Regulations

There ought to be a law: H&S Training

On August 3, 2017, the Toronto Star’s Headline “Coroner’s jury calls for better de-escalation training for police” came as no surprise to many. Year after year, and always after another citizen with mental health issues is shot dead by an officer, we continue to read the same recommendations for training – none of them legally binding.

Ministry of Labour (MOL) Inspectors are all too aware of the necessity of training in de-escalation techniques. Inspectors themselves are often confronted by angry and potentially violent people; employers who believe it’s their god given right to do whatever they want in their workplaces, and workers who are terrified that the Inspector will shut the workplace down and destroy their livelihood. I’ve been verbally threatened myself, as have many of my former co-workers.

When I commenced my job with the MOL, new Inspectors received excellent training at the Police Academy in Alymer. De-escalation techniques were a part of that training. When someone holds a rifle in your face, as what happened in Aylmer, de-escalation becomes a very important skill. But as for any training, it should be reviewed at least annually and assessed for effectiveness.

Health Care Workers are at high risk for violence, perhaps at an even higher risk than Police Officers. And similar to MOL Inspectors, they have no weapons. I recall reviewing one facility’s Violence Protection Program and their training. Workers had all undergone de-escalation training, but unfortunately the rest of their program was lacking and workers were still being injured on the job. A review of their policy and program along with measures and procedures to protect workers from violence was found to be ineffective.

Training for workers is not just about violence or de-escalation techniques. There are many hazards in the workplace that need to be assessed and training planned for. Training is and has always been a major focus for MOL Inspectors. If not performing almost annually blitzes for new and young workers to ensure they have received appropriate training prior to starting their new job, Inspectors proactively review an employer’s training records to ensure workers are trained in subjects that are relevant to the job.

While the MOL Policy is that Inspectors do not assess whether an employer’s policies or training programs are adequate, there are a few things they can look for when making a reasonable judgment on whether or not to write an order or even to prosecute.

As Provincial Enforcement Officers, MOL Inspectors first look to the ACT and to Regulations made under the ACT. The all encompassing section 25 (2)(a) of the ACT is pretty clear: employers must provide information, instruction and supervision to protect workers health and safety; that means training – not just handing them a sheet of paper and telling them to go home and read it.

Inspectors rely on specific Regulations, such as the Regulation for Health Care and Residential Facilities, Regulation 67. Contravention of section 10 of that regulation means that Inspectors can issue an order to an employer to instruct and train their workers who wear respirators in their use, care and limitations, as well as ensuring workers are fit tested for the respirator they will wear.

Workplace Hazardarous Information System (WHMIS) or Regulation 860 section 7 requires that all workers that work with or in proximity to a controlled product are trained. This should include training in and understanding of the hazard symbols. It’s not uncommon for workers to be questioned by an Inspector about the chemicals that they work with, how they are used and stored, what protection is required if needed, and what the hazards of the chemical are.

Often suppliers will provide a workplace with free training in the chemicals that they sell; employers should ensure that the workers are being informed in clearly understood language about the hazards and how to protect themselves. Training on the safety data sheets should be a part of that training.

Other requirements for training are found in Regulation 297/13 where all workers and supervisors must have basic Occupational Health and Safety awareness training.

Workers often asked me if the employer could make them pay for their own training, or make them take their training on their own time at home. My answer – it depends. The employer must pay if it was a legally required training program made under the ACT or Regulations – for example Certification Training. If training is not enforceable under the Act but is simply a recommendation, for example, as in the Police Officers’ cases, then chances are they will be ignored. At a minimum, any training program must be reviewed and assessed for effectiveness at least annually.

During my tenure as an Industrial Inspector with the Ministry of Labour, I was often disappointed to see the poor quality of training that workers received. Many times the training was not developed by the employer. Companies that claimed to provide training to meet employers’ needs were often more interested in making a few bucks than they were at keeping workers safe. Then again, some training programs I reviewed went over and above the minimum standards.

Inspectors may expect a workplace to follow standards such as the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) Standard Z94.4-02 with respect to respirator fit-testing but can not write an order under that Standard. It is not enforceable. An order can still be issued under the ACT, section 25 (2)(h)but the order cannot mention the CSA Standard.

In the case of the police, should mandatory de-escalation training be enshrined in law? If so, what would it include? Should that law include frequent and at least annual reviews of the training program? An annual review can identify if the training they currently receive is adequate or inadequate. It could also identify those officers (they are workers too) who need to be retrained or reassigned.

Before developing any training program, the developer must ensure that the training meets the needs of the target audience. For most workplaces a Job Hazard Analyses should be undertaken where possible. A good developer will define the audience and ensure that the training program provides relevant information and skills. The program must include information and instruction to workers in what they need to know, then ensure that they are supervised once training is complete. And don’t forget – keep meticulous records. When an Inspector comes a calling – they can and probably will ask for them.

