Hygiene Stories (79)

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.


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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Ground control

Written by Amanda Silliker Thursday, 29 May 2014 09:09
From high-voltage systems to irate customers, airport workers face many hazards outside and inside the terminal

On Oct. 27, 2011, a Northern Thunderbird Air Beechcraft departed from Vancouver International Airport destined for Kelowna, B.C. About 15 minutes after takeoff, the plane diverted back to Vancouver because of an oil leak. But when the aircraft was about 300 feet above ground level, it suddenly banked left and pitched nose-down just outside the airport fence. 

The plane crashed and caught fire, killing the two pilots and seriously injuring the seven passengers on board.

At the time of the incident, members of the Vancouver Airport Authority’s emergency services team — who are trained as aircraft rescue firefighters and first responders — rushed to the scene. 

“Their training kicked in and they got to the location and delivered their payload of foam to minimize any fires, and they proceeded with Richmond Fire-Rescue to extract the passengers,” says Dan Strand, manager of health and safety at the Vancouver Airport Authority (VAA) in Richmond, B.C., adding the emergency responders also worked closely with the BC Ambulance Service and the RCMP. 

In addition to providing emergency services, airport authority workers are responsible for customer service, maintenance, engineering and operations at airports across the country. With Canadian airports getting busier every year — 12 of the 16 busiest airports reported an increase in passenger traffic in 2013 — authorities need to make sure they are protecting their workers from the variety of hazards they face. But doing so is becoming an increasingly solitary task.

Previously, all airports in Canada were regulated under Transport Canada. In 1992 the airport authorities model was born. One of the issues that arose from this change is that airport authorities can operate in silos and there is a lack of information-sharing, says Dave Clark, regional vice-president, Pacific, of the Union of Canadian Transportation Employees (UCTE) in Vancouver.

 “If there was an injury at one airport, we could see the trend across Canada through our health and safety meetings with Transport Canada,” he says. “Even though it is the same equipment, same issues, (now) information is not flowing across all airports.”

Noise exposure

Airport authorities need to ensure they have programs in place to protect their workers from high levels of noise. Under the Canada Labour Code (CLC) — which regulates airport authorities — employers are required to do a noise hazard assessment of the workplace. 

The maximum permitted steady noise level for a full eight-hour shift is 87 decibels (dBA), according to the CLC. Because a worker’s exposure to noise levels may vary throughout the day, this is the permissible time-weighted average noise exposure. 

A variety of airside vehicle traffic, oftentimes pulling equipment, is a common source of noise. For example, the noise level of a tug pulling baggage carts can be measured up to 97 dBA from the edge of apron roadways. Aircrafts maneuvering in the airfield can also generate significant noise of more than 90 dBA when taxiing or during engine run-ups. 

Fortunately, much of the noise exposure is transient, it moves from location to location, and it is not continuous over long durations. 

“(And) proximity is protective. You’re not right beside a fully operational aircraft. They taxi and there’s some noise there but your distance is what’s protective,” says Strand.

High levels of noise exposure is an issue for anyone working in the airside environment. VAA has a hearing conservation program in place for affected workers, such as maintenance employees, airfield emergency services and airside safety officers. They are provided with custom-fit hearing protection and dosimeters to measure noise exposure. These employees are also required to undergo annual audiometric testing. Of the airport authority’s 400 employees, about 100 are involved in this program. 

To reduce noise exposure, the Halifax International Airport Authority (HIAA) tries to co-ordinate the shifts of its maintenance staff so they are working at times when there is not as much loud activity, says Michael Rantala, manager of safety and environment at HIAA in Enfield, N.S.

“Hearing is a big component for any activity, and reasonably, if your hearing becomes reduced, then that can also put you at additional risks and hazards just because of the nature of our business,” he says. “Doing work on airside, there’s a lot of radio traffic, so ensuing that communication is clear, concise and you understand it because of the high risk nature (is important).”

