Potentially Big Hazards In Microscopic Packages
In an age where computer hard drives have shrunk from filling a room to dangling off a keychain, it's no surprise that other aspects of manufacturing have made a natural progression to the miniature. At the extreme level of smallness is "nanotechnology," a rapidly growing phenomenon where everything happens at the level of the nanometre (nm) - a billionth of a metre (10-9 m).
Nanotechnology is the manipulation of matter on a near-atomic size scale, to produce new structures, materials and devices. It is used in medicine, biotechnology, energy, the environment, and in computing and telecommunications. At this atomic level, materials have different, unique properties that affect their physical, chemical and biological behaviour.
The world has seen many examples of this rapidly-growing technology in recent years. It is used to create consumer products such as dental adhesive, tennis balls, immuno-suppressant drugs, and refrigerators. Manufacturers of outdoor wear use nanoscale technologies to create fabrics that wick sweat away from the wearer's skin, keeping it dry, and cool enough to prevent excessive sweating. A team of researchers in the US recently discovered a way to quickly, inexpensively look at a single strand of DNA by positioning the molecule in nanoscale slits.
But What About The Risks?
Nanotechnology is fairly new and in the early stages of development. The scientific knowledge of its effects on human health is limited and there is uncertainty about the risks involved for workers in this new industry.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in the US is currently researching nanoparticles to find out how workers might be exposed to them in the manufacturing or industrial use of nanomaterials, and how nanoparticles affect or interact with the body's systems.
NIOSH has developed a document called Approaches to Safe Nanotechnology: An Information Exchange with NIOSH to raise awareness of potential safety and health concerns from exposure to nanomaterials.
The European Commission and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) are other important research bodies committed to R&D into the potential impact of nanotechnology on human health and the environment.
In Canada, the Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail (IRSST) recently released a report outlining what's known about the health effects of nanotechnology so far, and listing preventive measures.
According to the IRRST, nanometric particles are clearly more toxic than larger particles of the same substance. For this reason, researchers are treating nanoparticles of a particular substance as a new product with its own toxicity.
In Quebec alone, there are about 200 professor-scholars active in the field and over 1,000 students that may have already been exposed to nanoparticles. People absorb nanoparticles primarily via the respiratory route, just as they would absorb other dusts.
The IRSST report says one alarming characteristic of nanoparticles is their ability to pass from the pulmonary epithelium and eventually to the bloodstream, which distributes them throughout the body and sometimes even to the brain. Certain nanoparticles modify blood parameters and accumulate in particular organs, including the liver and spleen.
Besides being a respiratory hazard, many types of nanoparticles have significant reactivity potential that can result in fires or explosions.
With limited knowledge about the hazards of nanoparticles, the facts about disease prevention are also questionable at this early stage. Using respiratory protection to control exposure through breathing, for example, remains to be proven as an effective solution, though high-efficiency chemical cartridges are a good precaution. Even controlling exposure through ventilation can be difficult, says the IRRST, since nanoparticles "tend to behave like gases rather than solids."
Until research progresses further, the IRSST recommends strict preventive measures to limit emissions of nanoparticles, both within and outside of the work environment. Many countries have begun to enact laws that protect workers from potential exposure, in hopes of preventing an increase in occupational disease.
Approaches to Safe Nanotechnology: An Information Exchange with NIOSH
Nanotechnolgy and Workplace Health (PDF) - NIOSH
Health Effects of Nanoparticles (PDF) - IRRST
Nanoparticles: Risks and Means of Prevention (PDF) - IRRST
National Institute for Nanotechnology - Canada
Emerging Challenges - Nanotechnology and the Environment, UNEP GEO Year Book 2007
Safety Aspects of Nanotechnology - listing of related reports and projects from Europe
Beware of Log - Dangers in Logging and Forestry
A grader in BC who was clearing snow from a roadway pushed through two windfall trees, sweeping them into the ditchline. About four hours later, another worker passing through the same roadway noticed the trees. This worker, who had six and a half years experience, did not realize that considerable tension had been created in the trees when the grader had moved them aside.
Since the trees were still not completely off the road, the worker decided to cut (or "buck") them into logs further back off the roadway. He bucked the first tree without incident, but when he bucked the second - a 5.5" fir approximately 48 feet long - it broke under the tension and swung back, hitting the worker on his left leg just below the knee. He was treated in hospital for a torn ligament.
