Health and Safety ReportVolume 5, Issue 7 - July 2007

In the News

It's Not Sink or Swim - It's Stay Afloat!print this article

Every year in Canada hundreds of people drown - most while boating. According to Transport Canada, over 87% are not wearing a lifejacket or a personal flotation device (PFD), or don't have it done up properly when they drown. Choosing to WEAR your lifejacket or PFD correctly is the best way you can stay afloat on the water.

Flotation devices were invented to protect seamen against the extreme conditions and high risk of injury. These high performance lifejackets were designed with maximum buoyancy to save the lives of those who may have to abandon ship.

These lifejackets were so bulky, confining and uncomfortable that not all boaters were wearing them as they should, and therefore were not protected. Personal flotation devices (PFDs) were developed as a more practical solution for pleasure boaters. These new, less buoyant, and somewhat less-effective PFDs are however comfortable and more likely to be worn - and thereby save more lives. By law, pleasure craft must have enough Canadian approved flotation devices of the appropriate size for everyone on board, with 2 exceptions. The flotation device need not be of appropriate size for persons with a chest size in excess of 140 cm (55 inches), and children weighing less than 9kg (20 lbs.). Transport Canada recommends that children be at least 20 lbs. before you take them boating.

If you work or play on or near the water, you need to find out what type of flotation device (lifejacket or PFD) is best and approved for your vessel and activity.


Anyone on a commercial vessel is required to wear a lifejacket. Because of the potentially rugged waters and long hours at sea, a PFD is not acceptable. Lifejackets come only in red, orange and yellow - colours that will be most visible in water. There are three Canadian-approved types:

  1. Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) lifejackets are required on all inspected commercial vessels and are approved for all vessels. They meet very high performance standards. They will turn you on your back in seconds to keep your face out of the water so you can breathe, even if you are unconscious. They are available in comfortable and compact, inflatable styles that can be automatically, manually or orally inflated and come in two sizes: for persons over 32 kg (70 lbs.) and persons less than 32 kg.

  2. Standard Type lifejackets are mandatory for commercial vessels i.e. fishing vessels, ferries and ocean-going vessels, and approved for all vessels on Canadian waters, except SOLAS vessels. These too will turn you on your back to keep your face out of the water, even if you are unconscious. They must be of a keyhole style and come in two sizes: less than 40 kg (88 lbs.) and greater than 40 kg.

  3. Small Vessel lifejackets are approved for small commercial vessels of less than 15 tons and on small passenger vessels. They come in two models: keyhole and vest. These are comfortable and look similar to a PFD. They have less flotation than Standard Type lifejackets and although they will also turn you on your back, they may do so more slowly. They are available in three sizes: for people weighing more than 41 kg (90 lbs.), between 18 - 41 kg (40 - 90 lbs.) and weighing less than 18 kg (40 lbs.).

Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs)

PFDs are Canadian-approved approved only for pleasure craft and are designed to keep you afloat in the water. They are generally smaller, less bulky and more comfortable than lifejackets, and designed to be worn constantly while boating. PFDs are approved in all colours, but the Canadian Coast Guard recommends that you choose bright colours so you are more visible in the water. They have limited capacity to turn you face up.

There are two approved types of personal flotation devices:

  1. Inflatable PFDs either automatically inflate when put under water, or are inflated by the wearer using either an oral or manual inflation device. These are for people who are 16 years or older and weigh more than 36 kg (79 lbs.). Operators of personal watercraft must not use this type of PFD.

  2. Inherently buoyant PFDs have less buoyancy than lifejackets. They may not rotate you to float in a face up position in the water.


Look for a lifejacket or PFD with a label that states it has been approved by Transport Canada, Canadian Coast Guard, Fisheries and Oceans Canada; or, any combination of these. Foreign visitors to Canada may bring their own flotation device to use as long as it conforms to the laws of their country.

More Lifesaving Tips:

  • Attach a whistle to your flotation device. It will greatly improve your chances of being rescued in those vast waters.

  • Properly store and maintain your flotation device. It won't protect you if it's worn out, mouldy or torn.

  • Take no chances with children. Outfit them with an approved, properly fitting PFD and have them wear it around, in or on the water. Keep children close - within arm's reach.

Remember That It Only Works If You Wear It

Lifejackets and PFDs are made to be worn. Don't even think about using one as a cushion or just "keeping it handy". If you fall into water and out of reach of your PFD, wind and wave conditions and cold water can make it very hard to find, put on and do up your PFD. Wear a "lifesaver" and stay afloat - it could save your life!

