Health and Safety ReportVolume 3, Issue 5 - May 2005

In the News

KEEP IT DOWN! Noisy Workplaces Are A Health Hazardprint this article

If you and your co-workers have to raise your voices in order to hear one another, your workplace might have a noise problem. And if after a shift you hear ringing in your ears and have to increase the volume on your car radio, these, too, are good indications that you're exposed to excessive noise.

One of the most common occupational health hazards, noise is the bane of workers in heavy industrial and manufacturing environments, in cafeterias, call centres and a host of other industries. While noise may not cut, burn, bruise or strain our bodies as other types of hazards can, it can cause another form of physical injury, including hearing loss which may become permanent if left unchecked.

The degree of injury depends on how loud the noise is, how long a worker is exposed to it, how high or low the sound frequency is and the type of noise. Besides posing a risk of hearing loss, noise - even at low levels - also causes annoyance and interferes with our ability to speak, listen, and communicate warnings of safety hazards to one another. It can affect the cardiovascular system, resulting in the release of adrenaline that is associated with stress and an increase in blood pressure. Excessive noise can be harmful to pregnant women, and it can even interact with dangerous chemical substances, increasing their harmful effects on our health.

How to stop the din

At a food processing company in France, the noise of jars hitting one another while moving along a conveyor was unbearable to workers. The employer solved the problem by enclosing the conveyor and adjusting the speed of the conveyor. After that, the workers didn't even need to wear ear protectors!

Reducing noise to acceptable levels, through engineering modifications to the noise itself or to the work environment, is the most effective way to control exposure. Where technology cannot adequately control the problem, personal hearing protection such as earmuffs or plugs may be used - but only as an interim measure while other ways to control the noise are being explored and implemented.

Excessive noise is a growing concern. The European Agency recently launched "Stop that noise!", Europe's biggest ever noise awareness campaign. It will run for six months and is aimed at the workplace, safety and health institutions, trade unions, associations, companies, managers, and employees in the EA member states, who are all invited to organise their own activities and participate in a competition for good work practices.

Visit CCOHS for further information on how to control noise in your work environment.

Hazard Alerts

Recent Job Fatalities Could Have Been Preventedprint this article

After four cave-ins in a trench, a man who was working in the trench was buried alive by the fifth, fatal cave-in. The worker was placing drainpipe at the bottom of the trench that was 1.8 metres deep and 2 metres wide. The trench was dug in ground made up of topsoil, grey silt and imported dirt.

On the day of the accident, there were three cave-ins at the site, with no injuries. Each time, the owner of the company used an excavator to re-dig the trench so work could continue. Bystanders were concerned that the trench was unsafe and recommended that the employee get out.

When a fourth cave-in occurred, the employee was buried up to his shoulders. One of the bystanders, and the owner of the company who was supervising the job, attempted to rescue the victim. They had partially dug him out and were trying to pull him away from the wall when another section of the wall caved in on the victim and the owner.

This fifth cave-in completely re-buried the victim, and the owner was buried up to his shoulders. Rescue personnel managed to remove the owner and get him to a hospital, but the employee, who was found under a half metre of dirt, was pronounced dead on arrival. According to the autopsy report, he died of severe crushing injuries to the chest from the fourth cave-in.

The Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission of New Brunswick has issued an alert, urging workers to:


  • NEVER enter a trench that is not safely sloped, braced or caged;
  • Keep excavated material at least 1.2 metres away from the edge of an excavation or trench;
  • Remove any loose material that may fall into the excavation or trench.


See sections 180 to 188 of General Regulation91-191, under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, for more information about excavations and trenches.

The Ontario Ministry of Labour's Industrial Health & Safety Program warns of another occupational hazard in an alert entitled Threaded Quick-Connect Hydraulic Couplings with Check Valves.

A worker was fatally injured when the female section of a quick-connect hydraulic coupling hit him in the throat while he was unscrewing it from the port of a hydraulic cylinder. Unknown to the worker, the internal check valve in the coupling section had trapped hydraulic pressure behind it - a pressure of 10,000 psi. As he was unscrewing the coupling, it reached the point where the threads were unable to withstand the force from the pressurized hydraulic fluid and the coupling became a high velocity projectile.

This is a hazard in the construction, mining and industrial sectors, and wherever hydraulic equipment is used. If the connection of a quick-connect coupling is not made completely tight, one of the internal check valves within the coupling may trap hydraulic pressure behind the check valve. The absence of any leaking oil around the coupling is not an indication that the coupling has been made completely tight.

Before using a quick-connect coupling:

  • Ensure that both sections are in good condition, that the threads for the locking sleeve are clean, and that there are no restrictions to prevent the full threading of the locking sleeve onto the male section of the coupling. The quick-connect coupling must be made completely tight.
  • Always assume that there may be pressure behind a fitting.
  • Avoid the use of fittings with check valves whenever possible. In particular these types of fittings should not be used for stretching punch press tie rods.
  • Keep your body out of the line of any potential trajectory. Do not bend over or position yourself in front of any fittings being removed from equipment.
  • Provide a positive means of confirming all pressure is released (gauges or bleed ports) before removing fittings. This is required by the Ontario Regulations for Industrial Establishments, O. Reg. 851, sec. 78.
  • O. Reg. 213/91, Section 48 of the Ontario Regulations for Construction Projects specifies requirements for repairs and alterations to drums, tanks, pipelines or other containers. O. Reg. 854/90, Section 56 of Regulations for Mines and Mining Plants specifies requirements for pressurized systems.


