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

Volume 5, Issue 6 - June 2007

In the News
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Take Shelter from the Storm - Indoors

Did you know that during Canadian summer months lightning strikes once every three seconds? Although the odds of getting struck by lightning are less than one in a million, Environment Canada says lightning kills six to twelve people every year in this country and seriously injures another sixty or seventy.

Sadly, many lightning deaths and injuries could be prevented by having a preparedness plan and taking some basic safety measures.

It is especially important for people who work outdoors (for example, construction workers, road crews, landscapers and farm workers) to be warned of the dangers of lightning. Employers need to recognize the hazards associated with electrical storms and, where appropriate, have safe procedures and work systems in place, to minimize the risk of injury or harm to employees, and should review these policies seasonally.

A lightning bolt is a million times more powerful than household current, carrying up to 100 million volts of electricity. When someone is struck by lightning, an electrical shock occurs that can cause burns and even stop the person's breathing. Lightning victims are safe to touch. Bystanders shouldn't hesitate to save a life by calling for help. If breathing has stopped, administer mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. If breathing and pulse are absent, a trained rescuer should administer cardio-pulmonary resuscitation.

Whether you fear lightning or consider it a natural wonder, it's a very real hazard that warrants caution. Protection from lightning begins before the storm. Paying attention to weather conditions and forecasts allows time to plan for threatening weather and react appropriately.

Although thunder and lightning can occur occasionally during a snowstorm, April to October are the prime thunderstorm months in Canada. The prime times for storms are late afternoon and just before sunrise.

Knowing how lightning behaves can help you plan for an approaching storm. It tends to strike higher ground and prominent objects, especially materials that are good conductors of electricity, such as metal. Thunder can be a good indicator of lightning - loud crackling means it's close, whereas rumbling means it's further away.

Because light travels faster than sound, you will see lightning before you hear the thunder. Each second between the flash and the thunderclap represents about 300 metres. As a rule of thumb, if you can count less than 30 seconds between the lightning strike and the thunder, the storm is less than 10 km away. There is an 80% chance that the next strike will happen within that 10 km, and if you can hear thunder, you are within striking distance. Run immediately to the nearest safe building or a fully enclosed, metal-topped vehicle Ö there is NO safe place to be outside in a thunderstorm.

Safe Shelters from Lightning
The safest place to be in a thunderstorm is in a safe building. A safe building is one that is fully enclosed with a roof, walls and floor with electrical wiring, plumbing, telephone line, or antennas to ground the lightening, should the building be hit directly. Even inside, there are safety precautions to take. Keep as many walls as possible between you and the outside. Stay away from doors, windows, fireplaces, and anything that will conduct electricity such as radiators, stoves, sinks and metal pipes. Avoid handling electrical appliances and telephones. Use battery operated appliances only.

The next best source of shelter is an enclosed metal car, truck or van (but NOT a tractor, golf cart, topless or soft top vehicle). Make sure the vehicle is not parked near trees or other tall objects that could fall over during a storm. When inside a vehicle during a lightning storm, roll up the windows and sit with hands in lap, waiting out the storm. Don't touch any part of the metal frame or any wired device in the vehicle (including the steering wheel or plugged-in cell phone). A direct strike to your car will flow through the frame of the vehicle and usually jump over or through the tires to reach ground.

Be aware of downed power lines that may be touching your car. You are safe inside the car, but you may receive a shock if you step outside.

Unsafe Shelters
Buildings or structures without electricity or plumbing to ground the lightning do not provide any lightning protection. Shelters that are unsafe include covered picnic shelters, carports, tents, baseball dugouts as well as other small non-metal buildings (sheds and greenhouses).

If you absolutely can't get to safety Ö
There is no safe place to be outdoors during a thunderstorm. However, there are areas that might be less dangerous - and help reduce the risk of being struck by lightning outside.

Stay away from things that are tall (trees, flagpoles or posts), water, and other objects that conduct electricity (tractors, metal fences, lawnmowers, golf clubs).

You do not want to become a prime target by being the highest object on the landscape. Take shelter in low-lying areas such as valleys or ditches but watch for flooding.

If you are in a group in the open, spread out several metres apart from one another.

