam may be, the safety equipment still is a necessity.

EXPOSURE AND INHALATION OF EXCESSIVE DUST

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The impact of the dusty environment on the guys.

Yes, they were provided with gloves and coverall but can you imagine the amount of sand and dust that was getting into contact with their eyes, nose and also their ears? These only offered minimum protection.  There are so many hygienic issues where they are exposed to many types of dust related infections, rashes, skin sores and even the possibility of having breathing difficulties. The general environment being dusty, created by the sand which the inmates had to spend hours per day in is also unhealthy since it could develop respiratory diseases such as asthma. Not to mention, looking at Stanley,  you can see the amount of dust he had trapped on his skin and hair. This was really unhygienic and what made it even worse, was having limited showers which was based on their performance by digging holes and behavior. Seems tough huh? Not to mention, the water supply was really low, so they were lucky if they got a proper shower

UNSAFE AND UNSUITABLE RESTING AREAS

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Make-shift canvas tents where the boys slept

The resting location for the boys were mainly temporary makeshift tents out of canvas with improper ventilation as the windows are covered with nets. It was easy for the dust from the outside to enter into the tents of the boys this can lead to the formation of respiratory diseases and asthma by having to work in that environment and then to sleep inhaling all the dust blowing in. Can you imagine finishing a long day work then having to sleep in what looks like camp  set up for the World War?

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Stained mattress where Stanley slept

Not to mention the cool and clean cabin that the warden slept in compared to the boys. Not only are the tents very unsuitable, the beds themselves are dirty and stained! This can actually lead to the boys getting sick additionally, bed bugs might begin invading, which is actually a biological hazard and would be explained further down.

THE HOLES THAT WERE DUG WERE AN ACTUAL HAZARD

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Stanley driving Mr. Sir’s truck into the hole.

The holes are seen as a hazard since vehicles were passing there often. In one instance, Stanley stole the water truck and accidentally drove it into a hole. This hole had depth and could have caused injury to him such as his leg being pinned to the steering wheel or becoming trapped in the plunged vehicle. There was also the possibility of the water tank behind the truck crashing into the back screen of the vehicle. However, this is a Disney Channel movie, so there would be no major injury being shown but by using just your imagination and health and safety skills, it is easy to identify the hazards and the level of risk involved.

EXCESSIVE SUN AND HEAT EXPOSURE

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Warden requesting that the bottles be refilled

Throughout the camp, these guys were working in the humid temperatures with direct sun exposure which really posed a danger to their health. This can cause headaches, blackouts and worst case scenario skin cancer and skin irritations. The humid atmosphere left the guys dehydrated and having a short supply of water really did not help this case. When the guys finally found something valuable to the warden, only then were they treated to having their water bottles refilled on the same day… What a treat right? That was just for that day though…

Remember now, this land they worked on was miles and miles of dry desert land with no water source in any close range. In a particular scene when Zero and Stanley ran away from the camp, days went by without out them having anything to eat or drink. No water of course led to dehydration of Zero causing him to fall ill and vomit whatever was left in his stomach (ironically the peaches were his last ‘meal’ so maybe that may have had a little part to play in it!)

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Stanley carrying Zero on his back

This then led to Stanley having to carry him on his back. Yes Zero may be small…but Stanley also did not drink water or had anything to eat since the peaches incident. Therefore, in the heat and dehydration, it is only fair to say that Stanley can experience physical injury such as back and body pain as well as intense fatigue. This was also excess weight on his back and could have caused damage to his spine and put pressure on his legs as well.

DRINKING FROM A BROKEN JAR

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Stanley drinking from the broken glass jar

During a particular scene in the movie, one of the younger boys called Zero found a glass jar with preserved peaches which was actually years old… he proceeded to break the top of the glass jar and offered Stanley a drink of what he called ‘sploosh.’ This jar now not only contains sharp edges but there is also the possibility of fallen splinters within the jar of peaches. Nevertheless, because of his hunger, none of these hazards were of care to him. On top of which, they did not actually consider the danger of drinking or eating from the extremely dusty jar! They did not even consider the possibility that a jar of peaches that was there for so many years can do more harm than good. Guess satisfying a hunger ismore important than any potential hazards?

CUTS AND BRUISES

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Zero whacking Dr. Pedanski with a shovel

As the movie progressed, Zero becomes agitated by the ill-treatment and bullying he receives because they consider him to be ‘dumb’. When Stanley tries to defend Zero, Dr. Pedanski who isn’t even a real doctor at the camp, continues to mock him until Zero takes a shovel and whacks him across the face with it as seen above. This left him unconscious for a minute on the ground with an impression of cuts and bruises on his face.

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Cuts and Bruises (swollen eyes)

In addition, the picture above relates to a scene where they were trying to climb the mountain and Stanley slipped and Zero helped him up by using his shovel end which caused Zero to get damage and cause injury to his hand. As he held on to the metal part of the shovel, he had no gloves on for protection, therefore leading to his hands becoming cut and bruised. Of course, there was no way to possibly take care of this injury thus leading to Stanley unhygienically ripping a piece of cloth and tying it around the cut… this would definitely ensure that an infection would not occur, right? Another incident in which there were cuts was when Stanley now came unto the compound and had to dig his first hole. Upon doing this he finished work showing the other guys blisters on his hands and they casually responding how normal it was, those ‘Big- Fat- Blisters’. This alone shouts for the need of adequate safety gear as infections and sores are so easy to contract especially when working in such an unhygienic and unsafe environment.    

2. CHEMICAL HAZARDS –

CHEMICALS USED TO GET RID OF THE SMELL OF THE SHOES

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Stanley’s  father giving the mother a shoe to smell while she’s eating.

Exposure to chemicals in the workplace can cause acute or long-term detrimental health effects. In the beginning of the movie when the police entered Stanley’s home we saw dirty  shoes hanging from the kitchen and steam immersing from machines compressing them. The father was engaged in collecting old shoes from different persons  to invent a perfume to get rid of the smell from the shoes. Yes, you read that right, a perfume! The smell from the shoes can be very hazardous to the occupants living in the house since they came from smelly unsanitary shoes and may cause allergies and other nasal reactions. To make this perfume, he experimented with various chemicals and while he had on safety gear, he did all this in the kitchen! This is a dangerous hazard because it can be easy to get the chemicals mixed up with the food items and this is a serious health and safety issue. In addition to this, it was shown in the movie that the other renters were also complaining about the smell! Furthermore, the father did all his work using pots to soak the shoes… in the kitchen. That may be as unsanitary as it can get. He also hung the shoes on a line in the kitchen…

THE USE OF VENOMOUS NAIL POLISH

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Louise painting her nail with the snake venom in the polish

Further along in the movie the warden was using a nail polish which she said contained snake venom, a poisonous substance.  Louise proceeded to attack Mr Sir for disobeying her orders and scratched him with her nails which led to the snake venom burning the skin of Mr Sir’s face. Mr Sir could have suffered from numbness to the skin, blurred vision and he could have also developed difficulty breathing. As the movie continues his face was seen swollen and seemingly infected. Talk about venomous claws!

3.ERGONOMIC HAZARDS –

WORK POSITIONS

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Stanley sitting at the edge of the jole while Zero takes a break.

Ergonomic hazards occur when the type of work, body positions and working conditions put strain on your body. Ergonomic hazards were identified as Stanley and the other inmates developed bruises and constant strain from the use of the shovels considering that they dug hours, daily, with no proper protection of the hands, proper equipment for digging or even rest. As seen in the movie numerous times, the boys would be lying on the floor or sitting near the hole they were digging to rest. This could be a sign of them resisting the pain by taking rest on numerous occasions.

As some injuries were unidentified in the movie, one can say that with the strenuous work, constant movement of the body such as bending forward and continuous movement of the hands, as well as using the shovel daily for lengthy hours can cause injury to the body such as rotator cuff injuries and De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis. Rotator cuff injuries affect the shoulder more so, the muscles of the rotator cuff which help holds up the upper arms in the shoulder joint.  These muscles act on the bone, creating shoulder movement.  Repetitive strain injuries (RSI) can occur as these are a collection of injuries affecting tendons, tendon sheaths, muscles, nerves and joints. They cause persistent or recurring pains most commonly in the neck, shoulders, forearms, hands, wrists, elbows and lower limbs. These could be results of their everyday duties of digging holes without proper gear and protection, which most likely is what these boys endured at the time since they were not treating their injuries while engaging in strenuous activities.

4. BIOLOGICAL HAZARDS

REPTILE HAZARD

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Barfbag willingly let the rattlesnake bite him

The dry deserted plot of lands where the boys had to dig holes were plagued by what was called yellow spotted lizards, rattlesnakes and other dangerous creatures.  These deadly reptiles posed a serious threat to the lives of the young boys as they are toxic.  As the movie continued, one of the boys, Lewis, also known as ‘Barfbag’ was bitten by a rattlesnake causing him excruciating pain.  One might ask, why did the boy pushed his foot towards the rattlesnake despite the associated risks?  Many will not understand the frustration that comes along with working under such poor and harsh conditions where health and safety is not a priority.  Additionally, in the absence of proper protective clothing, where the boys were seen without footwear posed the risk of developing bacterial infections from other parasites that can be found within the dust and cracks in the ground.

