Health and Safety Report
Volume 3, Issue 1 - January 2005

In the News

On Thin Ice at Work?print this article

While many of us earn our living indoors, there are those who work outdoors in extreme conditions - including on ice over water. For them, being "on thin ice" can pose a great threat to their personal safety. Among these occupations are environmental research teams, geophysical and support industries, scientists, utility workers, and rescue workers.

Fresh water freezes at 0° C and sea (salt) water at minus 2° C. But not all ice is created equal. The more you know about ice, the better you will be at evaluating its condition and taking the necessary safety precautions.

For instance, ice can be clear or "blue", or "white" (snow ice filled with air bubbles). The stronger, more solid blue ice forms when water freezes, whereas white ice forms when water-snow mixtures freeze on top of ice. Generally, fresh water ice is stronger than sea ice, and lake ice is stronger than river ice. Ice must have a minimum density to be considered safe to walk on, and the thickness and hardness required increase in proportion to the weight of the load and how it is distributed on the ice sheet.

On both rivers and lakes, warm inflow from springs and currents can make the ice thinner. A sudden drop in air temperature can make ice become brittle and unsafe for use for 24 hours.

Safety Precautions

Extreme caution must be used and additional safety measures should be taken when working on ice over water. Here are a few practical tips; additional references at the end of the article provide more detailed information.

  • Anyone involved in work over ice must be trained in the hazards involved, safety precautions to be taken, basic rescue procedures and emergency plans to be followed in the event of a breakthrough on the ice.
  • The shoreline should be checked for signs of recent changes in water levels. If the ice is snow-covered, look for wet areas.
  • Never go out on the ice alone, and stay off the ice if there is any question of its safety. Plans, including a return time, should be left with someone as a follow up measure. A cell phone, satellite phone or two-way radio is recommended for working at remote sites.
  • The air temperatures should be reviewed for several days prior to going onto the ice and continued to be observed while working on the ice. If the ice is thick enough for the intended load, it should be safe to use if the air temperature has stayed below 0°C.
  • The ice should be checked prior to use by someone on foot, using an ice chisel to probe every 45 m (150 feet). If the chisel goes through, it is a sure sign to turn around and retrace the exact same steps back to shore. People on foot testing the ice should carry long poles, throw ropes and an ice auger as rescue aids in case of a breakthrough, or be securely roped together, with minimum spacing of 15 m (50 feet).
  • Clothing should not hinder the safety of the worker if they fall through the ice. A personal flotation device (PFD) and mitten-like ice claws are a must. However if you are in a vehicle and the PFD will hamper your escape, do not wear one.
  • Doors and cab hatches of vehicles used on ice should be removed or tied open, and seat belts must NOT be worn to allow for easy escape. Vehicle speed should not exceed 15 km/h to avoid the underwater effects of the motion of the vehicle, nor should it be less than 1.5 km/h to avoid the effects of stationary load.

Measurement charts from the "Safety Guide for Operations Over Ice" from the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat and Worksafe Alberta provide guidelines to help determine the thickness, strength and safety of the ice.

Additional References:

Safety Guide For Operations Over Ice - Treasury Board of Canada

Safety Bulletin from WorkSafe Alberta

Yellowknife Ice Measurements and Safety - Yellowknife [NT] Fire Division
Working on Ice Covered Bodies of Water PDF, Ministry of Labour

Additional References:

Safety Guide For Operations Over Ice - Treasury Board of Canada

Safety Bulletin from WorkSafe Alberta

Yellowknife Ice Safety - Yellowknife [NT] Fire Division

Hazard Alerts

Carbon Monoxide Can Harm The Unsuspectingprint this article

Several warehouse workers in Newfoundland were hospitalized for symptoms resulting from carbon monoxide poisoning in a recent close call, according to the province’s Occupational Health and Safety department. Propane-powered forklift trucks were reportedly the source of their carbon monoxide exposure. The warehouse relied on open doors as its only source of ventilation. There was no mechanical ventilation.

In another incident on board a vessel in British Columbia, a crewmember felt dizzy during the night and got up to open the windows into the galley. The next day, he found that the other crewmember, who had been sleeping in the bow area, had died. The ship’s engine, located under the floor of the cabin, had a leak in its exhaust system, which allowed carbon monoxide to seep through to where the crewmembers slept.

Both provinces have issued alerts to the public, stressing the importance of safety measures such as gas detection and mechanical ventilation to reduce the risk of carbon monoxide exposure.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is generated by gasoline and propane powered engines. The fact that it is odourless, colourless and tasteless can make it difficult for people to realize they have been exposed to the gas. According to CHEMINFO, the effects of exposure can range from mild to severe headaches (50 ppm to over 200 ppm); nausea, vomiting, dizziness, fainting and drowsiness (above 400 ppm); increased heartbeat, irregular heartbeat (above 1200 ppm); loss of consciousness and death (above 2000 ppm). At concentrations greater than 5000 ppm, death may occur in minutes. These symptoms are usually seen sooner or at lower concentrations of carbon monoxide if there is a heavy workload (increased breathing rate and increased blood flow).

The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador recommends that in work areas such as warehouses, employers should consider using alternatives to internal combustion engines inside where possible. Where forklifts and other equipment with internal combustion engines are run inside, the facilities should have a mechanical ventilation system installed and maintained to control the levels of exhaust gas to an acceptable level. In addition, where propane powered forklifts are used inside a building, regular engine tuning and emission testing should be a part of the equipment’s routine maintenance. The carbon monoxide emissions should be within the maximum levels recommended under manufacturers’ standards. Employers should install carbon monoxide monitors throughout the work area, including adjacent office areas. It is very important that these CO monitors be maintained as recommended by the manufacturer. Workers should be educated on the dangers of carbon monoxide and how to recognize signs of poisoning.

On a sea vessel, a marine grade carbon monoxide detector should be installed. The Workers’ Compensation Board of B.C. recommends configuring the engine exhaust system and sealing engine compartments to ensure exhaust gases cannot enter crew spaces. The system should be regularly inspected and maintained. All crew spaces should have an adequate supply of fresh air.

Read the full Alert - Government of Newfoundland and Labrador

Read the full alert from the Workers’ Compensation Board of BC

Read more on the topic in CCOHS’ OSH Answers

OSH Answers

Survive The Winter Driveprint this article

As if driving wasn’t perilous enough at the best of times, welcome to another season of winter roads. You can’t control the weather, but you can adjust to it by preparing yourself and your vehicle for the worst of winter and the white stuff, and ensuring you stay safe. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) offers the following safety tips for winter drivers.

Prepare your vehicle. Keeping your vehicle in good technical repair reduces the chances of a mishap or disaster. Have your electrical, exhaust, heating/cooling, fuel and braking system thoroughly checked. Make sure the vehicle is equipped with snow tires and ensure windshield wipers are in good condition. When winter hits, protect yourself from carbon monoxide exposure by keeping the exhaust pipe clear of snow and checking the system for leaks. Don’t let the fuel level get too low, and always keep an extra container of antifreeze - rated for the coldest temperatures - in your vehicle.

Pack a winter driving kit. Winter driving is less stressful when you’re equipped for the worst. Your winter driving kit should include a bag of sand, salt or kitty litter, traction mats, a snow shovel, a snow brush and ice scraper, warning devices such as flares or a “Call Police” sign, and fuel line de-icer. Also, in case you’re ever stranded in a cold vehicle, keep a blanket and extra clothing on hand, including a hat, wind-proof pants, gloves and warm footwear, as well as snacks, water, and the usual drivers’ aids - first aid kit, roadmaps, and booster cables.

In the event that you ever get stuck or stranded in the snow, there’s no need to panic, especially if you have properly prepared. Turn on flashing lights, bundle up, run the car engine about 10 minutes every hour to provide heat, and stay awake. (Make sure your exhaust pipe is not blocked.) An unheated car can be like an icebox, so focus on staying warm and dry.

Get ready for the road. Plan before heading out. Decide on your travel route in advance and then check the road and weather conditions for that route. Avoid driving if you are fatigued. Allow plenty of time for your journey, and let someone know where you’ll be travelling and when you expect to arrive.

Visibility is key to safety on the road, so take the time to warm up your vehicle to reduce condensation on the windows, and remove any snow and ice that may reduce your visibility. Don’t forget your cell phone, if you have one, and your sunglasses.

Dress warmly and comfortably, but if you decide to add or remove a layer, don’t do it while driving - pull over and stop the vehicle.

Drive carefully. It’s important to drive safely and responsibly in any weather, but the winter requires extra caution. That means slower driving, heightened alertness, and twice the stopping distance between your vehicle and the one in front of you. Slow down when approaching a bridge, because it could be icy even when the roads are not.

You can survive the winter drive!

Safe winter driving and survival tips from CCOHS’ OSH Answers

Partner News

Ontario Provides a Gateway to Workplace Informationprint this article

Anyone looking for information on how to ensure a safe, fair and harmonious workplace will find straightforward answers on the Workplace Gateway, a website from the Ontario government. The site bundles information on workplace health and safety, employment standards and consumer protection, providing one-stop access to a number of web-based resources for employers and workers alike. The Gateway also covers specific industry sectors, from construction to restaurants to tourism.

"This is furthering the education and training of the whole community," said Labour Minister Chris Bentley when the site was launched last fall, "particularly the employer community with respect to employment standards and occupational health and safety issues. It is a platform that we can build upon in the future to help businesses become more efficient and government more effective."

Visitors to the Workplace Gateway can register with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board and Employee Health Tax. They can also apply for employment insurance, access online forms, sign up to receive notifications of construction projects via e-mail, and download documents, such as an employment standards poster. The site contains a wide range of workplace information from workplace hazards and controls, health hazards, regulations on working outside of Ontario, to repetitive strain injury, hazard alerts from the Ontario Ministry of Labour, and news about laws and enforcement.

Small businesses in particular will benefit from having easy access government information on health and safety requirements and other employment practices. The construction link, for example, leads to detailed information on how to start a business or project, licences and trade qualifications, workplace health and safety laws, regulations and other topics.

A frequently-asked-questions section addresses the popular issues of wages and hours of work, health and safety, insurance and benefits, and business productivity.

Visit the Workplace Gateway

Ontario Ministry of Labour’s website.


New E-Course Teaches Workers to Work Safely With Hazardous Chemicalsprint this article

Long before the Canadian government introduced its Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS), requiring workplaces in which chemical products are used to educate and train workers on their safe use, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) had been gathering chemical safety information and disseminating it to workplaces across Canada. Now CCOHS has utilized the accumulated experience of its information services to develop a new e-course, WHMIS for Workers, which helps people to work safely with hazardous chemicals and makes WHMIS compliance easier.

The course, which takes about 50-60 minutes to complete, helps workers understand and follow WHMIS, teaching them about their rights and responsibilities, WHMIS classes, symbols and their meanings, material safety data sheets (MSDSs), and labels. WHMIS for Workersalso includes practical advice on basic health and safety measures to protect the worker and prevent workplace injuries and illnesses. Quizzes allow participants to test their knowledge of the course material.

Delivered over the Internet in an e-learning format, the course is cost effective and makes training easily accessible. As its name states, WHMIS for Workers is designed to meet the needs of all workers who require WHMIS training, but will also appeal to future workers, for example, students in science and technology programs, or young workers preparing for a new job. It is a valuable tool for human resources and safety professionals with responsibility for training and compliance.

WHMIS for Workers helps create a safer workplace by providing workers with some of the knowledge and tools to enable them to work safely.

A French version of the E-Course will be released in early 2005.

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