Hygiene Stories

Flour a main cause of occupational asthma: Study

Written by COS staff Tuesday, 30 September 2014 09:47
Flour has been identified as the main cause of occupational asthma in France, closely followed by cleaning products.

Breathing for 2

Written by Stefan Dubowski Monday, 01 September 2014 00:00
Without proper respiratory protection, moms-to-be face risks of birth defects, complications

When Meredith Corman worked at a medical marijuana processing plant in Flin Flon, Man., a few years ago, she wore a surgical mask to keep dried plant particles from entering her lungs. When she became pregnant, she and her employer stepped up the respiratory protection. 

“When the marijuana was dry, I would have trouble with my breathing,” Corman recalls. So managers had her work more on the growing side of the facility and less on the processing side. On the growing side, there was less dust and the work didn’t irritate her lungs as much. Her employer, Saskatoon-based Prairie Plant Systems, also regularly sent inspectors to check the facility’s air quality. Hudbay Minerals, which owned the property, monitored air quality as well. 

Corman’s daughter is now seven years old and in good health. 

Corman and her employer were right to concern themselves with respiratory health. If a pregnant worker has trouble breathing, her fetus may become oxygen deprived. The worst cases can result in a condition known as intrauterine hypoxia and lead to premature birth, low birth rate or cardiac and circulatory birth defects.  

Pregnant workers face these risks in a variety of industries, including pharmaceuticals, health care and mining. 

Breathing difficulties aren’t the only hazard for pregnant workers and their fetuses.  Workers can also inhale dangerous drugs that cause birth defects.  

For example, pregnant nurses who administer aerosolized pentamidine and aerosolized ribavirin to pneumonia patients put their fetuses at risk of developing physiological abnormalities, according to Marion Rita Alex, an associate professor at Saint Francis Xavier University School of Nursing in Antigonish, N.S. Pregnant workers can also inhale dangerous gases. Sandra Dorman, associate professor of human kinetics at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ont., has studied respiratory dangers for pregnant workers in mining. She says some of the worst hazards come from diesel engines used to power vehicles on mining sites.  

“Some of the byproducts of the exhaust are particulate matter and the particulate is a Class-1 carcinogen. But there’s also carbon monoxide and the nitrogen oxide family. They’re all hazardous.” 

Carbon monoxide is probably “the scariest one,” Dorman says. The gas is common and has an enormous effect on fetal development. She explains that fetal hemoglobin — the substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen — is different from adult hemoglobin. In the fetus, hemoglobin is designed to capture oxygen from the mother’s blood rather than from the air. That enhanced ability to capture applies to carbon monoxide as well, which is dangerous. If a pregnant woman inhales carbon monoxide, the gas is completely concentrated in the fetus.  

“And it takes a long time to unbind, so you’re basically inducing hypoxia,” Dorman says. “In a normally ventilated mining environment, carbon monoxide levels shouldn’t cause significant adverse effects.” 

But if the vents fail or carbon monoxide builds up for some reason, supplied-air respirators, face masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) can help filter the toxins and allow the worker to get herself and her unborn child to safety. 

Problems with PPE

That said, respirators are complicated for the pregnant worker. 

“(They are) breathing for two,” Dorman says. “They have to bring in more oxygen and expel more carbon dioxide. At the same time, the baby is growing and pressing up into the (mother’s) lungs.”  

As the baby grows, mom can’t draw air as far down into her lungs. This is why women in the third trimester sometimes feel breathless. The condition may be exacerbated if the worker wears a respirator.  

“With a respirator, you may have to generate extra force to breathe,” Dorman says. The harder it is for someone to breathe, the more tired that person’s breathing muscles will become, more quickly.  

“The concern is if you’re fatigued and you don’t take in enough oxygen or push out enough carbon dioxide, it’s going to be worse for the fetus than for the mom.”
 
Respirator fit is another challenge, according to the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  

“Some respirators must be fitted to your face to make a tight seal,” the organization says on its website. “Weight changes, including weight gained during pregnancy, can affect how a respirator fits. If a respirator does not fit correctly, it may not protect you… We suggest talking to your doctor and safety office to make sure you can wear your respirator safely and correctly throughout pregnancy.” 

Sometimes PPE just won’t cut it at all. In 2011 the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which represents 474,000 public sector employees across Canada, issued a health and safety bulletin about cytotoxic drugs, which are used in chemotherapy treatment. These drugs may cause tumors and damage or alter DNA. According to the union, the only safe exposure level is zero, and it recommended employers reassign pregnant workers to tasks that don’t expose them to these drugs. 

Speak up sooner

Even if PPE isn’t always the solution, information certainly plays a key role. For instance, although they usually don’t disclose their pregnancies to employers until after the first trimester, women might want to reconsider that common practice. 

“A lot of the critical fetal development occurs in the first trimester,” Dorman says. “That’s the time when the fetus develops its spinal cord, brain and heart, as well as other key organs.”
 
If a pregnant employee’s work involves substances that are dangerous to a fetus, exposure could be especially damaging during those first few months.