Read the WHCSS of NB alert.

Read the alert from the MOL.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has also published information on trenching and excavation construction.

OSH Answers

Watch Your Back!print this article

When a worker performs manual tasks that involve awkward postures and repeated, forceful movements, injuries to the lower back are the most likely injuries to occur. About three of every four Canadians whose jobs include manual material handling (MMH) suffer pain due to back injury at some time. These injuries account for about one-third of all lost work and 40 percent of all compensation costs. Each year, about 8000 Canadian workers are permanently disabled by back injuries.

The key to preventing back injuries resulting from MMH is in the organization of work flow, job design, pre-placement procedures (in some cases) and safety training for the employee.

Work flow: A job becomes more repetitive and strenuous than necessary -- when jobs are poorly planned. Temporarily storing articles in one place and then moving them to another, storing and moving them again, are unnecessary steps that can be eliminated with a more efficient workflow.

Job design/redesign: Finding ways to eliminate heavy MMH, decrease a job's physical demands and improve environmental conditions is an important step toward preventing back injuries. Powered or mechanical handling systems such as lift tables or conveyors, can take on the heavier handling tasks. Where this equipment is unavailable, it is still possible to decrease manual demands on the worker by, for example, altering the weight of the objects being handled, splitting the loads into smaller ones, changing the layout of the work area, and alternating heavy tasks with lighter ones.

Training: With proper training, workers are much better equipped to avoid getting injured. They will learn to warm up the muscles before lifting; stand and grip properly; lift objects by using their body weight and muscles to maximum effect without jerking, twisting or side bending; and only lifting loads they can safely handle. Workers must also be taught to take advantage of rest periods and correct problems before they cause permanent injury.

More details about working and doing MMH activities in hot and cold environments are available in CCOHS publications, Groundskeepers Safety Guide and Cold Weather Worker's Safety Guide.

Partner News

Chemical Safety Authorities Launch Safety Websiteprint this article

Chemistry, or the almost magical reactivity of chemicals, is what makes the chemical manufacturing industry so vital to the modern world. That same reactivity, however, is what makes chemicals so unstable, and so potentially dangerous to workers who are not armed with the knowledge of how to safely handle those chemicals.

Top U.S. stakeholders in chemical safety have joined forces to develop best practices and communicate them to workplaces that use highly reactive chemicals. As of December, 2004, anyone whose job involves the manufacture, distribution, use and storage of chemicals can now find valuable information by visiting Chemical Reactivity Hazards, a new website dedicated to the safe use of chemicals. Produced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and its partners Dow Chemical Company and the Reactive Alliance (which consists of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and six organizations involved in the chemical industry), the site supports OSHA's mandate to ensure the safety and health of America's workers.

The web page addresses particular standards that apply to the industry, including those from OSHA, EPA, the Department of Transportation and more. Special focus sections describe how to recognize hazards, investigate and report incidents, evaluate and control reactivity hazards, prevent dangerous incidents, and train workers. References to other sources of information are a click away. The Chemical Reactivity Hazards page also offers a quick link to the publication "Essential Practices for Managing Chemical Reactivity Hazards" produced by the Center for Chemical Process Safety of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.

"This new page is a continuation of the many new resources and initiatives we're undertaking to address the hazards associated with reactive chemicals..." said OSHA Administrator John Henshaw at the unveiling of the site last December. "Dow Chemical and the organizations within the Reactives Alliance are helping us develop best practices and effectively communicate these practices so incidents involving reactive chemicals don't occur."

Go to OSHA Chemical Reactivity Hazards

CCOHS provides detailed information on the reactivity hazards and appropriate control measures for specific chemicals in its CHEMINFO database.

CCOHS News

E-course Addresses the Pain and Strain of Office Workprint this article

The workplace is fraught with repetitive tasks that can gradually cause injuries to a worker's musculoskeletal system. These injuries, called work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSD), range in severity from mild and temporary to debilitating and chronic.

Factors such as work pace, repetitive and forceful movements, vibration, awkward posture and temperature extremes can lead to strain on a worker's joints and muscles. A filing clerk might experience tennis elbow, an inflammation of a tendon, from spending long days gripping tightly packed files from a shelf. A data entry clerk might gradually develop carpal tunnel syndrome, a problem in the hands and wrists, from the repetitive motion of typing. A CEO with a glare on her computer screen, craning her neck to see better, might unwittingly develop a chronic ache in her neck muscles.

The way to address such problems is through ergonomics - the applied science of matching the job to the worker. Many work-related musculoskeletal disorders can be prevented through improved work methods, better tools and equipment, and properly designed workstations.

Office Ergonomics, a new e-learning course from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), addresses the issue of ergonomics, with a focus on injuries related to the use of computers and other office equipment. This Internet-based course provides a practical introduction to office ergonomics. It describes WMSDs and the different stages of these disorders, and covers ergonomic risks in the workplace, components of the office environment, fitting the workstation to the worker, and physical exercises that can help ward off injury.

Participants will learn to recognize early signs of discomfort and identify the factors that cause it. The program also explains how to assess, control and prevent ergonomic injuries and report problems so that they can be rectified.

The course takes an average of 40 to 60 minutes to complete. Participants can test their knowledge through quizzes and an exam at the end of the course.

Registration for this course is provided online, e-mailing clientservices@ccohs.ca or by calling 1-800-668-4284.

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