Diesel Exhaust: Hazardous to your Health
What do railroad workers, truck drivers, farmers, miners, mechanics, and toll booth workers have in common? They, along with millions of others from workplaces where diesel-powered equipment is used, are exposed to hazardous diesel exhaust emissions on the job. The exhaust from diesel fuel can cause health effects ranging from cough and eye irritation to wheezing and difficulty breathing. And, recent evidence shows it can cause cancer.
Based on studies of worker exposure, there has been growing concern that diesel exhaust could potentially cause cancer. In March 2012, the findings of a large study of diesel emissions exposures in underground miners showed an increased risk of death from lung cancer in exposed workers. This study was conducted by the US National Cancer Institute (NCI) and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). In June of this year, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the World Health Organization (WHO), classified diesel engine exhaust as carcinogenic to humans (Group 1), determining that exposure to diesel exhaust emissions increases the risk for lung cancer and possibly bladder cancer.
At risk for exposure
With the increasing number of motor vehicles fueled by diesel, most people in everyday life are exposed to some diesel exhaust. However, people working where diesel engines are running indoors or in enclosed spaces, such as bridges and tunnels, engine maintenance garages, bus barns, underground mines, and fire stations have some of the highest exposures to the exhaust, and are at increased risk for illness.
Other workers who are at high risk for diesel exhaust exposure include:
- toll booth workers
- operators of diesel powered engines (such as in trains, trucks, buses, tractors, and forklifts)
- roadside inspection workers
- loading/shipping dock workers
- truck drivers
- farm workers
- railroad workers
- ship crew members
Exposure to diesel exhaust can cause coughing, and itchy or burning eyes. Breathing in diesel exhaust can cause lung irritation and/or an allergic reaction causing asthma (wheezing and difficult breathing), or making pre-existing asthma worse. Years of exposure to diesel exhaust may increase the risk of lung cancer and possibly bladder cancer.
Protecting worker health
By law, employers must provide a safe and healthy workplace. They should educate employees on the risks of exposure to diesel exhaust, and provide instruction and training on control measures, and any personal protective equipment that they must use. Employers should assess the risks to the health of workers exposed to diesel exhaust and take the necessary precautions to prevent or reduce the amount that workers breathe.
If exposure cannot be eliminated by using safer alternative fuels (e.g. natural gas or electricity), using a combination of control measures will reduce risk:
- Consider changing to reformulated diesel, or biodiesel fuel to reduce emissions, or switching to low-emission diesel engines that burn fuel more efficiently.
- Install vehicle accessories such as exhaust extenders that re-direct the exhaust away from the operator and attach filters to tailpipes and oxidation catalytic converters to reduce exhaust.
- Attach exhaust extractor hoses on the tailpipes of vehicles that idle for long periods (such as in vehicle maintenance shops).
- Run diesel engines outdoors rather than indoors when possible.
- Maintain engines regularly, and inspect the bodies of vehicles and seal cracks or holes to prevent exhaust from getting into the cabin.
- Turn engines off whenever possible to reduce engine idling.
- Put fixed diesel engines (generators) in separate, ventilated areas under negative air pressure.
- Ventilate indoor work areas well with vents in the walls and ceiling, and with air extraction fans to pull diesel exhaust-contaminated air away from workers, and exhaust it outdoors.
- Monitor worker exposure to diesel exhaust emissions.
- Use a respirator if ventilation and other control methods are not effective and suitable.
- Use job rotation to reduce worker exposure to diesel exhaust.
Diesel Engine Exhaust Emissions, HSE
Health Hazard Advisory: Diesel Engine Exhaust PDF, California Department of Health Services
Diesel Exhaust, OSHA
Questions & Answers on Diesel Exhaust in Miners Study, National Cancer Institute
Welding: Don't Get Burned
Everyone knows that welding can be a hazardous activity. This fact was reinforced when, last September, a small business operator was severely burned when his clothing caught fire while he was welding. The Workers Compensation Board of Prince Edward Island (PEI) issued a hazard alert as reminder to take proper precautions to prevent injury.
The small business operator was working alone, cutting metal bars of a conveyor chain, when the hose on the gas cutting torch he was using ruptured and caught fire. The worker survived the incident, however he sustained third degree burns to 70% of his body.