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Yellow spotted lizard baring its teeth just before attacking

The lizards can be seen all over, in the holes where the boys were digging, on their work apparel and even  in the dorms. What made it so threatening is that these were not the average garden lizards, but the yellow spotted lizard. One bite from this creature and it is sudden death.

                                                        

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Venomous scorpion on Stanley’s bed

As the movie goes on, a scorpion was found on Stanley’s bed and no surprise as that environment is actually perfect for them.  This scorpion carries a potent venom that contact with it could have led to Stanley being stung and we all know where his luck resides… luckily however he was able to get away unharmed.

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Zero and Stanley enjoying onions

Frustration, tiredness and hopelessness caused the boys to reach their breaking point as Zero insisted he was not going back to Camp Greenlake.  They decided to climb to the top of the mountain because of Stanley’s great grandfather’s predicaments to which they were so happy when they heard the running water at the top. However, the water was muddy but because of their desperation, it was the best thing at that moment to quench their thirst. They drank the water and ate raw onions dugged from the river bank. This is a potential hazard simply because they were not even sure what type of vegetable it was but just thought it was the sweetest onion they ever ate. This could have turned out to be poisonous and detrimental to their health. It would be really difficult to digest such amount of onions in real life, the producers hinted however that candy apples were used to create the image of an onion, rather cool. Also, muddy water is known to be associated with dysentery, an infection in the intestine resulting in severe diarrhea.

5. PSYCHOLOGICAL HAZARDS –

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Bafbag putting himself in harms way to be killed by the snake rather than continuing to work

In this movie a lot of psychological hazards can be easily deciphered.. Having these young boys dig holes in an environment which can potentially lead to respiratory problems was one issue but the work itself was labour intensive. They had to work in harsh weather conditions with scorching climates in what is considered a desert like atmosphere, one of the characters known as ‘Barf bag’ looks at the almost empty water bottle and feels stress induced so much so that he actually goes up to a rattlesnake to be bitten and killed. This alone proves how stressful the work situation is that a young teenage boy willingly commits suicide just to get away from the stress. Therefore, this intensive work, the lack of water, the environment itself and the treatment of the boys places immense pressure on them, so much so that they can develop stress induced disorders, depression and many other psychological problems and even mental disorders.

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Stanley getting bullied by one of the boys

Ever since Stanley was detained in the camp, he was bullied by most of the boys there who referred to him as “fresh meat.”. On the first day he was beaten up and as the movie went on, we saw them taking away his food and they even took the artefact he found from digging which would have earned him a day off. The guys insisted that whatever he finds has to go to them and they took the credit for it. From a family of bad luck to being sent in such environment… talk about things going from bad to worst. Such treatment can potentially lead to depression, anxiety, eating disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder or even lead to a person to contemplate suicide.

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Mr Sir injecting fear into the boys

Apart from the work stress and being bullied, not just Stanley but all the boys were instilled with fear from the warden and Mr Sir. In the beginning Stanley can be seen trembling when spoken to by Mr Sir and was greeted with stories about a slow and painful death if he was bitten by a yellow lizard. Ironically, when he found himself in a hole with Zero, covered with these lizards, they did not bite him! What a turn of luck right? However, actually being told these stories and especially the treatment by the warden and Mr Sir can have traumatic psychological impacts on the boys. They can develop severe stress disorders, mental health issues as well as self esteem issues.

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Stanley and Zero are covered by the extremely deadly and poisonous yellow stripped lizards with the lost treasure

Zero and Stanley decided to go back to the desert to dig one final hole in search of the same treasure that Warden Walker  had generations of young men dig.  Zero and Stanley found a treasure box, with a great surprised that Standley’s name was engraved on the box, a generational treasure from Standley’s fore parents.  In pursuit of Zero and Stanley, they were discovered with the treasures by the supervisors who demanded that the box be handed over.  It was at this point, the most scariest to the boys, the lizards crawled on the boy’s skin and covered them keeping them in the position for a long drawn out period, here the boys had to remain calm without motion to avoid being bitten.  This created psychological hazards, a great fear in the minds of the boys where there was a high risks of them being bitten and poisoned by the lizards all this while the Supervisors secretly wishing that they be bitten but with great astonishment that they were not.


CONCLUSION  

Mr. Sir: “You take a bad boy and make him dig holes all day long in the hot sun, it makes him a good boy! That’s our philosophy here at Camp Green Lake.” The movie entices persons with all expectations, very original and intriguing but unfortunately consisted of many hazards within the film where in reality, could have been avoided, prevented or dealt with in accordance to the situation and applicable laws and regulations instead of being poorly addressed and mainly ignored. Physical, chemical, biological, psychological and ergonomic hazards were evident throughout the movie.

