Health and Safety ReportVolume 3, Issue 3 - March 2005

In the News

Latest Research Supports Prenatal Risks of Exposure to Organic Solventsprint this article

Ongoing research indicates that pregnant women should reduce their exposure to organic solvents. A 1999 study at the Motherisk Program at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children ("Sick Kids") showed an increased risk of major birth defects in children born to mothers with occupational exposure to organic solvents during pregnancy. In 2001, the children of some of the women in this study were tested, and it was concluded that exposure to organic solvents during pregnancy was associated with an increased risk of visual impairments, including risk of colour-blindness. And now, a follow-up study in 2004 by Sick Kids and the University of Toronto has revealed that exposure to organic solvents is associated with poor performance on some specific subtle measures of neurocognitive function, language and behaviour.

Organic solvents are found in products such as paints, paint thinners, adhesives, lacquers, and degreasing agents. They come in many forms, but they all share chemical properties that make them easily inhaled and easily absorbed by the skin. Organic solvents are used in many work environments including those with jobs involving painting, adhesives, nail salons, dry-cleaning operations, and medical laboratories.

This latest research, reported in the October 2004 issue of the journal Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, looked at 32 women who reported being exposed to up to 78 different organic solvents in the workplace for at least eight weeks of pregnancy, starting in the first trimester. The mean exposure was about 32 weeks, with a mean exposure duration of 24 hours/week. It also studied their children, who were between the ages of three and nine years at the time of testing. These women were matched with women who had no occupational exposure to organic solvents, and their children.

Dr. Maru Barrera, a co-author of the study, said in a press release, "We found that the children of the exposed women had significantly lower verbal cognitive functioning than the non-exposed children in the control group. We also saw greater inattention and hyperactivity in the exposed children."

With only 32 participants, the lack of objective exposure information and the large number of organic solvent exposures identified, this study cannot be taken as definitive. Further research is needed to confirm the results. In the meantime, pregnant women should obtain specific information about the risks of organic solvents they are exposed to in the workplace and minimize their exposure. Health care professionals who counsel families of reproductive age should inform their patients that some types of employment may influence reproductive outcomes.

When working with organic solvents, it's important to know what specific organic solvents are being used and what steps should be taken to protect against potentially harmful exposures.

  • Read the Material Safety Data Sheet and follow the advice on it.
  • Ask if organic solvent-free materials or safer organic solvents can be used.
  • Use products with lower percentages of organic solvents.
  • Use the smallest feasible amounts of organic solvents.
  • Use organic solvents in well-ventilated areas. Enclosure or local exhaust ventilation are superior to general area (dilution) ventilation.
  • Wear any respiratory protection that your employer provides.
  • Report any damaged or defective ventilation or protective equipment to your employer.
  • Prevent unnecessary evaporation of organic solvents by using the minimum amount for the job, keeping lids on containers and using sealed containers for organic solvent-contaminated waste.
  • Do not leave organic solvent-contaminated rags lying around.
  • Avoid skin contact with organic solvents and any products containing organic solvents by wearing suitable protective clothing (gloves, apron, goggles or face shield etc) where necessary.
  • Do not use organic solvents to remove paint, grease etc from your skin.
  • If you are pregnant, or considering becoming pregnant, make sure your doctor knows what chemicals you are exposed to at work and follow his/her advice.

Pregnant women exposed to organic solvents in the workplace can call Sick Kids' Motherisk Program at 416-813-6780 for further information.

Hazard Alerts

From Miners to Divers - Alerts Urge Use of Caution and Protection print this article

You might associate mining with being at the bottom of a shaft, deep in the bowels of the earth, but miners often work in elevated areas, on the top of truck trailers, walls or towers. Recent statistics on occupational fatalities reveal that falls are a major hazard in mines and an alert from U.S. Department of Labor calls for more diligence in the use of fall protection.