Of course, part of the reason a worker doesn’t want to tell her employer before 12 weeks about her pregnancy is that the risk of a miscarriage is high in that time, Dorman notes.  

“You don’t want to tell people you’re pregnant and then have to explain that you’re no longer pregnant in the worst case. Still, I would encourage people to go see their occupational support personnel, such as the hygienist, for advice,” she says. “And I think it’s important for the employer to provide information about who employees can contact to confidentially disclose their pregnancies, so best practices can be implemented immediately.” 

Accommodation

Accommodating pregnant workers need not be difficult. In fact, doing so should be a matter of regular health and safety procedures. That was the situation for Stacey Ritz when she studied at McMaster University in Hamilton. Her PhD research involved examining the molecular and cellular pathways of early allergic responses in the lungs to understand the triggers that lead to allergic disease.  

Part of her work involved extracting RNA from cells and tissues to analyze gene activation. One standard protocol for RNA extraction involves the use of a chemical solution called TRIzol, which contains phenol and chloroform to help separate the various compounds. Phenol and chloroform have adverse effects on the lungs and the central nervous system in humans, and there is some evidence they may increase the risk of birth defects or miscarriage, Ritz explains.
 
So she always used the fume hood when conducting these experiments.  

“When I became pregnant, toward the end of my PhD, I didn’t change my behaviour because we were already taking precautions to protect ourselves from these chemicals.” 

Companies should keep these matters in mind when creating pregnant-worker policies to help ensure employees stay safe and their children arrive without experiencing detrimental effects from damaging gases, drugs and other airborne hazards.  

And what Corman says of her daughter is what every employer wants to hear: “She’s smart, energetic and healthy. I don’t think my work had any effect on her.”
 
Stefan Dubowski is a freelance writer based in Ottawa. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . 

This article originally appeared in the August/September 2014 issue of COS.


A matter of inches

Written by Stefan Dubowksi Wednesday, 13 August 2014 00:00
Emergency eyewash stations must be fully accessible for workers with disabilities

 Employees who get refrigerant, battery acid or any other caustic chemicals in their eyes generally have just 10 to 15 seconds to reach an emergency wash station. Speed is of the essence when you need to flush away a corrosive substance before it does serious damage.

That’s why across Canada, organizations that use hazardous substances must provide emergency wash facilities. And the rules for these stations are spelled out loud and clear in provincial occupational health and safety regulations. Less obvious, however, is the need for these wash facilities to be fully accessible to people with physical disabilities.

Although Canada has no specific regulations regarding accessible emergency wash facilities, your organization may be courting a lawsuit if it fails to make them available. Consider these points of national and provincial law:

• The Canadian Human Rights Act makes it illegal to discriminate based on sex, race, nationality or disability. That means if you have wash facilities for able-bodied people, you should have wash facilities for people with disabilities, too.

• The Employment Equity Act states that organizations shall “correct the conditions of disadvantage in employment experienced by… persons with disabilities.”

• The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) stipulates barrier-free access to buildings, facilities, communications and other aspects of everyday life at organizations across Ontario. Private and public sector companies that violate the act’s regulations could face fines.

AODA is specific to one province, of course, but according to Jessica Young, a lawyer at Stringer law firm in Toronto, employers throughout Canada will probably have to follow similar rules soon.

“I think this is something we’re going to see in every province,” she says of the Ontario legislation.

Claudio Dente, president of Dentec Safety Specialists in Newmarket, Ont., points out companies would be wise to invest in accessible emergency wash facilities, even if they have no employees with disabilities today. If an organization doesn’t install accessible facilities “and they employ somebody thereafter who needs accessible systems, they have a problem,” he says.

From Dente’s point of view, this is no different than the situation employers face with other accessibility measures.

“If your business has a building in Canada, you have to have a certain number of handicap parking spots depending on the number of employees.”

The same principle applies to emergency wash stations.

“If you have employees who are handicapped, you have to make arrangements to ensure they have accessibility to protective products, including emergency eye washes,” says Dente.

But employers in this country don’t face legislative requirements common in other places. In the United States, for instance, the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compels organizations to ensure no one faces discrimination for a disability. Many resources and guides with information about accessible emergency wash facilities point to the ADA as an important measure.

Canada has no overarching disability legislation comparable to the ADA. But the current federal government did promise to develop a Canadians with Disabilities Act, says Mary Ann McColl, academic lead of the Canadian Disability Policy Alliance at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.

“There was some pressure to go that way after the British, the Australians and the Americans — all our policy comparators — went the route of having anti-discrimination acts. But our government hasn’t.”

Does that mean Canadian organizations might be able to get away with ignoring accessible emergency facilities? Unlikely, according to McColl. She points out the various federal and provincial laws work together to effectively require Canadian organizations to install accessible emergency washes.