For More Information or comments you can contact Gloria.

Nanotechnology: What’s Your Strategy?

EVERYONE KNOWS what a millimetre looks like: a thousandth of a metre, right? Now try wrapping your mind’s eye around something that is a million times smaller than that.

Welcome to the world of nanotechnology, where some very small things are leaving occupational hygienists with some very big questions.

Nanotechnology is currently used primarily in industries and research facilities that manufacture or construct materials measured in nanometres (that’s billionths of a metre). despite current limited applications, the technology is raising concern that it may introduce new classifications of toxins or environmental hazards.

Nanopaticles are created through high-energy processes such as welding, fuel-processing and generation of diesel exhaust. These processes produce particulate matter that, when inhaled, enter the respiratory and digestive system, but can eventually travel to the liver, central nervous system and cardiovascular system. Being as small as they are, nanoparticles behave more like gas molecules than solid particles.

Conclusive evidence exists about the toxic nature of vehicle exhausts, says a paper released last April by the ETC Group (Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration).  But scientists do not believe it’s possible to infer conclusions about toxicity of industrial pollutants to manufactured nanoparticles. In other words, there is a difference in toxicity between materials created as a by-product and those that are intentionally manufactured.

An occupational hygienist based in Windsor, Ontario says “respirable particle effect is no longer confined to the lung since smaller particles are suggested to translocate to the blood while lung inflammation invokes systemic responses. Similarly, nanoparticles are theorized as being able to cross the blood brain barrier. There are great health impacts associated with this.”

Little is known about the risk of exposure during manufacturing and handling of nanoparticles. There are no regulatory requirements for the testing of nanoparticles for health, safety or environmental impacts. Conclusive date for risk assessment is conspicuously lacking.

Add to this the potential introduction of new hazards and occupational hygienists in sectors using nanotechnology are presented with substantial challenges. Those challenges, in turn, move on to the companies for which these hygienists work.

Everything on earth is made from atoms and properties of specific substances depend on how those atoms are arranged.  If we consider pure carbon, for example, one rearrangement produces graphite while another produces a diamond.  Consider also that if we rearrange the atoms in sand, then add a few other trace elements, we have computer chips.

Nanoparticles are so small they cannot be seen by the unaided eye.  Although not the only interpretation, the National Nanotechnology Initiative in the United States defines “nano” as between one and 100 nanometres (nm).  Because of their size, these very small particles can pass right through particulate filters, including those worn by workers to protect themselves.  If a filter was fine enough to trap the molecules, it would also severely restrict any air passing through.

Respirators
Respirators

Nanoparticles are currently used in paints, coatings for textiles, sunscreens, cosmetics and power machinery, along with the carbon nanotubes intended for electronics. The National Science Foundation reports that, within 10 years, the entire semiconductor industry will rely on nanotechnology and on nano-materials. Fundamental changes are also expected in terms of medicine, as well as drug production and delivery.

But before nanoparticles become part of the paint or sunscreen, they have to be produced. That means people manufacturing these particles are doing something that is seemingly far more comp;ex than just rearranging those carbon atoms into diamonds. And to produce new products in future, industry will have to respond by creating new tools and new manufacturing processes — that is molecular manufacturing systems.

The smaller the particulate size, the ETC Group paper notes, the more toxic and reactive it may be. Regardless of the chemical composition of a ‘nanothing’, ultra-small materials can be ultra-hazardous. It is already well-known that ultra-fine (generally defined as particles measuring less than 100 nm) materials have the ability to induce respiratory damage.

A paper prepared by Dr. David Warheit, research fellow for DuPont Haskell Laboratory for Health and Environmental Sciences in Newark, Delaware, says toxicology studies in rats demonstrate that ultra-fine particles administered to the lung cause a greater inflammatory response when compared with larger particles of identical chemical composition at equivalent mass concentrations.

In 2002, when researchers at DuPont instilled tubes of carbon (nanotubes developed for their strength and electrical conductivity) into the lungs of rats, the rats gasped for air, and 15 percent quickly died. Yet the experiment did not answer the critical question of what quantity and what level of exposure is safe, or what LEL of exposure is necessary for the rats to breathe in damaging amounts of the nanotubes.

This, says occupational hygienist Neil Langerman, is currently not a problem since, to protect the product, all of the processes are carried out in quite clean envionments, with little to no dust.

But harm to the lungs is not the only worry, says a recent article in the New York Times by Barnaby J. Feder, with research indicating inhaled nanoparticles can move directly into the brain. In the article, Feder concludes this may carry health impacts and make it very difficult to draw common conclusions about the potential effect of nanoparticles on human health.