The U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration reports that from January 1 to August 9, 2004, five miners were fatally injured in falls at metal and nonmetal mines. In the four deaths that were caused by falls from elevation, the primary contributing factor was failure to use fall protection.

The U.S. Department of Labour recommends that all workers be trained to recognize potential fall hazards and to follow safe work procedures. Miners, supervisors and mine operators should conduct a risk assessment prior to performing a task, to identify hazards and to ensure workers are properly protected. Anyone working in an elevated work area should wear proper fall protection or use other effective means of fall prevention where a hazard of falling exists. Employees and contractors should be monitored, to ensure that they wear fall protection where a hazard exists.

A 40-year-old diver was critically injured when his diving suit over-inflated while he was vacuuming the inside of a flooded storm sewer.

An investigation by the Ontario Ministry of Labour revealed that the diving harness (type that crosses the chest) interfered with the operation of the diver's suit. When the diver crouched in the sewer pipe, the harness strap slid over the inflator of his dry suit, inadvertently causing an uncontrolled over-inflation and trapping the diver against the top of the sewer pipe.

As the suit began to inflate, the diver could not raise his arm to discharge the overpressure through the exhaust valve.

This hazard may exist whenever a cross-chest type of diving harness is worn. The Ontario Ministry of Labour recommends ensuring, during pre-dive checks, that the suit inflator valve cannot be activated by harness straps. This may mean that the inflation valve must be moved elsewhere on the suit to prevent the diving harness straps from interfering with the suit inflation valve. The Ministry of Labour alert advises that cross-chest type of diving harnesses should be avoided altogether to reduce the possibility of accidental valve activation.

Read the alert from the Ontario MOL.

Read the alert from the U.S. Dept. of Labour

OSH Answers

Catch Your z's For Safetyprint this article

Although fatigue levels are not easily measured or quantified, studies suggest that fatigue has an impact on work performance. Alberta Human Resources and Employment reports that most accidents occur when people are more likely to want sleep - between midnight and 6 a.m., and between 1 and 3 p.m. And sleep deficit has been linked to large-scale events such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill and the nuclear accident at Chernobyl.

There are many factors that cause fatigue, but the big one is lack of sleep. People with sleeping disorders such as insomnia, sleep apnea or narcolepsy tend not to get enough rest on a given night. Having too much caffeine, alcohol and nicotine in the system can also affect the quality and the amount of sleep. Work-related factors may also cause fatigue, such as shift work, long work hours, long hours of physical or mental activity, insufficient break time between shifts, inadequate rest, excessive stress or a combination of these factors.

Fatigue and the workplace are never a safe combination. A fatigued worker tends to have a reduced ability to make decisions or complex plans. Communication skills are compromised, as are the worker's productivity and performance, attention and vigilance, and reaction time. A fatigued worker may have difficulty remembering things or handling stress. In addition, a fatigued worker - much like someone who is impaired - has an increased tendency to take risks, make errors in judgment, and even fall asleep while operating machinery or driving a vehicle. These risks, and the feeling of fatigue, can be intensified if the work involves boring or repetitive tasks.


People have different needs when it comes to getting enough rest, but the following general guidelines apply to most:

Have a steady, consistent bedtime routine. That means going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, using the bed primarily for sleeping (not for catching up on office work), and minimizing disruptions from the telephone, TV, radio, and family members. People tend to sleep more easily in a room that's dark, quiet, and cool.

Exercise regularly. This improves overall health and may decrease bedtime restlessness.

Adjust your eating and drinking habits. Have at least three meals a day, including a variety of foods from the four recommended food groups. Snack on healthy food during work breaks to stay nourished and energized. Avoid consuming any caffeine during the five hours before bedtime.


There are several approaches the organization can take to help reduce fatigue by considering shift schedules, promoting health, and providing facilities that support the health of the workers.

Promote alertness. Provide a good working environment with proper lighting, comfortable temperatures, reasonable noise levels, and work tasks that are varied and interesting and change throughout the shift.

