Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
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>Health & Safety Report

Volume 2, Issue 1 - January 2004

In the News
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Preparing outside workers to battle the elements

How do you beat the cold when you work outside? Aside from several layers of protective, dry, clothing, and a healthy mix of physical activity, regular warm up periods can help you work safely in, and defend yourself from the cold.

Cold workers are more prone to injury because the temperature impacts their performance of complex mental tasks and reduces the sensitivity and dexterity of their fingers. As well, the cold carries its own potentially lethal side effects. It is critical that workers and supervisors know the symptoms of over exposure to cold, proper clothing habits, safe work practices, physical fitness requirements for work in cold, and emergency procedures in the event of cold injury. Information is the first defense!

To stay safe and dry, workers must insulate themselves against air temperature, air movement (wind speed), and humidity (wetness). A key counter measure is layered clothing. Done right, it will regulate the amount of heat and perspiration generated and lost while on the job. If the work pace is too fast or if the clothing is not properly selected, excessive sweating may occur and the clothing next to the body will become wet. The moisture will dramatically drop the insulation value of the clothing and increase the risk for cold injuries.

Low body temperature (hypothermia) is the most common cold injury. Prolonged exposure to the cold causes the body to lose energy faster than it is produced, dropping body temperature. Warning signs are numbness, stiffness, drowsiness, poor coordination and sometimes even a lack of desire to get out of the cold. If any symptoms of hypothermia are present, immediately call for emergency assistance (911).

Get the victim out of the cold and cover him or her with warm blankets. If you are unable to get indoors, get the person out of the wind, use a blanket to provide insulation from the cold ground and cover the person's head and neck to help retain body heat. Once inside, remove and replace any wet or constricting clothes with dry clothing. Warm the person using your own body heat if necessary and apply warm compresses to the neck, chest wall, and groin. Stay with the person until medical help arrives.

Frostbite is the second most common cold injury. Noses, ears, cheeks, fingers and toes are most often affected. The freezing constricts blood vessels, which impair blood flow and may cause permanent tissue damage. If only the skin and underlying tissues are damaged, recovery may be complete. However, if blood vessels are affected, the damage is permanent and could result in the amputation of the affected part.

Seek medical attention. If possible, move the victim to a warm area. Give the victim warm drinks to replace lost fluids. Remove any wet clothing and loosen constricting jewelry that may restrict circulation. Loosely cover the affected area with a sterile dressing (keeping fingers or toes separated) and quickly transport the victim to an emergency care facility. DO NOT attempt to rewarm the affected area on site (but do try to stop the area from becoming any colder). Without the proper facilities, tissue that has been warmed may refreeze and cause more damage. DO NOT rub area or apply dry heat and DO NOT allow the victim to drink alcohol or smoke.

Prevention is the best way to deal with cold stress. Some do's and don'ts to help stay safe in a cold environment include:

DON'T

  • DO NOT use alcohol, nicotine or other drugs that may affect blood flow.
  • DO NOT expose yourself to cold temperatures after a recent shower or bath.

DO

  • Dress in multiple layers of loose, dry, protective clothing.
  • Ensure your hands, feet, face, head and eyes are covered.
  • Keep moving.
  • Take regular breaks from the cold in warm places.
  • Eat properly and frequently to maintain body heat and prevent dehydration.

But when is it just simply too cold to work? There are no legislated limits in Canada. But common sense, and the suggested guidelines outlined in the Threshold Limit Values For Cold Stress - Work/Warm-up Schedule, should provide sound advice.

The Threshold Limit Values for cold stress were developed by the Saskatchewan Department of Labour and later adopted by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH).

Hazard Alerts
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Experienced workers caught in accidents

Prevention and education are the watchwords this month as governments attempt to save lives with hazard alerts and safety bulletins. In British Columbia, the focus is on properly securing loads and equipment, following the death of one man and the serious injury of another.

In the first incident, a truck driver with a load of lumber died after a package slipped and crushed him. Securing straps had been loosened to shift the weight of the load at a weigh station in BC's Central Interior. The driver, 39, who had 20 years experience, was crushed to death after he took an ill-timed walk from the safety of the back of the truck to its side.

An investigation by the BC Workers' Compensation Board found that the securing straps had been fully loosened, rather than loosened to need, and the truck was parked on a slant before the accident. In addition, frost and snow had made the surface of the lumber packages slippery.

Also in BC, a painter, with 20 years experience of his own, was seriously injured after his painting platform slipped down a building wall and he was hit by debris. The 49-year-old and a colleague had attached the platform, called a swing stage, to the parapet wall at the top of a commercial building. The wall, made of brick and mortar but covered by metal flashing, was not inspected before clamps were attached. As the workers descended in the swing stage, the parapet wall suddenly collapsed. One end of the platform fell about 3 metres (10 feet) and falling debris from the wall caused the injuries.

OSH Answers
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Workers are aging. Are you ready?

A renewed dedication to exercise, healthy eating and even the skills of plastic surgeons may help hide the fact that Baby Boomers are aging. But nothing can erase the march of time on the generation born after World War II.