The cost and difficulties of researching risk has caused some companies to put a halt to their programs. The French research wing of the cosmetics giant, L’Oreal, has stopped research into the characteristics of buckyballs – nanotubes made from buckminsterfullerones – after independent researchers raised questions about toxicity.

Despite 25 years of laboratory work on nanoparticles around the world, scientists have still not managed to agree upon safety protocols to protect workers even though many organizations, such as the Canadian Institute of health Research have attempted to do so. This, most likely, is because the toxicology of nanoparticles in not yet understood and groups cannot agree on the risks of the new technology to human health and the environment.

There are no tests for the effects of inhaled nanoparticles, and no threshold limit values (TLVs). As such, there is no level in the work environment at which an occupational hygienist can ascertain the safety or health risk to workers who are exposed.

In the United States, the national Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)has performed some research with regard to airborne and dermal exposure routes and toxicity of single-walled carbon nanotubes (allotrope of carbon). Over at the Environmental Protection Agency, a focused research progjram on the impacts of manufactured nanomaterials on human health and the environment is expected to begin early this year.

And the national Toxicology Program, for its part, will develop protocols over the next five years to test for toxicity in animals using nanomaterials provided by the Center for Biological and Environmental Nonotechnology (CBEN) at Rice University in Houston, Texas. The Center was founded in 2001 to address the impact of engineered nanomaterials on human health and the environment.

“We have a unique opportunity to ensure that a nascent industry develops responsibly by addressing safety concerns early in its development says Dr. Kristen Kulinowski, executive director for education and public policy at the CBEN.

Today’s occupational hygienists will continue to face a substantial challenge regarding how to monitor, assess and control possible workplace hazards with little understanding of the hazard.

But there may be another side that should be considered. If technology enables the elimination of current industrial processes, certain toxic exposures will be either eliminated or reduced.

The best course of action, right now, may be to keep abreast of research and changes in nanotechnology. If nanoparticles are present in your workplace, stakeholders need to discuss the options for strategies that will minimize exposure.

Gloria’s article was first published in OHS Canada.

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My first introduction to the application of nanotechnology was during an Inspection of a cosmetics plant in Toronto, Ontario.   Workers in the manufacturing department looked like laboratory workers employed in any large hospital or research centre:  they were gowned up, gloved up, masked up.  My first question was, “what’s your strategy to protect workers?”

West Nile Virus: A Pesty Subject

Maybe nothing causes more dismay to a person on the brink of sleep than the persistant, zzzzzzzz of a mosquito near their ear. Every camper, hiker, and sunset watcher has something in common – hatred for public enemy number one, the mosquito.

Mosquitos are responsible for malaria, dengue, many forms of encephalitis, as well as passing the Zika virus and the West Nile virus onto humans.

Mosquito borne illnesses cause close to one million deaths annually and affect almost 700 million people globally.

With climate change a reality, West Nile Virus (WNV) has become endemic in North America. Mosquitoes thrive in the weather conditions Ontario and the rest of North America is experiencing.

Continued rain and rising water levels along with pools of stagnant water provide a perfect cradle for mosquito larvae to breed.

Outside workers who work in areas when mosquitos are present are at risk of being bitten from the potentially virus carrying pest including, farmers, foresters, landscapers, groundskeepers and gardeners. Also at risk are painters, roofers, pavers, construction workers, labourers, mechanics, entomologists and other field workers who conduct surveillance and other research activities outdoors.IMG_1008

It’s not only outside workers that are at risk. When performing diagnostics for the West Nile Virus, medical or laboratory workers may also be at risk of infection if they are accidently stuck while testing for the virus or sustain a cut while handling infected tissue.

Organizations and employers that have workers who may be at risk of being bitten must develop and maintain a program that will minimize the risk to workers from contracting WNV. Ministry of Labour Inspectors are informed of WNV and proactively inspect sectors where workers may be exposed to the Virus. That includes golf courses, parks, farms, recreational facilities and other workplaces where mosquitoes are present or water can collect and become a breeding ground for the rapacious pest.

Because mosquitos need a standing body of water for larvae to develop into mature insects, stagnant pools that can found in troughs, ditches, rain barrels, ponds, and tires, must be emptied at least every 4-5 days, or treated with larvicides to reduce the mosquito population.

A WNV Policy and Program to protect workers must include measures and procedures, and workers must be trained in the employer’s steps to protect them.

For outside workers at low risk, a program that informs workers of the risks in addition to insect repellant provided by the employer might suffice. For others, a more comprehensive program is in order.