Airports often exceed the noise exposure limits, says Jim Fidler, a health and safety consultant based in Thunder Bay, Ont., so  they need to have proper controls in place. He also recommends airport authorities do a hearing assessment of each employee upon hire. 

High-voltage hazards

High-voltage hazards are a reality all airport authorities face. For example, airport runway systems for high visibility and low visibility have increased in complexity over recent years, and the voltages have risen exponentially, says Clark.

Electrical hazards is one of the top safety concerns Craig Richmond, president and CEO of VAA, has for his workforce. As the largest building complex in British Columbia, the airport has multiple voltages fed from BC Hydro, as well as uninterruptible power supplies and secondary power supplies which range from 64kV down to 240/120V. The authority maintains more than 160 electrical rooms and multiple remote kiosks.

“When you think about the pressure that can happen — it’s a foggy, rainy night, the lights are out on one of the runways, people are working — I just want to make sure they’re going about this very deliberately, following all the lock-out rules because this is very inherently dangerous stuff, high-voltage electricity,” he says. 

In 2002 an electrician died at the Edmonton airport by putting his hand into a box and getting arced. Airport authorities are starting to talk about this, but arc training has yet to evolve, says Clark.

“When things happen, they’re coming up with new subjects on how to deal with it, but it’s not really defined on the proper safe practices, which for an airport environment, people are working on generators and electrical systems that could kill you with one touch — and the arcing one, you don’t even have to touch it,” says Clark.

VAA has recognized it has more work to do in this area, so it is embarking on a significant arc and shock electrical safety initiative that puts the airport authority in compliance with some best practices, says Strand. It is updating work practices, providing state of the art personal protective equipment (PPE) to electricians, conducting audits, and refreshing online and instructor-led training. 

Collisions

An airport operator’s biggest worry is always an aircraft and obstacle collision, whether that obstacle is fixed (such as a building) or moving (such as snowplows or baggage tugs), says Richmond. 

“We spend a lot of time and a lot of effort minimizing the number of people who are allowed to drive on the airfield and training them extensively and having very careful rules,” he says. 

An airport is a highly regulated environment and there are various locations within its design that are restricted. If workers drive vehicles beyond certain spots without permission, they are potentially putting themselves into high-risk situations, such as entering an active runway where there is an aircraft on approach, says Halifax’s Rantala. 

“There are numerous vehicles that are working in that same space, so we do have processes and procedures around who has the right-of-way, who has clearances and all the training and awareness that goes with that,” he says. 

Any employee who is driving a vehicle on the apron needs to receive an Airside Vehicle Operator Permit, which trains the workers on all possible hazards and includes a practical test that gives them the licence to drive out there. 

Exposure to jet blast

Driver training also extensively covers jet blast.

“If you’re driving a vehicle or walking in that area, you never go behind an aircraft that has their engines running,” says Rantala. “If you don’t know about jet blast, you may not recognize it and it can cause significant damage for sure.”

Jet blast is something VAA discusses ad nauseum with existing and new employees, says Strand. 

“When an airplane takes off or turns, there’s hurricane-level wind force… It has even been known to topple vehicles,” he says. “And if there are any artifacts or items that get blown up, they become a significant hazard.”

Every year, the VAA conducts a foreign object debris walk. Employees gather one morning at 4:30 a.m. to walk the airfield and aircraft movement areas to collect garbage or loose debris that could be picked up by an aircraft. 

Construction hazards

Nearly all major airports across Canada are undergoing construction. This poses a safety concern for the public and workers because airports still need to be open during the construction process. 

According to the union, many of these construction projects do not take the health and safety of the airport workers into consideration. During the actual building process, there have been multiple examples where debris has fallen through the roof and landed near workers and passengers, says Clark. He recommends a more collaborative approach between the provincially regulated contractors and the federally regulated airport authorities. 

“(Airport authority) heath and safety inspections have to actually go into these work sites also because they have an affect on airport workers,” he says. “Just because they fence it off, it does not create it as a new property; it’s still a part of the same working environment.”