In terms of physical there was a lack of proper protective equipment such as gloves, helmets, footwear and face masks to offer protection from the vast amount of dust that threaten the health and safety of the boys.  However, as seen in the movie, the warden and supervisors disregarded simple safety,  welfare and health requirements and regulations by allowing young persons to be subjected to such harsh and imminent conditions without adequate equipment for ensuring safety and health, and basic welfare requirement by providing clean and sufficient drinking water and even restrooms. Furthermore there were no provision of any medical equipment or emergency aids in the event something were to happen to one of the boys. The OSH Act of T&T (2004) as amended (2006) part 7 section 39 – 45 b speaks in regards to the welfare of persons including drinking water, facilities first aid appliances and restrooms and lunchrooms to name a few. These recommendations and methods could have successfully prevented the occurrence of the physical hazards.

As for the biological hazards, to highlight the main hazard here, Camp Greenlake was filled with venomous rattlesnakes and yellow spotted lizards that threatened the safety and health of the boys. One single bite from either or could lead to the sudden death and it definitely showed that the nearest hospital was nowhere in sight. When ‘Barf Bag’ was bitten, he never returned, for he was replaced by Stanley. Not to mention that Dr. Pedanski was not even a real doctor. Therefore, it should be recommended and said that, the Camp needed a proper medical facility or someone professionally trained in the medical field.

With regards to the chemical hazards, these were seen where Stanley’s dad was using chemical products in his kitchen as well as the warden also made her own special nail polish consisting of rattlesnake venom which she then proceeded to injure Mr. Sir with it. These situations could have been prevented or avoided if proper action took place such as a separate room to conduct his experiments as well as proper health facilities again, such as a first aid kit, to ensure that Mr. Sir was treated. He should have been rushed to the hospital as he was poisoned but this could not be done. Proper inspection should have been done so that there would not have been those substances for such use on the compound.

According to the OSH Act of T&T (2004) as amended (2006), it shall be the duty of every employer to ensure the safety, health and welfare at work of all his employees.  In the Act it further states that no young person shall work at a machine unless he has been fully instructed as to the dangers arising in connection with its operation and precautions observed. In addition to this the OSH Act of T&T (2004) as amended (2006) under the duties of the employer speaks to the proper treatment of chemicals, its labelling and safe keeping and can be kept in mind to ensure the extinction of these hazards.

The psychological hazards mainly involved the bullying of Stanley, the impact of the work environment on the boys and the ill treatment of the boys by Mr Sir. These can severely affect the boy’s mental health and can lead to the development of stress disorders, mental disorders like bipolar, depression and even lead to the development of suicidal tendencies. As a kids movie it is meant to entertain however, once these psychological issues are brought to the forefront one cannot see past it. In order to deal with this, there could be team building exercises to bring the boys closer and even have counselor on the camp in event the boys or even the warden need counseling.

Ergonomic hazards were present as Stanley and the other inmates were bruised and received constant strain from the use of the shovels as they dug daily for hours with no proper protection of the hands, proper equipment for digging or even rest. In reality, what could have been recommended to avoid and prevent these hazards is if proper equipment and working gear was allocated such as gloves. Proper facilities such as resting grounds were needed so that they can get the adequate amount of rest needed instead of constantly being trapped in their holes and continuously engaging in strenuous labour intensive work without proper rest in between.

Therefore while the movie is meant to provide a belly full of laughs and tears of joy, as students of Occupational Safety and Health Management, the potential hazards are not to be taken lightly or overlooked. Upon presenting such recommendations, we can ensure that the majority of these hazards are eliminated and the level of risk involved is reduced.


References

Holes GIFs – Find & Share on GIPHY.” GIPHY. Accessed September 30, 2016. http://giphy.com/search/holes.

“Holes Movie Part 2.” YouTube. April 30, 2011. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YRFCJCYT-sI.

“Holes Movie Part 3.” YouTube. April 30, 2011. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZjwhQRlATYs.

“Holes Movie Part 8.wmv.” YouTube. April 30, 2011. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TlnH8FkbfYs.

“Holes Part 1.” YouTube. April 30, 2011. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VmM6YjrDauo.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration – Home. Accessed September 29, 2016. https://www.osha.gov/dte/grant_materials/fy10/sh-20839-10/circle_chart.pdf.

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Author: safetyofficers2016

Hey everyone! So, this is our chance to tell the ‘world’ who we are and what is our purpose. Together, we are eight (8) student bloggers that make up the ‘UWI Safety Officers.’ By reference, our blog posts stream from the brainstorming and ideas posted by: Chantal, Shaymalyn, Zak, Shenade, Celine, Shawn, Lovish and Manisha. Our contribution here hopes to enlighten all our readers on some of the most interesting and vital topics that surround health and safety. Keep posted for our blogs and don’t forget to share and leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you. Thanks for reading!

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