The alert from Western Forest Products cautions that pushing logs or trees off a road can create a hazard. Long after they're pushed aside, those logs or trees may be under considerable tension. When graders or other machine operators push logs or trees off a road and cannot remove the hazard created, they should tie a "danger tree" ribbon to the hazard and let their supervisor know of its exact location. Anyone attempting to buck a tree or windfall should take the time to properly assess it for tension or other hazards.
A more serious incident occurred at a plywood mill, also in BC, when a worker operating a loader with a grapple attachment was carrying a load of peeled logs to a vat for soaking. Unbeknownst to the loader operator, a worker had entered the vat and was standing just inside the entrance as the loader approached. The worker did not make his presence known to the loader operator.
The operator's field of vision was limited. He couldn't see past the elevated load, and there was no lighting inside the vat. When the logs were dropped they struck the worker. He sustained fatal injuries.
To prevent incidents of this kind, WorkSafe BC recommends having designated walkways for pedestrian traffic where possible - with no shortcuts allowed, and that pedestrians use traffic control or other means of communication with mobile equipment operators before entering a hazardous area. Loader operators can also improve safety by carrying loads only as high as necessary, to maintain visibility as much as possible.
Read the full hazard alerts:
Worker was injured while bucking a windfall to clear a road - From Western Forest Products on the BC Forest Safety Council website
Mill worker struck by mobile equipment - WorkSafe BC
The ABCs of Hepatitis
The word "hepatitis" tends to always be accompanied by a letter… "hepatitis A." "hepatitis B," and it goes all the way up to E. These letters represent the different viruses that cause viral hepatitis. Hepatitis A, B, C, D and E all have different symptoms and modes of transmission. They are spread in different ways and require different means of control, but all forms of hepatitis have one thing in common: inflammation of the liver.
Each of the above-mentioned viruses causes acute, or short-term, viral hepatitis. The important difference is that B and C can also cause chronic hepatitis, a prolonged, potentially lifelong infection.
First, here's a look at the less harmful hepatitis A. This disease is often mild, lasting a week or two. In more severe cases it can last several months. Symptoms include fever, tiredness, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal pain, dark urine, and yellowing of the skin and eyeballs (jaundice). Not everyone who carries the virus will exhibit symptoms, however. Hepatitis A does not cause long-term damage and is usually not fatal. Hepatitis A is caused by putting something in the mouth that has been contaminated with the feces of a person with hepatitis A. The spread of the disease is often associated with unsanitary conditions or poor personal hygiene, but may also result from drinking contaminated water, eating undercooked shellfish harvested from contaminated water, eating contaminated fruits and vegetables (which may have been handled by an infected person) or through oral and anal sexual activity.
In the workplace, there is a low risk of hepatitis A infection if healthcare workers follow standard infection control procedures. However according to a recent report sewage workers may be at increased risk during community outbreaks.
Hepatitis B is a more serious disease. It occurs when the virus is able to enter the blood stream and reach the liver. In the more severe cases it can cause continuous liver disease, which can progress to cirrhosis and possibly liver cancer. There is no known cure for hepatitis B.
The major source of hepatitis B infection is infected blood, which makes it a considerable risk in some workplace settings. Workers who have direct contact with infected blood can contract hepatitis B if their skin is punctured with blood-contaminated needles. They may also be at risk if an infected fluid or blood splashes onto skin that has a cut, scratch, or other irritation, or into the mouth, nose, or eyes. Hepatitis B is found in semen, vaginal secretions, and breast milk and can be transmitted during unprotected sexual intercourse, and from mother to infant during birth and through breast-feeding. Hepatitis B is not transmitted by casual contact.
Hepatitis B is a risk to health-care workers, dentists, dental assistants, and dental hygienists, people who work with the developmentally handicapped or with aggressive, biting residents. Embalmers may also be at risk.
Hepatitis C, another potentially serious disease transmitted primarily by exposure to blood, occurs only if the virus is able to enter the blood stream and reach the liver. About half of all people who develop hepatitis C never fully recover, and some may develop cirrhosis of the liver and liver failure.
People infected with hepatitis C may experience fever, nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, stomach pain, extreme fatigue, and jaundice. Some will have no symptoms - and can infect others without knowing it - but might become ill in the future, even 10 years after becoming infected.
Occupations where workers are exposed to human blood or blood products carry the biggest risk of hepatitis C infection.
Good hygiene and sanitation are key to preventing hepatitis A. Workers should frequently wash their hands, particularly after using the washroom, and before they eat, drink or smoke. Nail biting should be avoided.