Even during the design phase, contractors are not thinking about how airport workers will use the spaces after construction, says Clark. For example, the Vancouver airport is retrofitting a $65-million baggage system into an already established building and some areas of the system are only four feet high. This means some workers need to climb under, over or around equipment to do their jobs. 

“They are bumping their heads, so we’ve put foam on almost every possible thing, because it’s constructed by people who are not actually using it and they’re not actually building it ergonomically,” says Clark.

Front-line workers

Airport authorities have front-line workers, such as terminal duty officers and customer service employees. With an average of seven million passengers travelling through Canada’s top 16 busiest airports last year, front-line workers need to be prepared to deal with the public. 

These workers need to be particularly aware of potential heath issues. When the SARS crisis happened in 2003, for example, some airport workers felt the masks they were given were inadequate and they had not received enough information about the pandemic, says Fidler.

“You have to inform employees of all the hazards in the workplace, including potential or real hazards, and a lot of employers don’t do that,” he says. “Sometimes all it takes is a safety committee meeting or an email to do that. And if there is a hazard, an employer has to deal with it, and if it requires PPE, it has to provide it and train employees on how to use it.”

Front-line workers are also susceptible to workplace violence, as they often have to deal with angry passengers. 

In May 2008 the federal government implemented Violence Prevention in the Work Place Regulations. All federally regulated employers, including airports, are now required to take measures to eliminate violent acts toward employees.

 “They have to be trained in violence prevention measures, how to de-escalate. You’ve got to be able to say ‘OK, Jim, calm down, I know you’re upset.’ They have to be trained in how to do it,” says Fidler. 

Workers at HIAA are trained on when to call the on-site RCMP to step in. 

Fall hazards

All airport authorities face fall hazards, such as when workers are conducting maintenance on roofs, lights, cameras or the automated bridges that connect aircrafts to the terminal buildings.

The workers in Vancouver face a particular risk because the airport is on an island and has runway lighting piers that extend into the water.

“Employees need to go out and maintain the lights and infrastructure on these piers, so a fall hazard exists (because) the employees could fall into the water and the marsh, and a possible drowning hazard exists,” says Strand.

Security issues

Working in an airport means employees need to be aware of potential security risks. The HIAA, which has 180 workers, has an “eye watch” program where workers are encouraged to call a number to report anything suspicious, such as an unattended bag, says Rantala. 

All workers also receive a half-day security training session that covers the various security concerns present at an airport. 

Airport authority workers have special badging that indicates what areas of the airport they can access. If they are going post-security, they undergo similar screening as passengers, and they are subject to random searches as well, says Strand. 

Getting workers on board

VAA’s most common injuries are related to the back. To combat this, back injuries were the focus of its annual president’s award in 2013. The award recognizes two high-risk and two low-risk teams that have implemented excellent and innovative safety plans. 

“(Back injuries) cut across the entire company — if you’re lifting a big stack of paper or lifting a piece of equipment, your back is really important,” says Richmond. “People are thinking ‘How can I put in a good program that actually makes people involved?’ And there’s some competition; (workers) want to win that award.” 

No matter what position they hold — from customer service to maintenance — workers at the Vancouver Airport Authority are encouraged to take their time doing their job and make sure they are doing it safely. 

For example, the Vancouver airport moves almost 100,000 bags on a busy day. When part of the system is down, maintenance workers are under a lot of pressure to get it back up and running.

“(They are told to) make sure the part you’re working on is locked-out so that it can’t possibly get restarted when someone is in there replacing a motor or a belt,” says Richmond. “It’s a deliberate, very calm, very studied approach and don’t let the time pressures make you do something stupid. We can hack another two or three minutes of that belt being down for you to make sure that everything is safe.”

VAA and HIAA both have non-punitive reporting processes in place, where workers are urged to report any health and safety concerns they see.  

