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April 1, 2014

Make Safety a Habit

North American Occupational Safety and Health (NAOSH) week is an annual, continent-wide Occupational Health and Safety event which involves employers, workers, and OHS professionals to prevent work-related injuries and illnesses. The topic of 2014′s NAOSH Week (May 4 to 10) is “Make Safety a Habit“. Safety Solutions at Work would like to dedicate the April newsletter to  creating safe and healthy habits among your workers.

 

The nineteenth century author Thomas Carlyle wrote: “Habit is the deepest law of human nature”. We all have formed habits in our lives, some of which are good while some of which are bad. It is through developing good habits that we accomplish our success. Let’s examine some of the things that we can do in helping forming our “safety habits”.

 

1. Pick the safe behaviour

One example of such positive behaviour would be developing the good habit of wearing personal protection equipment (safety goggles, high-visible vest, respirators, earplugs, etc) when required. Another good example would be tying up a ladder when setting it up to get access to the roof, preventing it from slipping. Making positive behaviour a habit will significantly change the long-term negative outcome.

 

2. Remind yourself until safe behaviour becomes a habit

There are several strategies to remind yourself to keep up safe behaviour until it forms a habit. Regarding the previous example of wearing PPE, my work partner and I always do a mutual check with each other before either of us enter into the high hazardous area. Another strategy I use to remind myself to bring PPE to worksite is to place them close to your lunch box: Eating lunch is the habit I developed and fortified for the past 27 years, so should be wearing PPE. Also, you can use calendars or notes to remind yourself to acquire the new behaviour.

 

3. Set benchmarks

The goal of setting up the benchmark is to measure your progress. You will know when you review your behaviour if it’s working or not. If you’ve been successful, move to the next step; if not, move to the next step!

 

4. Correct or celebrate

Through measurement and reflection we’re going to know by our own evidence what is working and what isn’t. If you’re being successful, then celebrating is a good idea. Congratulate yourself for your accomplishment. Feel empowered by your ability to change your habits into positive actions. If success hasn’t been realized yet, you need to revisit the plan and strategies and figure out what didn’t go well. Was it the plan itself or perhaps the fact that you didn’t execute the plan as you imagined it? There is no substitute for a good plan in achieving success.

 

As we know, the purpose of all safety efforts is to prevent accidents and injuries to human beings. As human beings, we all have the inclination to choose the easy method of doing something, or the fastest way to do it, without regard to safety. By developing safety habits, we gradually form safe work habits that carry through into our daily work, and combat the lazy inertia of bad habits. This discipline is one of the best safety devices available.

 

Posted on: April 1st, 2014 by Phil Comments
February 27, 2014

Leadership in Supervision Course Need Survey

Hello All,

By popular demand, Safety Solutions at Work is developing a training course regarding leadership in supervision. To make the course more valuable in meeting your needs, please take less than 5 minutes to complete the following survey:

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Posted on: February 27th, 2014 by Phil Comments
February 26, 2014

A respirator is just a mask for a problem!

Safety Solutions at Work would like to address a serious problem that we are witnessing in industries across the province.

Employers are asking their workers to wear respirators as personal protective equipment.  However, the respirators are being assigned without fully understanding the hazards involved.  This newsletter explores the importance of occupational hygiene testing in order to properly manage the risk of workers being over-exposed to dangerous substances.

Here is some background into how companies should control exposure to dangerous substances: The Hierarchy of Hazard Control.

Hierarchy of Hazard Control

The diagram below shows the control hierarchy, with the more preferred measure on top.

Heirarchy_of_hazard_control_diagram_01

  1.  Elimination of Hazard, which is the process of removing the hazard from the workplace. It is the most effective way to control a risk because the hazard is no longer present.

  2. Substitution, which refers to substituting the hazardous chemical/industrial process with a less hazardous one. Replacing currently used chemicals with  less toxic ones is an important part of  industrial evolution.  