Boomers form the mainstay of our workforce and will continue to for the next decade and perhaps beyond. A large bubble of older workers is set to retire in the next decades but before then, there must be a focus on efforts to keep older workers safe and free of injury.

According to a Human Resources Development Canada report, the long-term financial sustainability of Canada's social safety net, and the need for experienced workers may also mean employers will retain the services of older workers in what should be their post-retirement lives.

In the automotive repair and service sector, for example, more than 50 per cent of workers are older than age 40, according to a study for the Ottawa-based The Sector Alliance. Educators are aging as well. Some 44 per cent are older than 45, according to the study. This aging, coupled with early retirements (on average 57.4 years), means a labour shortage is looming - what the Alliance calls a "demographic bomb".

The issue - despite gaps in research and the low awareness factor - is bringing a new importance to the effects of different types of work, the increasing incidence of back injuries and accommodation for the special needs of older workers. Indeed, S. Len Hong, President and Chief Executive Officer of CCOHS, made special mention of the challenges of older workers at the organization's 25th anniversary late last year. He called for better planning to manage the reality of employees whose eyesight, reaction times and physical strength may not always be at the levels of their younger years.

Some studies noted that older workers tend to work slower and can't easily make quick decisions. However, this change is balanced because older workers often tend to be more accurate in their work and make more correct decisions than faster, younger co-workers. Other studies note that older workers tend to have fewer accidents. However, when an older worker does get injured, the injury is often more severe and the healing period may be longer.

Preparing to accommodate a workforce that is aging, requires a greater understanding of the vulnerabilities and strengths of older workers. Recognizing the physiological changes (to sleep patterns, balance and vision) that can occur with aging, modifying procedures and taking new approaches to ensure worker safety are important steps in helping to reduce accidents and injuries in the workplace. Are you ready?

Partner News
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Northern Workplaces to Go Smoke Free

Workers in Canada's north won't be smoking indoors as of May 1st. That's the date the Environmental Tobacco Smoke Worksite Regulations come into effect and ban smoking in the workplace.

The regulations, made under the Safety Acts and the Mine Health and Safety Acts, will prohibit environmental tobacco smoke (second hand smoke) in all enclosed work sites. One of the few exceptions is made for miners who can't make it to the earth's surface during their shift.

The Honourable Joe Handley and Honourable Kelvin Ng, the Ministers Responsible for the Workers' Compensation Board of the NWT and Nunavut, made the announcement at the end of November. The regulations follow concerns about the harmful health effects of second hand smoke and the national trend surrounding compensation claims for carcinogenic-related diseases.

Health Canada estimates that each year approximately 350 lung cancer and 2,000 heart disease deaths are caused by second hand smoke. This statistic is echoed by Physicians for a Smoke-free Canada, which estimates the annual deaths in Canada linked to exposure to second hand smoke to be 3,000, and the Lung Association which attributes about 300 lung cancer deaths a year to second hand smoke.

While statistics may vary somewhat, one thing is certain. Research shows that exposure to second hand smoke significantly increases risks of illness and even death to non-smokers.

The fact that there is no known safe level of exposure to the carcinogens in cigarette smoke means that the only solution that would completely eliminate the risk of second hand smoke in the workplace to all persons, smokers as well as non-smokers, is one that restricts smoking completely to the outdoors.

The evidence against second hand smoking continues to mount. Now, as the Workers' Compensation Boards are showing, the science can be used to effectively protect the health of non-smoking workers.

CCOHS News
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CCOHS Helps Explore Healthy Buildings Issues

Indoor air quality - an emerging issue in workplace health and safety - is taking its rightful place on the international stage. CCOHS is helping to secure its foundations.

The 7th International Conference on Healthy Buildings drew over 350 scientists, practitioners and policy makers from all over the world to Singapore in December to discuss and share the latest findings and thinking on healthy buildings, including the quality of the air office workers are breathing.

CCOHS Project scientist Dr. Bhawani Pathak delivered a paper entitled: Meeting Workplace Healthy Buildings Information Needs.

There is little question that workers and building owners are at the forefront to learn more about any possible health risks. But it is also clear that this relatively new topic for health and safety professionals presents a challenge for the scientific community to address the issues with clarity and certainty.

Statistics gathered by the CCOHS Inquiries Service over the past six years shed light on the type of questions Canadians have about health risks and the air they are breathing at work. But often there were no simple yes or no answers to the questions.

The success of the conference - the first held outside its traditional European-American circuit - signified a recognition that the importance of healthy buildings and indoor environments extends across international boundaries and climatic regions. It sought:

  • To increase the awareness of healthy indoor environment and energy-efficient building globally, including a special theme for developing countries.
  • To create a multi-disciplinary forum on the development and advances made in the field of indoor air quality and climate to achieve healthy, comfortable and productive environments.
  • To allow interactions among scientists, policy makers, medical, legal and building professionals on the application of state-of-the-art research to practical problems encountered in the design, construction, operation and retrofitting of buildings.

Several websites offers more on the topic.




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