Further reading:

Office of Boating Safety (Transport Canada) (Cook-Reese Memorial Fund for Water Search and Safety, a Red Cross partner in safety)

Hazard Alerts

Know Your Hazardous Substancesprint this article

A chemical safety program only works if you can identify the chemicals in your workplace. Take, for instance, these two recent incidents:

Unidentified airborne releases

Employees in a plant in Australia were put at risk because no one had identified a contaminant - benzene - would be formed during a chemical process. It happened during a maintenance shutdown. When several sections of the plant were re-opened, a strong odour was detected and it was discovered that there was potential for employees to be exposed to benzene from this by-product.

Benzene, an extremely flammable chemical that can cause cancer and blood disorders, was one of many chemicals formed as a by-product of the process. The company had safety procedures in place for such an event, but didn't implement the procedures because no one had identified the potential for benzene exposure within this area of the process.

Australian occupational health and safety law requires that employers:

  • Ensure that an assessment is made to determine if there is any risk associated with the use of the hazardous substance at the workplace;

  • Ensure that any risk associated with the use of the hazardous substance be eliminated, or reduced as much as possible.

After the incident described above, the company reviewed its chemical processes in all areas of the plant. They identified any other potential intermediates or by-products that may be harmful to workers, as well as any risks associated with the presence of these substances.

Mystery pipes

It's not uncommon to find workplaces where a series of pipes, containing propane, bulk oil, compressed air, and electrical utilities, are all painted the same colour. Last May, Nova Scotia Environment and Labour issued a hazard alert about this safety hazard since according to Canada's Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS), anyone working in the area of a on a pipe needs to know what's in it, and what safety measures to take if something goes wrong.

When hazardous products are contained or transferred in a pipe, employers must take every reasonable precaution to ensure the safe use, storage and handling of the controlled product. An important part of this is employee education, and the use of colour coding pipes, labels, placards, or any type of identification clearly legible to employees. NS provides an example of colour schemes that could be established, and their meaning:


Flammable or Explosive

Chemically Active or Toxic

Extreme Temperatures or Pressures

Liquid or Liquid Mixture

Gas or Gaseous Mixture

Water, Foam, C02, Halon, etc.








Whichever colour scheme is used, employers must post colour code information where everyone can see it and make employees aware of what the colours mean through education and training.

Read the full hazard alerts:

Labeling of Pipes with Controlled Products - Nova Scotia

Exposure to Hazardous Substances (by-products) - Victoria, Australia

Read about the health effects of Benzene from OSH Answers

OSH Answers

Forward Sloping May Be Forward Thinking - When It Comes To Chairs!print this article

Admittedly, the science of ergonomics is a work-in-progress, especially when it comes to office chairs. The problem is that too much of anything, even something as seemingly harmless as sitting in a chair, can adversely affect the human body.

Science has worked for decades to figure out a way to relieve the back and leg pain of workers who sit for a good portion of the workday. Even since the advent of countless "ergonomically designed" office chairs, the number of people suffering postural problems and back pain from sitting has not decreased.

One detail has caused much discussion: what to do about the lumbar curve of the spine.

The majority of guidelines, even our own OSH Answers documents (Working in a Sitting Position - Good Body Position, and How to Adjust Office Chairs) suggest sitting upright, with a 90 degree angle between the torso and thighs. This flattens the lumbar curve.

Researchers are realizing, however, that a flattened lumbar curve increases both the mechanical load on your lumbar spine as well as back muscle activity. Sitting in this position may lead to chronic low back pain.

That's why some experts believe it's time to re-think the entire concept of "proper" sitting and good chair design. In fact, some are going back to an older concept, one described by A.C. Mandal in his 1985 book, The Seated Man: Homo Sedens. Mandal believed in maintaining, above all, the lumbar curve. He said it was absolutely essential to a healthy, pain-free back.

A New Way To Have A Seat?

One possible solution is to try using a chair with a forward-sloping seat pan as an option. This allows the worker to maintain the angle between the torso and thighs at about 105 degrees, while keeping the feet flat on the floor or on a footrest.

There may be disadvantages to a sloping chair - having to constantly counteract gravity to avoid sliding off, for one. This requires some muscular effort in the legs, however, which can in fact be beneficial! Using the legs in this manner improves blood flow from the lower legs.

Also, people sometimes complain that a sloping chair causes their clothing to ride up their legs. This can be avoided on a properly designed chair with a non-slip covering.

There seem to be more advantages, however, than disadvantages. By increasing the activity of the lower leg muscles and improving blood flow, sitting in a sloped position might reduce the likelihood of contracting varicose veins.

Furthermore, it's easier to rise from a sloping seat than from a horizontal one. Most importantly, a sloping seat decreases the load on the lower back and minimizes the risk of lower back pain. A sloping chair also gives sitters a wider range of body positions. Experts agree that anything that reduces that long, static position is beneficial.

Ideally, users of a sloped seat might consider using a slanted desk surface, which would reduce bending in the neck and upper torso, thus improving postural comfort.

Where Is Seat Science Headed?

Long periods of sitting often result in lower back pain, especially if the job or the chair is poorly designed. It's important (but difficult) to find alternate positions while sitting. While a forward-sloping chair might not be the ultimate solution, it at least offers another option, with definite benefits.

Do what feels right, and stay tuned. We promise to keep you posted as research continues to evolve.

Read more from CCOHS about the forward sloping chair

Partner News

Focus on Safety Pays Offprint this article

Awards Recognize Student Efforts in Occupational Health and Safety

This past spring was especially rewarding for a few deserving students in engineering and occupational health and safety programs who took home awards and scholarships for their efforts. Both Minerva Canada and the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety announced the winners of their respective student competitions.

Dick Martin Scholarship Awards from CCOHS

CCOHS announced the three recipients of their Dick Martin Scholarship Award during North American Occupational Safety and Health Week. CCOHS offers this annual, national award to post-secondary students enrolled in occupational health and safety programs in Canada, to foster interest in the field of workplace health and safety.

This year the winners spanned the country. CCOHS awarded the $3,000 scholarships to Robin Van Driel of Vancouver, British Columbia, Brent MacDonald of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and Craig Journeay of Milton, Nova Scotia. Each of the recipients expressed an interest in understanding more about occupational health and safety that could improve workplace conditions and help prevent workplace injuries and illnesses.

CCOHS' Council of Governors established this occupational health and safety scholarship fund in 2002 in the memory of Dick Martin, a tireless advocate of workplace health and safety in Canada.

James Ham Safe Design Awards from Minerva Canada

Minerva Canada Safety Management Education Inc. announced the winners of its first annual James Ham Safe Design Awards Contest at the annual IAPA Health and Safety Conference and Trade Show in Toronto in April. Ontario's university engineering students were challenged to make an original contribution toward integrating safety into engineering design.

Three students from McMaster University's Faculty of Engineering took the top award for their unique stair-climbing device, designed to aid in preventing back injuries. Stephen Niedojadlo, Jonathan Kwok Kin Ho and Chin Hung Jonathan Lo will share the $3,500 award.

An entry from the University of Ontario Institute of Technology netted the second place prize of $1,500. Students Mark Bernacki, Matt Van Wieringen, Mike MacLeod and Ben Fagan developed a regenerative automatic door opener that would allow doors to remain functional during power failures.

Minerva Canada is a not for profit organization dedicated to promoting the teaching of Safety, Health and Environmental Management (SHE) in post secondary schools across Canada. CCOHS is a proud supporter of Minerva Canada and its SHE education efforts.

Find out how the occupational health and safety student in your life can apply for the Dick Martin Scholarship Award

Learn more about Minerva Canada


New Safety Guide Designed Especially for Custodiansprint this article

While people in schools, health care facilities or office buildings conduct their business, cleaning and maintenance staff work behind the scenes. They work on roofs and in basement boiler rooms and everywhere in between, handling chemicals, machines, hot surfaces and other hazards - all to ensure a safe, comfortable and sanitary environment for everyone in the building.

Designed specifically for these workers, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) recently released the Health and Safety Guide for Custodial Workers. This latest title in CCOHS' popular series of pocket guides outlines how to recognize and control health and safety hazards in custodial work. In an easy-to-read format it describes safe work practices for common custodial tasks and outlines procedures for working alone, workplace violence, and emergency preparedness. Custodial workers can also refer to the guide for recommendations on personal protective equipment (PPE), how to improve their work environment, and much more.

This 170-page booklet will assist custodial service workers, as well as health and safety committee members, supervisors, managers, engineers, and health and safety professionals. Anyone concerned with health and safety in custodial work can consult this on-the-job reference tool as needed. It offers step-by-step guidance on how to develop and implement programs to prevent occupational injuries and illnesses. In addition, the guide outlines what health and safety law requires of workers, managers, supervisors, and how to comply. The booklet is a helpful resource for creating a safety-minded workplace culture.

Like all CCOHS publications, the Health and Safety Guide for Custodial Workers is a collaborative work. It was written by occupational health and safety experts and peer-reviewed by government health and safety authorities, representatives of workers and employers, and specialists in the field of custodial work.

More information about - and how to order the guide

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