Hygiene Stories (90)

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.” 


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 dubowski@stiffsentences.com. 

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

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.

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 atdubowski@stiffsentences.com 

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. 


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.


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.


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 vawn_h@yahoo.ca.

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.
(Reuters) — In a new study, hairdressers who often used light colored hair dyes or hair-waving products on clients had more potentially cancer-causing compounds in their blood than hairdressers who used the chemicals less frequently.

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. 


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.”
IRWINDALE, Calif. (Reuters) — Lawmakers in a Southern California city dismissed a bill that would have declared a popular hot sauce manufacturer a public nuisance due to smells that residents near the factory complained were sickening.
People who are exposed to paint, glue or degreaser fumes at work may experience memory and thinking problems in retirement, decades after their exposure, according to a new study.
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