Hygiene Stories

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.
(Reuters) — The United States Senate is wrestling over whether to repeal federal regulations that require truck drivers to take nighttime rest breaks, with some lawmakers arguing the rules have led to more daytime accidents while others saying they are critical to relieving fatigue.

Breaking the mould

Written by Vawn Himmelsbach Monday, 16 June 2014 00:00
Wood, upholstery and ceiling tiles are just a few places where dangerous mould could be hiding

In December 2013, a vicious ice storm swept across Eastern Canada, from Ontario to the Maritimes. Frozen and burst pipes, water leaks, broken drainage systems, roof destruction and flooding were just some of the issues it left in its tracks, causing a total of $3.2 billion in damages, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada. 

Whether it’s a natural disaster or a run-of-the-mill water leak, employers might find themselves with a lingering problem: mould. 

There are many varieties of mould, with many varying effects. We eat mould (such as blue cheese). We make medicine from fungus (such as penicillin). But some forms
produce dangerous mycotoxins — toxins that slowly wear down the immune system, which can lead to respiratory problems.


Moisture or high-humidity environments can result in the growth of mould, fungus or yeast, and that can pose a serious hazard in the workplace.

And exposure to a biological contaminant is a personal hot button to most people. If people think they’re breathing something that’s unsafe, they tend to have a strong emotional reaction, says Christopher Liddy, occupational health and safety specialist with the Hamilton, Ont.-based Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS).

Negative reactions

In most cases, someone who reacts to mould will experience asthma-like symptoms: runny nose, nasal congestion, eye irritation, cough or congestion, rashes, headaches, fatigue or the aggravation of asthma. 

In rare cases it can lead to hypersensitivity meningitis (scarring of the lungs). In other cases, there are no symptoms whatsoever.

But workers with a poor or weakened immune system (such as someone going through chemotherapy) could be at risk of developing a fungal infection.

Regardless, “you don’t want to have an office where you have a sinus headache all the time,” says Bruce Stewart, senior vice-president, indoor air quality and laboratory services, at Pinchin Environmental in Mississauga, Ont. 

Compared to hazards like asbestos, which can cause disease 30 years later, exposure to mould will have an immediate health effect, he says.

But mould is fairly ubiquitous in that it’s almost everywhere — there are mould spores in the air we breathe, says Liddy. To be a problem in a building, there has to be the presence of mould combined with a source of nutrient and moisture. Unlike many chemicals, there isn’t always a cut-and-dry answer about how to handle it and determine if it is dangerous or not. 

“There does tend to be a perception  that there is one type of mould — it’s black and it’s really bad,” says Liddy. “(But) there’s so much variation.”

There’s no magic number, no safe or unsafe level, adds Weston Henry, principal and senior occupational hygienist at Safetech Environmental in Mississauga, Ont. 

Assessment

Assessing the workplace for mould often comes down to comparison sampling and interpretation of results, says Henry. But because mould can vary over space and time — some become active at certain times of the day or certain periods of the year — employers can’t haphazardly collect samples, says Liddy. That further complicates the issue.

He recommends developing a sampling plan. For instance, if there was a water leak in the building last week and you suspect there might be mould causing symptoms in employees, test that theory by taking samples, testing the air and testing the wall to see if there’s moisture.

Consider hiring a consultant because this process could involve employees divulging personal medical information, says Liddy.

Consultants also rely on visual assessment activities, such as signs of water damage, staining and peeling.

But mould doesn’t have to be visible to cause problems. 

You might not see anything on the surface of the wall, but the back of the drywall might be covered in mould, which could be causing an issue for some individuals, says Henry.

In many cases, consultants use a moisture meter to take readings of drywall, wood framing or flooring surfaces. They may even use thermal imaging cameras for a recent flood or leak.

Mould can also hide in upholstery, fabric and drapery, under carpeting, behind wallpaper, on ceiling tiles, around leaking pipes, even inside ductwork. But finding hidden mould is tricky; if disturbed, it could release spores.

Even if it’s dead, mould can still be hazardous; it can contain mycotoxins, even if it’s not giving off spores.

Typically, there will be more than one type of mould present. When Pinchin consultants analyze mould growth back in the lab, they often find many types of mould growing on the same material, says Stewart.

Because there are no federal Canadian regulations for mould, many professionals follow guidelines for assessment and remediation from the Environmental Protection Agency, American Industrial Hygiene Association and the New York City Department of Health, as well as Mould Guidelines for the Canadian Construction Association.

Cleanup

Cleaning up mould isn’t straightforward either.

Controls vary on the level of infestation, as well as other factors. In general, a minor cleanup could involve using a disposable respirator, glove and eye protection. For larger remediation projects, most experts advise hiring a trained professional. This could involve isolating the
space with plastic sheeting, sealing ventilation ducts and using an exhaust fan with a HEPA filter to create
negative pressure.


It also depends on the site itself. Is it in a children’s cancer ward or in an unoccupied parking lot? Is it on a piece of metal (where you can unscrew it and carry it out of the building) or is it growing on the carpet that’s glued to the floor (which means if you shred the carpet, it could spread spores)?

During remediation, employers might consider using materials that are less susceptible to mould, such as drywall with fiberglass backing. But it may involve more extensive work, such as re-insulating the building or waterproofing the foundation.

Yet another issue is that mould removal is not a regulated profession, so it’s buyer beware when hiring a consultant or remediation contractor, says Liddy. Sometimes they’ll give advice but not specific recommendations.

Liddy recommends reviewing several consultants based on education and experience; some may be a certified industrial hygienist with a PhD and 20 years’ experience, while others  may have taken a weekend course.

Prevention

Once removed, measures should be taken to prevent the mould from returning. Know the risk factors: water leaks, condensation, humidity or moisture, says Liddy. Building maintenance staff or other appropriate workers should also be trained to identify risks.

Employers should ensure they control humidity with air conditioners or dehumidifiers; keep the building’s HVAC systems in good repair; insulate cold surfaces to prevent condensation on piping, windows, exterior walls, roofs and floors; clean up any floods immediately (within 24 to 48 hours); and do not install carpet around fountains, sinks, bathtubs, showers or directly on top of concrete floors that are prone to leaks or condensation.

If underlying issues are not addressed, the mould will likely come back. 

“I have consulted with a few organizations where that happens,” says Liddy. “The organization has spent large sums of money, lost productivity, goes through this hassle — and then they have to go through it again.”

Vawn Himmelsbach is a freelance writer based in Toronto. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

 
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