“They can put their hand up and say ‘OK, I’m a little bit worried about it, I think we should stop and take a look’ or ‘That was a close call, I need to report it,’ and there is no fear of any discipline,” says Richmond. “We don’t want anybody ever cutting corners to save time or money.”
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Powering up radiation protection

Written by Amanda Silliker Tuesday, 29 April 2014 00:00
Extensive training, monitoring help shield Bruce Power workers from dangerous radioactive particles

In late 2009, Bruce Power was in the process of refurbishing two dormant nuclear reactors at its power plant in Tiverton, Ont., three hours north of Toronto. The Unit 2 refurbishment went off without a hitch, but when it came time to complete Unit 1, contractors were unknowingly exposed to radiation. When the workers were cutting and grinding feeder pipes, a radioactive particulate from their work was being released into the air. 

While the workers were being monitored for beta radiation, they were not being monitored for the more dangerous alpha radiation because “all calculations would have told you there wouldn’t be an expectation of alpha in the area,” says Duncan Hawthorne, president and CEO of Bruce Power.

While the ratio of beta to alpha is typically 10,000 to one, in this case, the ratio was seven to one.

A total of 557 workers were potentially exposed to the alpha radiation. Bruce Power underwent an exhaustive campaign of testing these workers. It found less than 10 workers received radiation doses greater than five millisieverts (mSv) and all had doses less than 10 mSv. The regulatory limit set by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) is 50 mSv per year for a nuclear energy worker.              

At the time of the incident, Bruce Power offered a helpline for confidential assistance to workers and their families trough the Radiation Safety Institute of Canada, and it subsequently implemented a comprehensive routine program to monitor workers for alpha radiation using specialized instrumentation. 

“We changed the rules to assume alpha would be there rather than assume it wouldn’t be there,” says Hawthorne. “We wanted to get back to the principle of as low as reasonably achievable.”

This incident is a reminder that nuclear power plant operators need to be constantly aware of the potential for radiation exposure and put all appropriate measures in place to protect their workers.

Radiation is of particular concern because it has been linked to certain types of cancer. Also, at extremely high doses, radiation exposure can cause biological effects, skin reddening, nausea, vomiting, cataracts and even death. 

Protection program

The government of Canada’s Radiation Protection Regulations stipulate all nuclear power plant operators must implement a radiation protection program. One of the first steps is to undergo a risk assessment process for all job types to determine which ones are most at risk for radiation exposure. 

About 70 per cent of employees at Bruce Power are classified Nuclear Energy Workers (NEWs) who regularly face a greater risk of radiation exposure. Also, operations and maintenance personnel often work with equipment that either contains radioactive material or has been contaminated with radioactive materials, says Steve Mahoney, president of the Radiation Safety Institute of Canada in Toronto. But a large number of the 4,200 workers at Bruce Power do not face radiation risks, including human resources, engineering and clerical staff. 

Once the risks are identified, the radiation protection program should outline the hazards, protection — from PPE to training — controls and work permits.

For example, one common hazard in nuclear reactors is tritium. It’s a radioactive isotope of hydrogen that can be absorbed into the skin or inhaled. Workers at Bruce Power are given an instrument to measure for tritium as well as an air supply suit to protect themselves. They also need a permit to work with the substance, says Frank Saunders, vice-president of nuclear oversight and regulatory affairs at Bruce Power.

When it comes to radiation exposure, Bruce Power follows the basic principle of as low as reasonably achievable (ALARA), says Hawthorne, and the tenets of achieving that are time, distance and shielding. 

“We need to plan, train, rehearse in such a way to minimize the time employees spend in an area where there may be a radiation field,” he says. 

For example, when workers need to access high-risk areas for maintenance or to conduct a specific job, they are given a special radiation meter with an alarm. It is preset, so once the radiation levels reach a certain number, an alarm goes off.

“Once that alarm goes off, you have to leave the area, whether you’re finished the job or not,” says Hawthorne. 

If at all possible, the company tries to create an increased distance away from radiological hazards. During the dismantling of the reactors, a lot of work was done using robotic equipment so there was no worker exposure. 