In Ontario, any WNV program should run during the time that mosquitoes are most likely to be active – usually from July to September and from dusk to dawn. But, as hikers and outside workers know all too well, mosquitoes are also active in the woods, fields or meadows at any time of day if there is sufficient foliage. Covering all parts of the body is a partial solution. In hot humid weather, it could cause another problem – heat stress. Therefore a workplace program must take into consideration all likely outcomes of their decision.

If you are a worker, or employ workers who might be at risk of being bitten by a mosquito, ensure you have performed an assessment of the risk then develop or review your WNV Policy and Program. If you have a Joint Health and Safety Committee, it would be wise to involve them in the process from the beginning.

Date your policy, and have the highest level person in the organization sign off. Ensure all workers are informed of the policy and program and are trained in the steps being taken to protect them from West Nile Virus.

As always, more information can be found on the Centre for Disease Control Website as well as the Ontario Ministry of Labour.

Contact Gloria Bergen if you want assistance with any health and safety policy or program.

Heat Stress: A Year Round Concern

When the first warm days of summer arrive, if you are like most Canadians, you race to your garage, dust the cob webs off the barbecue, grab a six pack and hurry outside to enjoy the warm weather. For many others, summer can be a time of anxiety.  Instead of going into air conditioned offices, they’re dreading the thought of the oven like heat they will be spending their eight hour working day in.  Similar thoughts are on the mind of workers – even in the winter.

Bakers, foundry workers, laundry clerks, commercial kitchen and fast food workers and others who toil in environments where heat, often combined with humidity, can become deadly, know only too well what hell feels like.  Outside workers, exposed to the intense heat of the summer sun, are also negatively affected by heat.

I’ve investigated heat stress in various industries over the years. It was never an easy visit to walk into a workplace where workers are sweating, feeling dizzy or faint, and the temperature reads well over what the human body can endure.

I recall one instance where a woman called the Ministry of Labour (MOL) complaining of heat in a workplace. When I attended, I found a young summer student working alone in an ice cream parlour. The air conditioner had broken down days previously. The temperature in the store measured over 95 degrees Fahrenheit. There were no fans, and no way to cool the workplace. It seemed ironic that the freezers holding the ice cream were all in perfect working order while the young worker said she was “melting”.

37 degrees C = 99.14 degrees F
Too Hot to work

Heat Stress is a serious, and often life threatening physical reaction to heat beyond what the human body is capable of handling. In 2011 a baker in Barrie, Kim Douglas Warner,died of heat stress when the bakery reached approximately 49 degrees Celsius. His core body temperature was measured at 42 degrees. The workplace was later fined $215,000 under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. In today’s legislative climate the employer could be facing a jail sentence.

If you don’t know much about heat stress or want additional information on how to protect yourself or your workers, there are a multitude of web sites that cover the subject in detail:  The Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers Inc.  (OHCOW) has developed a resource for protecting workers from heat stress; the Ministry of Labour’s site also has resources, or just goggle heat stress; there are hundreds of sites where you can find information.

In Ontario, every workplace must have a health and safety policy. To implement that policy, employers need a program that contains all the elements required for that particular workplace. Where heat is or could become a health and safety issue, the employer must have a heat stress program.

The type of program needed for each workplace is different. Is it a factory, a mine, a greenhouse, a coffee shop, a farm, a fast food outlet, or an office on the 12th floor where the air con might go out during an electrical shortage?
Each workplace requires their own policy and program that outlines procedures and measures the employer has taken to protect workers from heat stress.

As an Inspector during a visit, I would expect to see the policy, ensure that all workers were aware of and trained in the policy and understood the procedures in place to safeguard their health and safety. I would review the measures and procedures: are there allowances for leaving the area and going to a cooling down station? Is water freely available?  What clothing are they required to wear? Are there adequate fans, if needed? Is the HVAC system working properly?

As a part of any inspection I would look at and often test equipment such as water fountains, HVAC systems, protective clothing, and temperature gauges, to ensure they were maintained in good working condition. Orders to an employer were rarely welcome but were often issued. It meant someone was not doing their job, didn’t know any better, or just didn’t give a dam about workers.

Often, I would find other issues while performing the inspection. At one golf course I attended, after receiving a complaint about heat, I noticed a picnic table near a pleasant little river under the shade of a lovely oak stand. Perfect place for lunch I thought, until I saw a hose from the river pumping water onto the lawns. Mist from the water was settling onto the picnic table as well as on the sandwiches the workers were eating while on their break.

The water was sent to be tested. It came back as laden with E.coli, a potentially harmful or fatal bacterium. You never know what the Inspector will find when she comes a-calling.

So now, with the summer sun blazing down, ensure that your workplace is safe, that policies and measures and procedures are in place, and that all workers can go home at the end of their shift,  pull out the barbecue and settle down to relax for their hard earned rest.