    Here is an interesting example: Diacetyl was previously widely used to provide the buttery flavouring to popcorn. Twenty years ago, epidemiology studies and case reports revealed its effect of reducing lung function among popcorn making workers. Nowadays, 2,3-pentanedione is used as a safer substitute for diacetyl to produce butter-flavoured popcorn. However, substitution is not on the top of the hierarchy, because no chemical is absolutely safe. In the example of popcorn flavouring, more recent studies revealed that 2,3-pentanedione will reduce lung function as well.  Ongoing monitoring of all chemicals is essential.

  3. Engineering controls are the methods that are built into the design of a plant, equipment or process to minimize the hazard. Examples would be process control, LEV (local exhaust ventilation) and hazard isolation.

  4. Administrative controls  limit workers’ exposures by scheduling shorter work times in contaminant areas or by implementing rules and company policies to reduce either the time or the number of workers being exposed. The efficacy of administrative controls is subject to a variety of human factors.

  5. PPE is on the bottom of the control hierarchy, which means it is the least preferred method. Personal protective equipment (such as respirators) should never be the only method used to reduce exposure. The reasons this are further explained below.

Limitations of PPE

  • PPE may fail with little or no warning. For example: “breakthrough” can occur with gloves, clothing, and respirator cartridges, and the consequence of relying on it as the sole way of control could be catastrophic. Air-purifying respirators cannot be used for gases and vapours with poor warning properties, especially when end-of-service-life indicator is not available. Air-supplying respirators, on the other hand, although supply clean air from air tank or compressor, have limited mobility and require a larger purchasing/maintenance budget.

  • The absorbing material inside cartridges and filters of air-purifying respirators may not be efficient for certain contaminants. Examples of such contaminants are nitrogen dioxide, nitric oxide and nitrous oxide.

  • There is an assigned protection factor (APF) for each specific respirator.  Air-purifying respirators for example,  have an APF of 10 to 50. An APF of 10 to 50 means that if the respirators were fit tested, being worn properly by the worker and not being broken through, the theoretical exposure level that the worker is expected would be 1/50 to 1/10 of  a worker who is unprotected. However, the actual protection efficiency may not be achievable, due to the various human factors. For example, the APF will be reduced if workers are not clean shaven.  Getting men to shave every morning is no easy task!

Necessity of Exposure Assessment

WorkSafeBC OHS Regulation mandates the following workplace monitoring procedures:

  • When a worker is or may be exposed to a hazardous substance, the employer should ensure that a walkthrough survey is conducted to assess the potential for overexposure taking into account all routes of exposure.

  • If the walkthrough survey reveals that a worker may be at risk of overexposure to an airborne contaminant, the employer must ensure that air sampling is conducted to assess the potential for overexposure. 

  • Additional workplace monitoring to reliably determine worker exposure is required if a worker may be exposed to an air contaminant in excess of 50% of its exposure limit.

Currently, WorkSafeBC regulates the maximum allowable exposure level for around 800 substances. It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that the workers are not exposed to levels higher than indicated by WorkSafeBC Exposure Limit. Only by doing a hygiene testing can you make definitive conclusions. A complete list of these substances and exposure limits can be found in G5.57 of WorkSafeBC OHS Guidelines.

In addition to meeting the WorkSafeBC regulation requirements, conducting air quality testing can also provide you with the following key information:

  • The assigned protection factor (APF) for a disposable facial mask is 5 for single use facial mask, and is 50 for air-purifying half mask. If the workplace is heavily contaminated (i.e. above 5 times of Occupational Exposure Limit), the use of respirators, even under ideal conditions, will fail to provide workers with sufficient protection.

  • Air quality testing should be conducted before and after  installing  engineering controls, to evaluate its efficiency.

  • Each year WorkSafeBC receives claims of occupational disease claims. Conducting  industrial hygiene testing and documenting the report could demonstrate the employer’s due diligence in recognizing and evaluating workplace hazards.

Posted on: February 26th, 2014 by Phil Comments
January 31, 2014

Put An End To The Unsafe Workplace

Pic with Trevor Linden

Running a small business is never easy! As a small business owner, I am aware of the challenges of managing service delivery, marketing, sales and finances. A company owner wears many hats. My company helps businesses manage a very important legal obligation- workplace safety. The laws governing Occupational Health and Safety are complex and can be overwhelming. My team of experts helps companies understand workplace legislation and find practical solutions for their safety program.

Recently employers have been given a new challenge from WorkSafe BC: Address the issue of mental health in the workplace.  Since the implementation of the new workplace legislation that came into effect on November 1st, 2013, employers across this province are required by law to eliminate bullying and harassment in the workplace.

Workplace Bullying and Harassment is defined as “any inappropriate conduct or comment by a person towards a worker that the person knew or reasonably ought to have known would cause that worker to be humiliated or intimidated, but excludes any reasonable action taken by an employer or supervisor relating to the management and direction of workers or the place of employment. This includes behaviour from the public or a client to a worker. 

As the company owner, I have a legal obligation to do everything reasonable to protect my workers from conduct or comments that can be considered intimidating or humiliating.  Recently, my employee was on a sales call in a local store.  The intent of the sales call was to educate the store manager about the new legislation on Workplace Bullying and Harassment and to offer our professional services to develop a training program for his workplace.  The manager grabbed my employee by the shoulders and spoke to her in an intimidating way.  There is no question that his conduct and words were intended to intimidate.

The irony of the situation slapped me in the face.  Here we are trying to educate business owners about Workplace Harassment and Bullying and my employee is the one who is attacked.  As a result, I took the step to develop even more procedures for my sales team who work alone and engage extensively with the public.

Harassment and bullying has long been the topic of conversation in schools, but as a society we have been silent on this issue in the workplace.  Harassment and Bullying are critical risk factors for mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety.  At the recent MAKE IT SAFE!  Conference in Vancouver, BC held by the food and manufacturing industry occupational safety association, hundreds of delegates gathered to tackle this issue.  Trevor Linden, founder of Club 16, spoke about the need for companies to demonstrate leadership.

Trevor Linden told us: “Leaders create a culture.”   Great companies are taking leadership to eliminate toxic work environments.  Successful business leaders understand that a healthy and happy workplace is a profitable workplace.  I have been fortunate to work with great industry leaders such as the Jim Pattison Group.  These companies are creating a culture of respect in the workplace.

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In my recent conversations with the WorkSafeBC prevention officers in charge of Workplace Harassment and Bullying, many employers are still unaware of the new legislation. WSBC is already receiving numerous reports of Bullying and Harassment cases.  Often in these cases the reporting procedures were unclear for the workforce and the employer did not complete an effective investigation into the complaint. Workplace Bullying and Harassment is very similar to other safety related issues.  An employer has the opportunity to eliminate problems before they happen.

Now is the time for business owners to take action! If an employer can think through the possible situations that can lead to Workplace Harassment and Bullying, there is a greater chance that the employer can eliminate any conflict before it begins. If an employer can take the time to draft clear procedures in the event of a complaint, the easier time the employer will have addressing the complaint. A critical component is to fully understand and think through the investigation process. What would the employer need to document? How can the investigation get to the root cause of the problem?

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I work with numerous companies to help them put together programs for Workplace Harassment and Bullying. My clients have the attitude that they want to take initiative to foster a respectful workplace. Happy workers are effective workers. A toxic work environment will poison relationships with customers and clients and choke productivity. The leaders in the business community are embracing this legislation to create workplaces where people are happy to go to work.

 

Posted on: January 31st, 2014 by Victoria Comments
January 23, 2014

Occupational Health among Mill Workers: Risk, Exposure and Prevention

Did you know that mill workers are exposed to life threatening hazards which are invisible killers?

Did you know that most of the catastrophic accidents that we have seen in mills are actually preventable?

These are the questions I came up with while reading WorkSafeBC’s incident investigation report regarding the Burn Lake’s Babine sawmill explosion, which killed 2 workers and injured another 20. Wood dust (accumulated into high levels and dispersed into a “cloud” suspended in the air), ignition sources, and oxygen in the air constituted the necessary components of the fire triangle, which directly lead to the catastrophe.