Shielding is a common control mechanism, which is often achieved through lead blankets. For example, if a worker has to do some welding and opens a pipe valve, a lead blanket will be wrapped around the pipe, which reduces the radiation field by about one thousand, says Saunders.

Bruce Power has 100 radiation protection technicians who are responsible for ensuring all aspects of the radiation protection program run smoothly. It also has about 30 health physicists who are very specialized workers — the most senior ones are signed off by the CNSC — and they are responsible for reviewing and approving a high-risk job before workers can do it.

Monitoring systems

Nuclear power plants are required to monitor workers and send dosage information to the federal government’s National Dose Registry several times per year. 

To monitor exposure, all NEWs and workers in the plant at Bruce Power are required to have a dosimeter on them at all times, which gets sent to the lab every two weeks to see if they have been overexposed. NEWs also undergo monthly urine samples to make sure nothing has been inhaled or ingested, and they are required to undergo an annual whole body scan that looks for any pickup of radioactive materials in the body.

There are specialty dosimeters for workers where certain body parts may face a higher exposure. For example, a mechanic working on something that has a radiation field might get a different dose on his hands than his body, so he will receive a specialty dosimeter to wear on his finger, says Saunders.

The CNSC prescribes equivalent dose limits for certain organs and tissue sets per year: lens of an eye (150 mSv); skin (500 mSv); and hands and feet (500 mSv).

There are also different levels for pregnant workers as the fetus is very vulnerable. When a worker becomes pregnant, she is required under the CNSC to notify her employer in writing, then her dose amount is limited to four mSv for the balance of the pregnancy.

Bruce Power does not allow pregnant women in the power plant at all, and it regularly accommodates them into other roles. 

“For example, if an operator was pregnant, she’d work in procedure writing areas or training, typically where they know their knowledge is valued, but they don’t need to be in the plant to do that,” says Hawthorne. 

In any case, if a worker is exposed to too much radiation, he needs to be removed from that workplace immediately, says Mahoney. The CNSC would need to be notified and a thorough investigation would take place. He cannot return to the workplace until cleared by his doctor and the CNSC, says Mahoney. 

Bruce Power stopped work when alpha was discovered during the Unit 1 refurbishment in 2009, and workers did not return to the project until the area was free of contamination.

Training

The CNSC has published an extensive regulatory guide for radiation safety training programs that all nuclear power plants are required to follow. It outlines a six-step process for developing a program, including identification of specific training needs and program design.

Training for Bruce Power employees is provided internally and comes in various forms, depending on the level of risk present in each worker’s role. All employees wear a coloured badge to indicate their certification level, which corresponds with the level of training they have received.

The first level is red which indicates the worker does not have any radiation working rights at all. 

The next level is orange which means a worker can walk around the plant without having an escort but he can’t do any radiation work. This is the very fundamental level and requires two days of basic “Radiation 101” training, which covers the use of contamination meters and facility access. 

A yellow badge gives a worker individual working rights, and he may or may not require radiation protection supervision, depending on the nature of the risk. This qualification involves three weeks’ training, which covers routine radiological survey and decontamination. 

The top level is green and this is for people who can supervise those with a yellow badge. This requires five weeks’ training and covers segregation and handling of radioactive waste, hazard surveys, posting, and response and recording. All badges require an annual recertification. 

One step in CNSC’s training guide is continuous learning, and this is a very important aspect of radiation safety training, says David Shier, president of the Canadian Nuclear Workers Council in Toronto.

“It just reinforces protection issues,” he says. “There may be new equipment, new limits set at different times over the years, and people need to be kept updated on what’s happening and sometimes there’s lessons learned from some incidents,” he says. 

New employees at Bruce Power receive a detailed orientation around radiation, says Hawthorne. Visitors to the site are also required to undergo radiation awareness training.

“The idea being before anyone gets access to the power house, they know exactly what’s in there, how it’s designed and know how to use all the monitoring (devices) and obey signage,” he says.

All contractors coming in to work on a project need appropriate radiation safety training as well.