To prevent hepatitis B and C and other blood-borne diseases, workers should use what Health Canada and the US Department of Health and Human Services call "universal precautions." These include engineering controls, such as puncture-resistant containers for disposing of used sharps; safe work practices; and personal protective equipment such as gloves, masks and aprons to suit the task.
Workers can be immunized against hepatitis B, but no vaccine exists for hepatitis C. The best line of defence against hepatitis C is infection control precautions as described above. Originally developed for hospitals, these "universal precautions" can be used in any workplace where workers risk being exposed to blood or other body fluids, such as semen, vaginal secretions, or amniotic fluid.
Where there is a risk of hepatitis B or C, personal protective equipment provides some extra protection against blood and certain body fluids.
To read the full OSH Answers document on hepatitis please visit www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/diseases/hepatitis_a.html
Improving WHMIS Hazard Communication
Adverse health outcomes have significant implications for all Canadians. Almost two decades ago the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) was established with the rationale that it would lead to the prevention of workplace injury and illness.
Today, workplace stakeholders are still working together to discuss current challenges and strategies to improve WHMIS, focusing on improvements to hazard communication in the workplace.
On February 8-9, 2007, Health Canada's National Office of WHMIS (NOW) hosted a Pan-Canadian WHMIS Hazard Communication Symposium in Ottawa. This meeting brought together 40 invitees - from federal, provincial and territorial governments, representatives of labour groups, industry groups, employer groups, as well as researchers and the Canadian Strategy for Cancer Control's National Committee on Environmental and Occupational Exposures (NCEOE). In addition the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) and the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission (HMIRC) also participated.
Speakers from these stakeholder groups presented their perspectives on hazard communication as it impacted on MSDS quality, primary prevention of chronic disease, and enhancing the effectiveness of WHMIS compliance programs. Presentations were made about WHMIS surveillance, sampling and testing, as well as on tools such as CAREX that assists in tracking occupational carcinogen exposures and a new tool in development by CCOHS for MSDS evaluation. Stakeholder recommendations for improved recognition and primary prevention of occupational disease were identified and discussed.
This meeting clearly showed that workers, regulators and regulated parties share a common goal and mutually benefit by using an integrated approach in meeting the objectives of WHMIS. This meeting provided an excellent opportunity for WHMIS stakeholders to share their experiences and to work together in identifying strategies to improve hazard communication. As the WHMIS program approaches its 20th anniversary and prepares for transition to the Globally Harmonized System, the goal of preventing workplace injuries and illness remains a key goal.
You Are Invited To Test OSH Works!
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) has launched OSH Works, a management system to help Canadian organizations manage and improve their occupational health and safety programs.
This new web-based system enables you to Plan, Do, Check and Act on key OSH activities and requirements. It allows an organization to upload its health and safety policies and procedures, as well as to assign and track employee training. Built-in audits and user-friendly guidance help organizations to recognize and achieve superior OSH performance. This system meets the requirements of national and international OHS Management System standards such as CSA Z1000-06 and OHSAS 18001. It includes everything from hazard awareness tools, reports for incidents and audits, sample emergency response plans and other programs. And with CCOHS as your guide, you have easy access to professionals who can help you resolve any gaps in your programs.
OSH Works benefits the whole organization by keeping health and safety in the mind of all employees - reminding them specifically about their upcoming tasks and responsibilities, allowing access to e-learning courses, and ensuring that critical policies, programs and procedures are always right at hand. There is also quick access to legislation, and tools to resolve health and safety questions.
What better way can there be to help prevent workplace injury and illness?
Workplace administrators can easily set up and assign health and safety tasks to individual staff members, departments or committees. They can generate reports to see how everyone is progressing with their OHS objectives and targets, and learn more about the requirements of OHS management system standards. OSH Works is entirely customizable by the client and fully interactive. Built-in security features ensure complete privacy and control access to confidential documents and records. The service can be integrated with organizational e-mail software to simplify reminders and new task notification.
This new system integrates health and safety responsibilities into your everyday business management. It can easily be adapted to use local intranet resources and with the customizable OSH Works home page, the organization's commitment to occupational health and safety can be demonstrated - and help to reinforce safety - on a daily basis.
CCOHS is looking for pilot clients to help further enhance OSH Works - in exchange for a year's free access to the service. If you are ready to implement a superior occupational health and safety management system, please contact CCOHS Client Services at 1-800-668-4284.
More about OSH Works
The Health and Safety Report, a free monthly newsletter produced by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), provides information, advice, and resources that help support a safe and healthy work environment and the total well being of workers.
© 2009, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety