In an evolving job market, the growing green economy offers a promising future for both workers and the planet. Workers can feel good about their positive environmental contributions, and the environment improves from the reduction of waste and non-renewable resource consumption, increased energy efficiency, and the promotion of renewable energy sources. Yet these ideals of safeguarding the environment do not necessarily translate into the creation of safe green jobs. Workers and employers alike need to be aware of the potential health and safety risks that come with this movement of going green.
Same old, yet new
At first glance, many green jobs are similar to those in traditional sectors, but there are also positions that require new or specific training. New technologies and working processes associated with green jobs can present hazards that require new or different health and safety knowledge. For example, jobs such as installing a solar water heater combine the skills of a roofer, a plumber and an electrician. Solar panel installers face risks associated with working at heights, hand and power tools, electricity, confined spaces, and the storage and handling of chemicals.
Another example is wind power generation, which includes turbine component manufacturing, construction, installation, operation, and maintenance of wind turbines. Hazards in the manufacture of windmills are similar to those found in the automotive and aerospace industry, while the hazards and risks concerning their installation and maintenance are similar to those in construction. There is the risk of exposure to dust and fumes from fiberglass, hardeners, aerosols, and carbon fibres. Physical hazards during maintenance include falls from heights, and musculoskeletal disorders from manual handling and awkward postures.
Although construction workers, welders, electricians and plumbers may find their skills in demand by these green jobs, the speed at which this emerging economy is expanding can lead to skill gaps that put their safety and health at risk. New and inexperienced workers may be performing tasks for which they have not been trained, while experienced workers may find themselves working in situations and conditions such as high temperatures, confined spaces, electrical hazards, to falls from heights, that they are not accustomed to.
Also emerging are new occupational risks. For example, workers installing solar panels face risks including exposure to carcinogenic chemicals such as cadmium telluride if adequate controls are not implemented, as well as hazards such as non-traditional insulation material, high temperatures, and exposure to concentrated sunlight.
What employers can do
Just because a job is new, doesnt mean established health and safety practices dont apply. Employers need to ensure that health and safety is integrated from start to finish in every project: from the design, procurement, installation, use, operations, maintenance, to end of life considerations. Use a job safety analysis (or job hazard analysis) approach to break down each task into a sequence of steps, identify the hazards involved with each step or material, and determine the preventative measures needed.
Addressing the hazards associated with green jobs will require a variety of health and safety solutions, from new equipment and protective gear, to new procedures and processes, to training for employers, designers, contractors, and workers that address the changes to traditional jobs in this fast-paced industry. After all, to be truly sustainable for both the planet and workers, these green jobs need to provide safe and healthy working conditions.
- Promoting Safety and Health in a Green Economy, International Labour Organization (ILO), PDF
- Workers Safety and Health in Green Jobs, European Agency for Health and Safety at Work (EU-OSHA)
- Green Job Hazards, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
- Job Safety Analysis Fact Sheet, CCOHS
Tips & Tools
When the thermometer reads 24°C but it feels more like 30°C, youre likely feeling the humidity. The combined effect of warm temperatures and humidity affects how hot people feel. Whether you are working outside in the summer heat or simply enjoying the outdoors, being mindful of the humidity is critical when temperatures can reach extremes. Understanding humidity and taking the necessary precautions can help prevent the risk of your body overheating and experiencing heat-related illnesses.
A humidex is used as a measure of perceived heat that results from the combined effect of excessive humidity (moisture in the air) and high temperature. Environment Canada uses humidex ratings to inform the general public when conditions of heat and humidity are possibly uncomfortable, and potentially dangerous. The body attempts to maintain a constant internal temperature of 37° at all times and in hot weather sweat is produced, which cools the body when it evaporates. As the humidity in the air increases, sweat does not evaporate as readily, and stops entirely when the relative humidity reaches about 90%. Under these circumstances, the body temperature rises and may cause illness.
The development of heat related illnesses depends on many factors in addition to air temperature and humidity. Wind speed or air movement, work load, radiant heat sources, and a persons physical condition are important. Whether or not a person is acclimatized to working in a hot environment is also important. New workers should acclimatize to working in hot conditions by slowly increasing the duration and level of heat exposure. It can take six to seven days for the body to fully adapt or acclimatize to a new thermal environment. Rushing this process can lead to heat-related illnesses.
- Heat rash, or prickly heat, occurs when blocked sweat glands become inflamed. This painful rash reduces the bodys ability to sweat and to tolerate heat.