“I wouldn’t treat a contractor any different than staff,” says Mahoney. “Anyone working on the site should be aware and it could even be more important to make sure contractors are trained because you don’t necessarily control them directly as an employee.”

 When it comes to PPE, workers in nuclear power plants need conventional items — such as coveralls, safety glasses, ear protection, hard hats and safety footwear — but if they are in a high radiological area, they need plastic suits and respirators.

All containers and devices that contain radioactive nuclear substances are labelled in accordance with WHMIS legislation. And high radiation risk areas are identified with signage containing the radiation-warning symbol.  

If workers have concerns about radiation, they can make sure it is brought up at the joint radiation protection committee, says Shier. The requirement to have the committee is drafted in the collective agreements between nuclear operators and the Power Workers Union, and it meets quarterly. 

“It allows for shop-floor input to any radiation protection issues,” he says. “Workers actually have the right to refuse, there’s a lot of processes in place, they are encouraged to bring issues to their supervisor… it’s kind of ingrained into the culture.”

The collective agreements also include the negotiated right to shut down unsafe work at these facilities. 

Emergencies

Emergency preparedness is of the utmost importance at Bruce Power. 

“If we had a nuclear event such that we had a line break or a fuel channel drop, then we need to have the ability to deal with that. A lot of the operational response happens by design,” says Hawthorne. “We have an automatic shutdown system that responds in milliseconds.”

The perimeters of the reactors are lined with six-foot concrete walls that are two metres thick with the intent to stop radiation from escaping should something go wrong inside the reactor, says Saunders. 

After the 2011 Fukushima incident in Japan — where a massive earthquake and tsunami killed thousands of people and destroyed a nuclear power plant — Emergency Management Ontario collaborated with Bruce Power to develop a multi-jurisdictional disaster response exercise to simulate severe weather incidents. From Oct. 15 to 19, 2012, more than 1,000 participants from 70 organizations and municipalities participated in “Huron Challenge – Trillium Resolve,” which simulated a tornado descending on the power plant and surrounding community. Bruce Power tested its new emergency management centre located off-site, as well as the on-site first responders and security personnel in its emergency and protective services division. Bruce Power has 400 employees in emergency services.

Oversight 

The biggest distinction between nuclear power plants and other industries is the amount of oversight they receive. Bruce Power has about eight people from CNSC that work on-site full time to monitor its work. Every two years, the World’s Association of Nuclear Operators spends two weeks on-site and the International Atomic Energy Agency occasionally visits the site as well, says Saunders.

The CNSC gives all nuclear operators a safety report card that is published on its website, so operator safety is very transparent, visual and in depth. 

Because their operating licenses require adherence to strict safety standards, nuclear power plants deem safety as “number 1” and allot funds to major safety programs, says Shier. This helps make sure that safety is top of mind for workers as soon as they start in the industry.

“When you go into a nuclear plant, you’ll see the safety culture. People go about things safely: They’re wearing their PPE, they’re conscious of health and safety issues, if someone steps into an area they’ll tell you, ‘Don’t go over there.’ It’s an enshrined safety culture,” he says. 

Bruce Power has a “non-incriminating culture” and is constantly reminding people to ask questions, not take shortcuts and stop work if they are unsure, says Saunders.

“We praise people who make those kinds of decisions,” he says. 

Every quarter, the company conducts a safety culture panel that reviews OHS trends. Every three to four years it conducts a major safety culture assessment that surveys all staff members.

“That’s where we can pick out people’s attitudes,” says Saunders. “So if we find in there that somehow we’re driving a message that’s inappropriate, and that people are going in the wrong direction, we can do something to correct it.” 

 

WorkSafeBC conducting asbestos enforcement blitz

Written by COS staff Monday, 21 April 2014 12:10
As part of the 2014 construction high-risk strategy, WorkSafeBC is conducting an enforcement initiative aimed at reducing occupational disease and death caused by exposure to asbestos in residential demolition work sites.
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