If we take a step back and think of any workplace, how confident are we in saying that “our company is a pretty safe place to work”?

Have we eliminated all of the potential hazards such as fire triangles, explosions and chemical exposure?

Sawmill Workers’ Exposures to Occupational Hazards

  • Wood dust:  Short-term exposure to wood dust could be irritating to the skin, respiratory tract and eyes. Wood dust is also proven to be associated with decreased lung function and asthma.
  • Spores, fungi, microbes and endotoxin: These microorganisms and bio-chemicals are irritants to the nose, throat and eyes. They might lead to COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) and aggravation of pre-existing conditions such as asthma.
  • Wood preservatives: Certain chemicals used for wood preserving are classified as carcinogens by IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) and ACGIH (American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienist), which means that they have the potential to cause cancer. Examples of such chemicals are pentachlorophenol (a.k.a. PCP), creosotes. Some of the chemicals are corrosive to skin, eyes and respiratory tract, such as phenol.
  • Heavy metals: Sawmill workers in the maintenance department can be exposed to heavy metal from their welding, grinding and knife-sharpening activities. Some sorts of heavy metal can decrease lung function, while others may cause cancer.
  • Evaporated chemicals in pulp cooking: Examples of such chemicals are ammonia, hydrogen sulphide, sulphur dioxide and methyl mercaptan. Health concerns over such chemicals are short-term acute toxicity (i.e. IDLH, Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health).

An Example of Elevated Risk

Safety Solutions at Work’s occupational hygienist,  Phillip Chen, completed a detailed epidemiology study which associated COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) with endotoxin exposure among sawmill workers. Endotoxin is produced by bacteria grown on wood.  

In the wood processing industry, endotoxin is released along with wood dust when certain tasks are performed, such as cutting, sawing and trimming, and then can be inhaled by sawmill workers. After adjusting for confounder such as age, race, smoking and lagging time (20 years), based on the Poisson regression model, the risk of COPD among highest exposed group doubled that of the reference group (Relative Risk 2.09, 95% CI 0.9 – 4.83).

Currently ACGIH, U.S. OSHA and WorkSafeBC is not regulating endotoxin. Phil is hoping that the disease model he built can serve as a piece of evidence in setting up exposure limits for endotoxin to protect the respiratory health of sawmill workers.

Seeking a Solution from Safety Solutions at Work’s

Based on WorkSafeBC’s incident investigation report, the tragic accident of the Babine sawmill in Burns Lake was preventable by eliminating any element of the fire triangle. If the wood dust is not accumulated into high concentration, or if the wood dust is not dispersed in a way to be explosive, then we won’t have to pay the lesson at the cost of two workers’ lives. Similarly, for the chemical and biological exposures which could lead to occupational diseases, as an employer, you can demonstrate your due diligence by starting an occupational hygiene survey to evaluate the potential hazard level. Here is  Safety Solutions at Work can help you:

  • As an OHS consulting company, Safety Solution at Work aims at promoting overall health and safety in different industries. We believe that risk assessment should be the foundation of risk management.
  • The MSc. thesis research project of our occupational hygienist Phillip Chen was focused on the respiratory health among sawmill workers in BC, as part of the UBC Sawmill Study. He is passionate about protecting workers from the negative heath effects of heavy metal and endotoxin exposure. He is dedicated to conducting occupational hygiene risk assessments in mills across this province.
  • If a company is not sure of the chemical hazards your workers encounter, we can work with you on a hazardous material inventory for your plant.  Air testing is the very first step in creating a safe and healthy work environment, and we can work with you to achieve it!
  • We can also assess other risks in the mills, such as noise, vibration and explosive dust.

You are the voice of safety in your workplace.  If you have concerns about hazards, it is your responsibility to speak up.  Let your supervisors, safety committee members, management representatives and shop stewards know about your concerns.  Speaking up is the first step to take action.

Posted on: January 23rd, 2014 by Phil Comments

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