Guidelines for accessible wash stations

Start with the American National Standards Institute’s (ANSI) Z-358.1-2009. This standard offers guidelines for installing emergency wash facilities. It discusses the need for wash systems that can be activated within one second and the need for facilities to be placed where people can get to them within 10 seconds after coming into contact with a harmful substance. Most provincial and territorial occupational health and safety regulations for emergency wash facilities reference Z-358.1 as a recommendation. Manitoba goes one step further and specifies the standard as a requirement.

Follow Z-358.1 and you can rest assured your facilities meet basic best practices. But the standard only offers guidelines for general use, not details for accessibility in particular. For that, look at ANSI 117.1-2009. It talks about the necessary knee clearance for someone using a wheelchair to get close enough to an eyewash and face wash station to use it effectively. The standard also indicates just how far shower heads and spray heads should be from the floor and the wall to afford barrier-free access.

Combine Z-358.1 and 117.1 and you’ll understand the essentials of accessibility. Emergency wash manufacturer Guardian Equipment has done the math and offers the following ideal measurements.

For eyewash and face wash systems:

• Minimum knee clearance: 68.6 cm
• Maximum spray head height: 91.4 cm
• Distance from wall or barrier: 93.2 cm to 98.3 cm.

For showers:

• Maximum pull-rod handle distance from floor: 121.9 cm
• Ideal shower head distance from floor: 208.3 cm to 243.8 cm.

“There’s nothing in the industry to indicate what manufacturers need to do to ensure their products are barrier-free and ADA compliant,” says Travis McKnight, Guardian’s Chicago-based regional sales manager for Eastern Canada. “So we looked at the dimensions for ADA-compliant drinking fountains and bathing showers and used those, such as 27-inch (68.6 cm) knee clearance, or less than a 5-pound force to activate, or no more than 121.9 cm for the pull rod.”

Watch Ontario’s law for pointers

AODA includes accessibility measures all organizations should take — even those outside Ontario. Stringer lawyer Young points out that AODA regulations call on companies to create accessibility policies that ensure disabled employees can access emergency facilities and take part in emergency measures. If an organization has emergency wash facilities, for example, the accessibility policy should include information on how to help disabled employees access the wash stations. The policy may indicate another employee must provide assistance.

AODA regulations also require public sector organizations to consider accessibility when acquiring goods and services — another excellent reason to think about barrier-free wash stations.

All in all, the AODA aims to remove the barriers that people with disabilities face in five areas: customer service, employment, information and communication, transportation and the built environment. The provincial government means to ensure all Ontario organizations are barrier-free by 2025, says Young.

Organizations across the province are required to provide accessibility solutions, but the deadlines for compliance differ according to organization size and sector (public versus private).

To determine deadlines and requirements for your organization, visit Ontario.ca/accessON. The interactive tool on the website considers your sector and the size of your organization to pinpoint what you have to do and when.

The standards rollout process began with customer service regulations, which all Ontario organizations must meet. These rules require, among other things, that entities remove barriers that prevent people with disabilities from obtaining, using or benefiting from goods or services. Other mandatory measures are part of an integrated standard that the government is introducing in phases.

Certain elements of the integrated standard came into effect on Jan. 1, 2014. Public sector and large private sector organizations (such as those with 50 or more employees) are supposed to have:

• policies that demonstrate commitment to accessibility
• accessibility plans that outline concrete steps to remove accessibility barriers.

“That’s one that caught some employers off-guard,” Young says of the requirement for accessibility plans. Many of her clients were under the impression that since they had already provided for customer service accessibility, they met all of the AODA standards. But the need for an accessibility plan is separate from the customer service standard.

Choose barrier-free products

Many wash station manufacturers offer barrier-free options. Guardian sells a range of accessible products including GBF 1909, a combined eyewash and face wash and shower facility that meets accessibility standards.

Another manufacturer, Speakman, recently introduced its Optimus line of eyewash stations. Each product comes with all the hardware you need to install it at wheelchair or standard height.

According to Imants Stiebris, director of global safety sales in New Castle, Del., Optimus not only meets the accessibility standards but it also meets Speakman’s own corporate requirements for supply chain efficiency.

“We’ve always sold a wheelchair-accessible product on its own, but as a company, we’re trying to minimize the boxes we have on the market,” he says. “So we want to put as many features as we can into one box.”

Stefan Dubowski is a freelance writer based in Ottawa. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  

This article originally appeared in the June/July 2014 issue of COS.


No sooner does summer arrive then weather stations are issuing heat advisories. For some workers, the heat is a serious occupational hazard.
<< Start < Prev 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Next > End >>
Page 1 of 8

COS1296-2014 Oil-and-Gas-web-ad Final
New online automotive lift training program http://t.co/kI1D5LCkhs @WSPS_NEWS
Ontario co-op student killed at work placement http://t.co/3FYWzUNo9e #youngworkersafety
Minimizing the impact of an infectious disease outbreak http://t.co/3ia795b3Gu @CCOHS #Ebola
Driver distraction contributing factor in Ottawa bus crash last year: TSB http://t.co/ZRja6ZjlBZ
Flour a main cause of occupational asthma: Study http://t.co/DtwAts2lAC