According to the alert issued by PEI, the following factors may have contributed to the severity of the injuries:
- fire retardant clothing not worn
- working alone
- propane tank not equipped with an excess flow valve
- hot or molten metal contact with lower quality fuel lines caused a rupture in the fuel lines
The WCB of PEI recommends that employers and anyone working with welding or cutting processes take the following precautions:
- Wear fire retardant clothing. Note that flame retardant treatments become less effective with repeated laundering.
- Perform workplace hazard assessments.
- Equip all propane tanks with an excess flow valve.
- Equip all welding cutting burners with reverse flow check valves installed as close as possible to the regulators.
- Pay close attention when using cutting or welding equipment and be aware of the proximity of the fuel lines in relation to the torch and any hot materials.
- Suspend the fuel lines with hose hangers above the work, If possible.
- Wear appropriate foot wear when working on any welding applications.
- Avoid working alone, whenever possible, when working with hot work or cutting metal with gas. If this is not possible, establish safe work procedures for working alone.
- Conduct daily inspections of all welding and cutting equipment.
Welding Hazard Alert PDF, Workers Compensation Board of PEI
Burn Protection Fact Sheet PDF, American Welding Society
Three Ways to Keep Your Cool
Whether you are working outside on a farm or at a construction site, or just having fun in the sunny outdoors, you have to take precautions to prevent your body from overheating.
Here are three ways to do just that:
1. Stay hydrated. Whether or not you feel thirsty, it is extremely important to drink plenty of water, generally one cup of water every 15 to 20 minutes, to replace the fluids you lose in the heat. Avoid caffeine or alcohol, which can dehydrate you. Take special care to make sure infants and toddlers drink enough water.
2. Keep cool. Stay out of the sun as much as possible. If your job includes some physically demanding tasks, try to save those for the early morning or late afternoon hours when the sun is less intense. Take breaks from the sun and heat to cool off in the shade or in air-conditioned buildings or vehicles. If you don't have a shady or cool place, reduce your physical effort.
3. Dress for it. Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing, UV rated sunglasses, and a wide-brim hat for protection. Apply sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or higher as well as UVA and UVB protection.
For more information, read the OSH Answers fact sheets:
Listen to the CCOHS podcast: Working in the Heat: How Hot is Too Hot?
Podcasts: Hydration and Landscaper Safety
This month's Health and Safety To Go! podcasts provide tips on staying hydrated in heat and feature a timely encore presentation of safety tips for landscapers.
Feature podcast: Drink Up to Beat Dehydration
CCOHS outlines the signs of dehydration and offers tips on how to prevent it when working in the summer heat.
The podcast runs 5:52 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
Encore podcast: Safety Tips for Landscapers
CCOHS outlines some of the hazards workers face when landscaping, and offers general safety precautions to take to work safely.
The podcast runs 2:34 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
CCOHS produces free monthly podcasts on a wide variety of topics designed to keep you current with information, tips, and insights into the health, safety, and well-being of working Canadians. You can download the audio segment to your computer or MP3 player and listen to it at your own convenience... or on the go!
Trillium Health Centre to Share Healthy Workplaces Program at Forum
Just four short months away, Forum IV: Better Together is shaping up to be one of CCOHS' best events ever. A case study was recently added to the program, Healthy Workplaces in Action: The CareWorks Project, featuring Trillium Health Centre.
As one of Canada's leading academically-affiliated health centres, Trillium Health Centre serves over one million residents in Peel and West Toronto and from other communities across Ontario. Their wellness program provides a blend of both traditional and non-traditional healthy workplace initiatives. Since its earlier implementation, Trillium identified a need to expand beyond their wellness program to ensure that employees are supported in their own work environment.
On day two (October 30th) of the program, Julie Fischer, clinical leader, wellness coordinator, and member of the Employee Health Safety and Wellness Team for The Credit Valley Hospital and Trillium Health Centre, will share practical details about CareWorks, their innovative customer service program aimed at creating and sustaining a healthy work environment. She will discuss how the program has increased staff satisfaction and employee engagement, decreased turnover, and decreased sick time.
CCOHS' Forum IV will take place October 29 to 30, 2012, in Halifax, Nova Scotia. This unique national event brings together subject experts, workers, employers, and government representatives to share their collective knowledge and experience around the issues of mental health in the workplace, harassment and bullying, healthy workplaces, and the impact of psychosocial work factors on musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).
You can save $100 with the early bird rate by registering by July 31, 2012.
More information about the program and registration is available at www.ccohs.ca/events/forumIV.
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.
© 2012, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety