In the News
It's known as the silent killer - the poisonous gas that you can't see, smell, taste or touch. However what carbon monoxide (CO) lacks in personality, it makes up for in potency. CO poisoning is responsible for hundreds of deaths, and thousands of hospital visits every year in North America.
A common and deadly hazard, CO results from the incomplete burning of natural gas and any other material containing carbon such as gasoline, kerosene, oil, propane, coal, or wood. Cigarette smoke and motor vehicle exhaust are also sources of CO.
How CO harms people
When we breathe in carbon monoxide, it interferes with the ability of red blood cells to carry oxygen to the heart, brain, and other vital organs. Exposure to very high concentrations can overcome a person in minutes with few or no warning signs and result in coma or death. Hence the extreme danger of this gas.
The initial symptoms of poisoning are similar to the flu (but without the fever). They include tightness across the chest, headache, fatigue, dizziness, drowsiness, or nausea. As symptoms worsen the victim may experience muscle weakness, vomiting, confusion, and even collapse, losing consciousness. The sense of confusion, caused by this gas, can interfere with the victim's ability to realize that their life is in danger.
Workplaces at risk
Internal combustion engines are the most common source of CO in the workplace. There is also a risk of exposure in boiler rooms, warehouses, petroleum refineries, blast furnaces, steel production and pulp and paper production. Farmers have been poisoned by CO while using motorized equipment such as gasoline pressure washers inside barns. While workers in confined spaces, such as mines are at risk, harmful levels of CO can also be present in large buildings or outdoor areas. Other occupations with risk of CO exposure are taxi drivers, welders and garage mechanics. Emergency workers entering uncontrolled environments without wearing a carbon monoxide detector have also been subject to serious injury and even death.
What employers can do*
- Install an effective ventilation system that will remove carbon monoxide from work areas.
- Maintain water heaters, space heaters, cooking ranges, and other potential CO-producing equipment in good working order.
- As an alternative to gasoline-powered equipment, use equipment powered by electricity, batteries, or compressed air.
- Install reliable CO detector alarms that give both visual and audible warnings immediately.
- Don't allow the use of gasoline-powered engines or tools in poorly ventilated areas.
- Test air quality regularly in areas where CO may be present, including confined spaces.
- Have your employees wear a certified, full-facepiece pressure-demand self contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) or a combination full-facepiece pressure demand supplied-air respirator with auxiliary self contained air supply in areas with high CO concentrations.
- If your employees are working in confined spaces where the presence of CO is suspected, you must ensure that the air quality is tested before anyone enters.
- Educate workers who may be exposed to CO. They must know the sources and symptoms, how to protect themselves, recognize symptoms in co-workers, and how to respond in case of an emergency.
Employees have a part to play
Employees, too, can help prevent CO poisoning by reporting any potential CO hazards to the employer, and looking out for ventilation problems - especially in enclosed areas where gases of burning fuels may be released. Don't use gas-powered engines in an enclosed space. Report complaints of dizziness, drowsiness, or nausea if you suspect CO poisoning, and leave the contaminated area immediately. If you get sick, tell your doctor that you may have been exposed to CO.
Protect yourself from CO exposure at home
We are just a few weeks into the new year and already there have been news reports of deaths and illnesses from CO poisonings. We are in the cold weather months and many deaths occur as the result of defective or poorly operated home heating devices. Follow these life-saving tips to protect you and your family:
- Install CO detectors in your home that have both audible and visual alarms. If battery-operated, replace the battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall.
- Never burn anything in a stove or fireplace that isn't vented. Don't use an oven as a heat source.
- When indoors, do not use portable flameless chemical heaters, gas camping stoves or generators and never burn charcoal.
- Never run a car or truck in the garage with the garage door shut or in a garage that is attached to a house.
* Used information from OSHA Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Fact Sheet
Further information about Carbon Monoxide exposure:
Canada Safety Council
OSHA Fact Sheet
Pallet racks are so commonplace in warehouses, distribution centres, retail operations and manufacturing plants that it is important that they be recognized as the potential hazards they are. In light of a recent fatality in Ontario involving the collapse of a pallet racking system, we'd like to give the issue some attention.
Typically made of steel, pallet racks often support heavy loads. If the racks fail and the loads fall, there is potential to severely injure or kill a worker. That's why employers, supervisors and workers who are responsible for and work around racking should take every reasonable precaution to ensure the safe operation and maintenance of pallet racks.
WHAT CAN HAPPEN
Racking systems often fail or collapse, in part or in whole. The forklifts that load the racks often collide with them, causing material to be displaced or damaging the racking itself. Material sometimes falls through the back of the racks. In addition, facilities with floor vibration are at risk of loads crawling and eventually falling off the rack.
These incidents happen when racks are improperly designed, installed or assembled, when they're being loaded or unloaded with the wrong kind of material handling equipment, or when they're damaged.
Other causes of failure of pallet rack systems:
- Overloaded or misused racks
- Unstable floors or walls
- Cracks in concrete floors around the anchors (from repeated hitting of the pallet rack)
- Products pushed through the back of the rack or no back rest where needed
- Operator error, often because the person driving the material handling equipment (forklift, reach truck etc.) isn't properly trained
- After a forklift collision with a rack, employees fail to report the incident to management, or fail to assess damage and do the necessary maintenance or repairs
- Using racks to store goods/products they were not originally designed for
- Bracing is removed or not installed
- Anchor bolts are not installed
- Lack of regular inspection and maintenance program
Employers have a duty to ensure a safe work environment. In Ontario, a Pre-Start Health and Safety Review (PSR) is required in a factory where a new structure is being installed or modified (unless the employer has documentation to indicate that the rack has been designed and tested in accordance with the current applicable standards). Check the health and safety guidelines for your jurisdiction for regulations specific to pallet racks.
HOW TO PREVENT MISHAPS
According to reports from actual injuries and fatalities related to pallet racking, the following safe work practices are necessary and can save lives:
Installation - Only workers who have received adequate training and are familiar with rack assembly procedures should be installing racking systems. It is critical to ensure that the installation of new racking or modified racking (which alters the load capacity) is in compliance with health and safety guidelines in your jurisdiction and carried out in accordance with the engineering reports and manufacturers' instructions.
Safety training - Anyone working in the area of pallet racking, or operating the equipment used to load the racks, must receive appropriate training on the potential hazards and safe work practices.
Maintenance - Racks are not designed to withstand harsh blows. Any structure that receives a major dent should be replaced or repaired. Many pallet racking systems are damaged during regular use, most often by forklift trucks.
Inspection - Supervisors and workers should conduct a daily inspection of the racking system. Things to look for are minor dents (a good indicator of structural abuse), improper overhang of goods over pallets, pallets over beams, damaged pallets, storage of improperly sized pallets, and unsafe operation of material handling equipment.
Once a month, management should conduct an inspection and document the findings in writing and through drawings to identify any variance (e.g. structural damage, missing or out-of-position components, etc.) from previous months. It is important to report findings of daily and monthly inspections and ensure there is a system in place to address any deficiencies/damage noted.
It is the employer's responsibility to ensure the racking systems in use are installed correctly, used as intended and maintained in good condition.
Do you lift weights? Would you lift weights in sub-zero temperatures, on uneven, slippery ground, while wearing heavy clothing? When you shovel snow, that's essentially what you're doing. Some people take this task a step further and do it in a hurry, lifting far too much weight at a time, several times in a row, often for 20 minutes to an hour. Some even proceed to twist their bodies in awkward ways to dump or throw that weight to the right or left of them.
No wonder emergency rooms are crowded every winter with people who have injured their backs while shovelling snow! Researchers also report an increase in the number of fatal heart attacks among snow shovellers after a heavy snowfall. We Canadians know our snow, but we're not always wise to the hazards of shovelling it.
Snow shovelling: A refresher
Shovelling snow can be risky, but not if you do it right:
- Allow enough time. People get hurt when they try to shovel in a hurry. In the wintertime, leave time in your schedule for shovelling, and it will be a more pleasant, safer task.
- Should you be shovelling at all? As with any form of strenuous exercise, check with your doctor first. If you are older, overweight, or have a history of back or heart problems, or simply feel that it is too much for you, delegate the task to someone else or get a snow blower. Also, no one should shovel if the temperature drops below -40°C, or below -25° to -30°C when it is windy.
- Warm up first. Walk for a few minutes or march on the spot. Do a few flexing and stretching exercises so that the work doesn't come as a shock to your system.
- Wear several layers of warm, lightweight clothing in which you can move comfortably. The inner layer should be fishnet or thermal underwear that wicks perspiration away from the skin. Cover your head, especially your ears, feet and hands. Wear water-resistant, high-cut boots with good traction. In very cold weather, try to cover your face as much as possible.
- If the ground is icy or slippery, spread salt, sand or kitty litter to create better foot traction.
- Use a proper snow shovel. It should be light-weight, about 1.5 kg or a little over 3 lbs, and the blade shouldn't be too large. The handle should be long enough so that you don't have to stoop to shovel. The grip should be made of plastic or wood - metal gets too cold.
- Keep moving and work at a steady pace. Shovel only small, manageable amounts (1-2 inches) at a time. Protect your back by lifting properly and safely:
- Stand with feet at hip width for balance
- Hold the shovel close to your body
- Space hands apart to increase leverage
- Bend from your knees, not your back
- Push the snow rather than lift it
- Tighten your stomach muscles while lifting
- Walk to dump snow rather than throwing it
- If you must throw a load of snow, take only as much snow as you can easily lift. Turn your feet to the direction you're throwing and DO NOT twist at the waist or throw the snow over your shoulder or to the side.
- Recognize the danger signs. Stop shovelling and call 911 if you feel discomfort or heaviness in the chest, arms or neck; unusual or prolonged shortness of breath; a dizzy or faint feeling; or excessive sweating or nausea and vomiting.
Remember what others have learned the hard way. Shovelling snow is a strenuous activity that can take a heavy toll on your body and well-being.
Read the full OSH Answers on "Shovelling."
Safety tips on working in the cold, from OSH Answers
Recent amendments to Alberta's Occupational Health and Safety laws have been applied to directly support families who have been impacted by a workplace fatality or life-altering injury.
Section 41.1of the Occupational Health and Safety Act ("OHSA") of Alberta allows judges to impose innovative sentences - any condition they consider appropriate - to those convicted of OHS offences. Penalties have included directing monies from fines for education or improvement in industry standards as well as donating to not-for-profit organizations to help victims and prevent future fatalities and injuries.
Last August an Alberta company was fined for failing to protect a worker who received a life-altering injury in a manufacturing incident. As part of the creative sentence, $95,000 was directed to Threads of Life, a national charitable organization that supports families along their journey of healing who have suffered from a workplace fatality, life-altering injury or occupational disease.
The creative sentencing monies resulting from the August decision will support the development and distribution of two resource booklets for Alberta families directly impacted by a traumatic workplace fatality or a life-altering injury. Threads of Life is also working on coordinating a three-day forum for families impacted by workplace tragedy to network, share their experiences and learn healthy coping skills along their journey of healing. The family forum will be held May 23 -25 in Alberta.
"No amount of money will ever bring back a loved one. But every family I have ever met says they want to do something in memory of their loved one. All they want is for this to never happen to another family ever again, and creative sentencing helps make that happen." Says Shirley Hickman, Executive Director of Threads of Life, the Association for Workplace Tragedy Family Support.
In Alberta over the past five years creative sentencing has resulted in close to 2 million dollars being directed to charitable groups that support programs to help prevent similar occurrences.
Learn more about Threads of Life at: threadsoflife.ca
Read the highlights of Alberta's Occupational Health and Safety Act Amended in 2002
Every few decades there is a radical change in the influenza virus. This large change means many more people will be affected, often causing a pandemic. At the present time there is no cause for alarm, but Canada's federal, provincial and territorial governments are taking the advice of scientists - who say there will be a global outbreak of influenza (flu) sooner rather than later.
Impacts from a pandemic would strongly affect people's personal lives, as well as our workplaces. To help companies understand the risk and protect their staff and operations, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) has launched two e-courses on the subject of pandemic influenza: Pandemic Awareness and Pandemic Planning.
Pandemic Awareness is a free, 20 minute introductory course. It describes what a pandemic is, how an influenza virus spreads, and the impact a pandemic may have on workplaces, families and communities. This e-course also outlines the importance of preparing for an influenza pandemic. It describes what could happen, and what people should expect. Most importantly, the course describes how people and companies can proactively try to avert a crisis by staying as influenza-free as possible.
Pandemic Planning expands on information in the Awareness course by providing more details on how workplaces can plan for a pandemic, the employee absences it would cause, what a pandemic is, how an influenza virus spreads, and why it's important to prepare. In addition, it explains how to take action both on an individual and organization level.
To reduce the potential impact a pandemic would have on employers, this e-course also outlines the elements of a business continuity plan. It gets to the root of the health issues and describes ways to slow the spread of influenza. Course participants will learn valuable tips on how to prepare for a flu pandemic at work, at home and in the community, and where to find further information. Everyone n the workplace, including managers and supervisors will benefit from this e-course.
The Pandemic Planning e-course takes about 1 hour to complete. Course modules are supplemented with case studies, review quizzes, and a feature that allows participants to ask questions. Those who score at least 80% on the final exam will be able to print a certificate of completion.
These e-courses from CCOHS are targeted to all workers, including managers and supervisors, however anyone wanting to learn about pandemic planning will find them beneficial.
Further information about or to register for:
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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.
© 2017, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
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