- Heat cramps are painful spasms of the muscles. The muscles used in doing the work are most susceptible. The spasms are caused by the failure of the body to replace its lost body salts and usually occur after heavy sweating.
- Heat exhaustion results when the body loses large amounts of fluid by sweating during work in hot environments. The skin becomes cool and clammy. Symptoms include profuse sweating, weakness, dizziness, nausea, and headaches.
- Heat stroke is the most serious condition and requires immediate attention; the body temperature becomes very high (even exceeding 41°C). Complete or partial loss of consciousness is possible. Sweating is not a good warning sign of heat stress as there are two types of heat stroke:
- classical where there is little or no sweating (usually occurs in children, persons who are chronically ill, and the elderly), and
- exertional where body temperature rises because of strenuous exercise or work and sweating is usually present.
How to determine the humidex
During the summer, radio and television weather broadcasts often include the humidex readings for their broadcast areas. Environment Canada also posts the relative humidity for all of Canada on its website.
If you know the temperature and relative humidity, you can determine the humidex using a humidex from temperature table such as the one found in the Humidex Rating and Work fact sheet. For example, if the temperature is 30°C and the relative humidity is 70%, the humidex rating is 41. This level is considered a level of great discomfort and exertion should be avoided.
Tips for avoiding overheating
- Monitor environmental conditions and allow self-limiting of exposure when necessary. If this is not possible, adjust work/rest cycles accordingly.
- Avoid sun exposure. Take frequent breaks in a cool or well-ventilated area to get out of the sun and heat.
- Dont be afraid to sweat. Sweating is the bodys most effective cooling mechanism.
- Take time to acclimatize to new working conditions and temperatures.
- Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water in hot weather conditions, on average, one litre every hour.
- If possible, postpone strenuous work to a cooler time of day.
- Wear light clothing.
- Consider the use of cooling vests.
Workers should be trained to recognize the signs and symptoms of heat stress and how to avoid them. An emergency action plan which includes procedures for providing affected workers with first aid and medical care should be in place.
- Humidex Rating and Work Fact Sheet, CCOHS
- Working in Hot Environments: A Health and Safety Guide, CCOHS
- Occupational Health and Safety Council of Ontario's (OHSCO) Heat Stress Awareness Toolkit, OHCOW (Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers)
- Download the Heat-Related Illness poster from CCOHS
Accessing New Brunswick's health and safety legislation just got easier with the WorkSafeNB Guide to OHS Legislation web tool.
Developed as a joint project with CCOHS, this bilingual web portal is a first for both organizations. Each of the thirty topics links to related resources including interpretations, summaries, legislation, hazard alerts and safety talks, all in a plain language and easy-to-read format. The mobile friendly web tool can be used on devices using the IOS and Android platforms, making it that much more accessible.
WorkSafeNB's President and CEO Gerard Adams announced, "This is a one-step resource for workers and employers to understand not only what is required by legislation but, more importantly, what we can do to go beyond those requirements - to ensure we all return safely after work."
Topics including confined spaces, air quality and fall protection are accessible by computer, smartphone and tablet with more topics to be added each year.
"This represents a new generation of technology that makes essential information related to safe work widely accessible, and that will benefit not only those in the New Brunswick construction industry, but in all provincial workplaces," said Steve Horvath, President and CEO of CCOHS.
CCOHS plans to collaborate with other Canadian jurisdictions to offer similar web tools.
Health and Safety To Go
This months Health and Safety To Go! podcasts feature the episodes Talking About Lyme Disease and Domestic Violence: A workplace issue.
Feature Podcast: Talking About Lyme Disease
The distribution area of Lyme disease carrying ticks in Canada is expanding. CCOHS explains why it's important to be on the lookout for ticks and how to recognize the signs and symptoms of this disease.
The podcast runs 4:37 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
Podcast 2: Domestic Violence: A Workplace Issue
Domestic violence (also called battering or intimate partner violence) is a pattern of abusive behaviour used by a person to gain power or control over his or her partner in an intimate relationship. So why is domestic violence a workplace issue? When a victim leaves the abusive relationship, the abuser knows that the one place the victim can be found is at work. This podcast lists signs that may indicate a worker is being subjected to domestic violence, and offers tips for employers and colleagues on how to deal with this issue in the workplace.
The podcast runs 6:22 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!
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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.
© 2016, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
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