If you get caught in a level field far from shelter and you feel your hair stand on end, lightning may be about to hit you. Crouch down on the balls of your feet immediately, with feet together, place your arms around your knees and bend forward. Be the smallest target possible, and minimize your contact with the ground. Don't lie flat.

Remember the 30-30 rule

  • When you can count 30 seconds or less between lightning and thunder, head for safe shelter.
  • Remain sheltered for 30 minutes after the last thunder.

When Environment Canada issues a storm warning, or you can already hear that dramatic rumble, remember to take shelter from the storm and protect yourself from nature's impressive but deadly dose of electrical voltage. More about lightning from CCOHS' OSH Answers

Information on a lightning in Canada, Environment Canada

More about lightning safety from the National Weather Service, US

National Lightning Safety Institute, US

Hazard Alerts
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In An Arc Flash - An Intense Electrical Hazard

Electrical workers are at risk of electrical shock from direct contact with live conductors, a common hazard brought by the demand for a continuous supply of power. Recently the government of Newfoundland and Labrador's Department of Government Services issued an alert on another danger: arc flash.

An arc flash results from a flashover of electrical current through air in electrical equipment from one exposed live conductor to another or to ground. Electric arcs can produce temperatures of up to 35,000 degrees Fahrenheit, a degree of heat that instantly vaporizes all known materials.

Sudden temperatures at this degree can cause air to suddenly expand, resulting in a blast of very strong air pressure. That air blast, in turn, can spread molten metal great distances with great force. An arc in an enclosure, such as a motor control centre or switchgear, is magnified and the energy transmitted is forced to the open side of the enclosure toward the worker, with potential for severe heating and burns.

The causes of arc flash include dust and impurities, corrosion, condensation of water on the surface of insulating material, spark discharge, accidental touching, dropping tools, improperly maintained electrical meters, over-voltages across narrow gaps, failure to insulate material, improperly designed or utilized equipment, improper work procedures, and human error.

Newfoundland and Labrador's Department of Government Services suggests that employers should conduct a hazard and risk assessment and implement control measures to protect workers against arc flash. They should develop and implement an arc flash hazard program in accordance with the NFPA 70E Standard or equivalent.

Workers, too, must protect themselves. They need training to understand the hazard of arc flash, how it is initiated, what personal protective equipment (PPE) is appropriate and how to safely use it in electrical settings. Wherever practical, workers should be discouraged from working on energized equipment. The task should be reserved only for qualified, competent person(s) to do after equipment is de-energized and locked out. CSA Standard Z460-2004 - Control of Hazardous Energy covers this in greater detail.

To protect workers and the public, it is vital to clearly mark electrical equipment - such as switchboards, industrial control panels and motor control centres in other-than-dwelling occupancies that are likely to require examination, servicing or maintenance while energized. Even qualified persons trained in electrical safety must always be alerted to potential electrical arc flash hazards.

Read the alert from the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador's Occupational Health and Safety Division

OSH Answers
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To Know, Is to Mow - Safely

What's a big threat to children and the leading cause of amputation among adolescents? The answer is the lawnmower, a well-known seasonal machine, and its victims aren't limited to just young people.

According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, 95 people were admitted to Canadian hospitals in 2003-2004 for treatment of lawnmower-related injuries. Most had sustained amputations or severe bleeding. Lacerations, fractures and amputations typically happen to people's fingers, hands, toes, feet and legs.

The John Hopkins Children's Center in the U.S. reports that 9,400 U.S. children are admitted to hospitals each year due to lawnmower accidents. Between the years 2000 and 2005, 95 percent of those cases were amputations that required reattachment or reconstructive surgery.

Whether the push or ride-on variety, power mowers should be treated as hazardous equipment and every precaution must be taken to ensure that they are operated safely. Though seemingly simple to operate, mowers can do some painful damage. This mowing season, practice these safety tips at work and at home:

Before you mow
Know and understand the contents of your mower's operating manual, including how to stop the machine quickly, and how to inspect it. Make sure the blade is sharp and secured. Replace thin or worn blades. Check also that the shields and other guards are in place and working properly.

When refuelling, use a funnel to avoid spillage. Fill an engine when it is cool, not after it has just been used and is still hot. Never light a match or smoke around gasoline. If using an electric mower use the recommended grounded extension cord.

Keep people away from the area in which you are mowing in case the mower hurls objects several feet away. In particular, keep children under the age of six, and pets indoors.

Before mowing, clean the lawn of debris such as sticks, bottles and stones. Wear close fitting clothing, long pants, protective goggles, sturdy close-toed, non-slip footwear, and hearing protection - which means you'll need to be extra alert for children or pets in the area.

How to mow
Start the lawnmower outdoors to avoid build-up of fumes. Look out for debris, and if you find any, cut the throttle to idle so the mower won't roll when you stop to pick up the debris. If you're on rough ground, set the mower at the highest cutting level.

If using a push mower, stand up straight without bending forward while you mow.

When mowing on a slope, move across the slope rather than up and down, to avoid slipping. Use the opposite rule for a riding lawn mower, which is meant to be driving straight up and down slopes to avoid tipping.

If you must look underneath the mower for maintenance, TURN IT OFF first, ensure that the blade has stopped rotating, disconnect the spark plug wire (or unplug an electric lawn mower) then tip the mower by the handle. If you must remove grass or other matter, use a stick. Keep hands away from the blades and stay away from hot motor parts.

Mow away from you and your feet, and away from the power cord. If you must cross a gravel area, turn off the mower first.

Stop mowing and shut the machine off immediately if the mower hits something hard. Inspect the blade (see safety tip above!) and make the necessary repairs before using the mower again.

If using a riding lawnmower, disengage all attachment clutches and shift the mower into neutral before starting the engine. If backing up, look behind you first. Drive carefully, especially on sharp turns or slopes and never leave the machine on a slope. Do not get on or off the mower while it is running because there is just enough room for your toes under the mower and they could be struck by the blade. Lastly, do not carry passengers.

Now you know how to mow - safely!

Partner News
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Weatheradio - Ready When Weather Happens

Think it would be helpful to hear about weather emergencies ahead of time, guaranteed, whether or not you happen to be watching or listening to the news? Weatheradio from Environment Canada can do just that! Weatheradio alerts you when severe weather is expected, to provide Canadians with more time to prepare and to take precautions.

Many types of work - farming, fishing, forestry, construction, and piloting depend on having the right weather conditions. People in these occupations have to understand and adapt their activities to that day's weather. We all make decisions based on weather conditions: should I take the bus or walk? Is it a good day for planting? Should I be out on the water - or not? For some workers - for example pilots navigating - decisions could mean a matter of life and death.

Weather can change quickly and at times can put people - workers among them - in harm's way. Each extra minute of warning is an extra minute to act and safeguard yourself, your employees or your family.

Recently in Kentucky, where tornadoes developed in the dark of night, many Weatheradio users commented that the alarm from their Weatheradio was what woke them up. Weatheradio was the only way they knew that tornadoes were passing through their area.

The service
Weatheradio was launched in 1977 by the Government of Canada to fill the need for a 24-hour source of weather information direct from Environment Canada. It is a nationwide VHF radio network that broadcasts weather information and alerts, in both official languages, that may not be available from media outlets - and certainly not as immediately.

It is the quickest method for receiving weather alerts over the airwaves. These could include:

  • Tornado Warnings
  • Winter Storm Warnings
  • Severe thunderstorm warnings
  • High wind warnings

The automatic alerting feature where the Weatheradio is put into standby/snooze mode and then automatically turns on when a warning is issued, proactively alerts Canadians of weather hazards.

Weatheradio can be especially useful to employers, supervisors and people involved with outdoor work - forestry, construction, agriculture, landscaping - to prevent injuries from weather-related hazards. It provides information that allows proactive measures to be taken to ensure the safety of the workers who may be exposed to the weather conditions. The service mirrored a similar network already in operation in the U.S. and remained one of our federal government's best-kept secrets - until now!

How it works
The information comes directly from Environment Canada's storm prediction centres without any delays. Weatheradio operates on a VHF band, also known as the WB or Weather Band, which is free of interference from other broadcasters. For the most part, you cannot hear these alerts on AM or FM radio.

Newer Weatheradios come with a "Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME)" feature, which screens out warnings that don't apply to your local area. This feature also allows users to receive alerts only for specified types of hazards.

While a dedicated Weatheradio with the SAME feature is the best option, other receivers that work are scanners, marine radios, multi-band radios, emergency radios, and added features for FRS, GMRS or CB radios. All of these receivers can be used in either Canada or the U.S.

In the name of public safety, Environment Canada would like to see Weatheradios become as common as smoke detectors. Deep sea fishermen, farmers, offshore oil rig crews, adventure kayakers and anyone else who works or plays outdoors have benefited from the often life-saving benefits of having a Weatheradio on hand. The Government would like the service to become standard equipment for emergency management centres and government offices, police and fire stations, road operation centres and patrols, hospitals, schools, parks, campgrounds, marinas, and every home and business in Canada.

Weatheradio service is evolving into an "all-hazards" alert system. It will eventually warn about non-weather related natural and technological disasters, AMBER alerts and terrorist attacks.

Environment Canada's Weatheradio website has more information including transmitter coverage maps and information, SAME event codes, public alerting information, a list of Weatheradio dealers and frequently asked questions.

CCOHS News
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Experts to Address Health and Safety Issues of Changing Workplaces

So much has changed since many of us joined the workforce. The demographic now includes more women, more ethnically diverse workers, and an increasingly older workforce in general. And, rather than just the standard nine-to-fivers, today's workplace includes more "precarious employment" - contracting, self-employment, part-time or temporary positions, and more workers who have multiple jobs. The changing workplace presents gaps in worker protection and raises the question of who is accountable and responsible for health and safety in the workplace.

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) is hosting Forum '07 "Emerging Health & Safety Issues in Changing Workplaces: A Canadian Discussion" September 17-18, 2007 in Vancouver, British Columbia. The second event of its kind, Forum07 brings together experts, workers, employers and governments to share their knowledge and experience to discuss problems and solutions.

CCOHS has assembled an authoritative, prestigious line-up of experts from Canada and Australia to present on the health and safety issues that are emerging from changing workplaces. Forum 07 will provide an opportunity for participants to explore and better understand how these unique challenges impact the health, safety and well being of workers.

Dr. Michael Quinlan, a Fellow of Safety Institute of Australia and professor in the School of Organisation and Management at the University of New South Wales, will travel half way around the world to share his views and discuss the effects of increasingly precarious employment in his presentation on The Evolving Workplace. Dr. Quinlan has focused on the effects of institutional organization, regulation and employment status on OHS. In recent years he has published widely on the effects of precarious employment on occupational health and safety.

Professor Katherine Lippel, a professor of law at the University of Ottawa's Faculty of Law's civic law section, will address Gaps in Protection, Accountability and Responsibility for OH&S in the Changing Workplace. Prof. Lippel will explore whether workers with precarious employment fall under the same OH&S standards as permanent employees and whether health and safety legislation fully protects them. Prof. Lippel specialises in legal issues relating to occupational health and safety and workers' compensation and is the author of several articles and books in the field.

Dr. Catherine M. Burns, an Associate Professor in Systems Design Engineering at the University of Waterloo, will tackle the issue of Emerging Technologies and Processes that bring new risks to workers. How can we keep up with technology and control new workplace hazards? Dr. Burns directs the Advanced Interface Design Lab at Waterloo where her research examines user interface design, visualization and cognitive work analysis. Her work has been applied to military systems, healthcare, power plant control, and oil and gas refining. She has authored over 100 publications.

The question of Why Organizations Need to Focus on Employee Well-being will be covered in a presentation by Dr. Linda Duxbury, one of Canada's leading workplace health researchers. Dr. Duxbury is a Professor at the Carleton University School of Business and the Director of Research at the Centre for Research and Education on Women and Work. She has focused much of her research in the last decade on work and family balance and has significantly advanced the practices and attitudes toward work-life balance in the public and private sectors.

Interactive, informative workshop and plenary sessions presented by leading experts will hopefully inspire ideas that foster improvements in worker health and safety.

Space is limited and filling up fast for Forum 07. If you register by June 30th you will save $100 with the early bird pricing!




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