Shift schedule design. Consider the direction of rotation of shifts (i.e. rotate forward from day to afternoon to night to help circadian rhythms adjust better) and the time at which a shift starts and finishes. Early morning shifts (5 or 6 a.m.) are associated with shorter sleep and greater fatigue.

Provide rest periods. At least 24 hours after each set of night shifts is advised. The more consecutive nights worked, the more rest time should be allowed before the next rotation occurs.

Provide good cafeteria services. Promote health to your workers and enable them to maintain balanced diets.

Read the OSH Answers on fatigue

Read the OSH Answers on shift work

More Tips from New Zealand's Accident Compensation Corporation

Partner News

Life ... or a Living? A History of Occupational Health and Safety in Canadaprint this article

The Workers Arts and Heritage Centre (WAHC) launches a dynamic new travelling exhibition, Life…or a Living? A History of Occupational Health and Safety in Canada on 28 April 2005 in Hamilton, Ontario.

The exhibition and its supporting arts programming is based on a subject that matters to all Canadians but has never before been the focus of an exhibition: the turbulent history of how Canadian workers and their unions have struggled to make workplaces safer. It illustrates their victories, but acknowledges that these gains are fragile and incomplete, as the continuing toll of workplace injuries and disease show.

Targeting women, youth and families, the exhibition presents women's oral histories and includes stories about their recent health and safety experiences in diverse occupations - x-ray technician, entertainer, baby-sitter, factory worker, and student. It shows archival images, such as young girls working in an 1880s New Brunswick factory, and a boy breaking up asbestos in Quebec in the 1940s.

Visitors will discover the relationship between work and occupational injuries and disease through interactive exhibits and games, and from listening to voices of the past and present.
Some of the amazing artifacts and archival documents include: canisters of McIntyre Aluminum powder (a dubious Canadian invention intended to protect miners from silicosis), ordinary objects of which the manufacture was hazardous to workers (a fur-felt hat - remember the phrase 'Mad as a Hatter'?) and some of the hazardous materials found in workplaces (coal from Nova Scotia, quartz from Ontario, and asbestos from Quebec).

An educational kit that accompanies the exhibition will assist in raising wider public awareness of health and safety issues and stimulate discussion about why health and safety is not a central focus in the workplace.

The Workers Arts and Heritage Centre is grateful to the following organizations that are supplying support to the project and to the Advisory Committee which has guided it since 2003:
Associated Medical Services, Inc.,
Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety,
Institute for Work and Health,
Lupina Foundation,
United Transportation Union,
Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, and the
Workers Health and Safety Centre.

For more information, check the website.


Prevention Strategies Emerge From Occupational Disease Forumprint this article

In early March, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) hosted the first ever, pan-Canadian, tripartite forum on occupational disease in Toronto. The goal - to raise awareness of the issues of occupational disease and generate recommendations that could help improve the recognition and prevention of these illnesses and diseases in our country.

Experts from across Canada and around the world, as well as more than 350 representatives from Canadian employers, labour and government, gathered to discuss and share ideas, and recommend strategies to prevent occupational disease and control exposures to hazardous agents.

The active participation of the delegates and facilitators generated meaningful dialogue and ultimately produced more than 115 recommendations. CCOHS consolidated the recommendations into a web survey that invites all Canadians to participate by voting for the recognition and prevention strategies they believe to be most important. Canadians have until April 29, 2005 to cast their votes. The final results from the survey will be posted on the website in May 2005.

In addition, the CCOHS forum website has become yet another valuable resource, dealing specifically with occupational disease. The site features a rich webliography of Internet references and abstracts from the poster sessions, and will soon have the presentations, workplace studies and film clips shown during the forum for all to reference.

CCOHS President and CEO S. Len Hong remarked, "This is the start of a continuing national initiative on occupational disease - one that will eventually help lead to a focused and concerted effort to end work-related illnesses in Canada."

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