Health and Safety ReportVolume 13, Issue 10

In the News

Taking Action on Radon Exposure at Home and at Workprint this article

You can't see, smell or taste it, but radon is a radioactive gas that is released when uranium – naturally present in rock and soil – decays. When the gas accumulates indoors, it can become hazardous to your health. November is Radon Action Month. Learn how you can test for radon and reduce your risk of exposure.

Radon has been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as a known cause of cancer in humans. The risk of developing lung cancer from radon exposure depends on the level and length of exposure, and is increased if you are a smoker.

In Canada, radon is the leading cause of lung cancer for non-smokers. Health Canada estimates that about 16% of lung cancer deaths are related to radon exposure. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, this amounts to approximately 3,300 deaths each year. In smokers, radon exposure increases the risk of developing lung cancer from 1 in 20 to 1 in 3.

How and where radon exposure occurs

Radon seeps out of the ground into the surrounding air, water, and soil. In outdoor air, radon dissipates quickly. However, the gas becomes a hazard indoors where it can accumulate. The majority of radon enters buildings through ground or basement level rooms, wall slab joints, sump pits, crawl spaces, and cracks and openings in foundations. Indoor levels can increase over time because the gas enters a space faster than it can escape.  Any home can have a radon problem, regardless of its age or building construction.

Radon concentrations vary across Canada and some regions experience higher indoor radon concentrations than others. However, all regions of the country have reported homes with elevated levels.

In Homes

CAREX Canada's exposure maps highlight the percentage of home radon measurements in each health region above the Health Canada guideline of 200 Becquerels per cubic metre (Bq/m3). The results of this survey indicate that 6.9% of Canadians live in homes with radon concentrations higher than the guideline.  Manitoba, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan and the Yukon had the highest percentages of surveyed homes in this high range.

At Work

The CAREX Canada team is currently developing an estimate of exposure to radon in Canadian workplaces. The jobs at highest risk of exposure to radon are those that work specifically with uranium, or those that occur underground or in the lower floor of buildings, such as miners, some subway workers, and utilities workers. Specific occupational exposure limits have been set for federal employees covered by the Canada Labour Code and for uranium workers by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.  Other workplaces may be covered by the Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (NORM) Guidelines, and the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) has set occupational exposure limits for radon and radon daughters. Radon exposures should be kept under occupational exposure guidelines applicable to your jurisdiction. 

Testing for radon

The only way to know if you're being exposed to radon gas is to test for it. Because radon levels vary over time, Health Canada recommends using a long-term detector and testing for a minimum of three months, over the winter months if possible when homes tend to be sealed and ventilation is low. If a worker has concerns about radon levels in a workplace, they can request a radon test.

Radon testing is available through certified service professionals who are listed on the Canadian Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists website and the Canadian National Radon Proficiency Program. You can also conduct the testing yourself by purchasing a do-it-yourself kit through your local Lung Association or hardware store, and following the Health Canada guidelines.

Reducing exposure to radon

In the workplace, employers should be aware of and recognize the potential for radon exposure. This may include radon exposure resulting from activities involving materials in which radon naturally occurs (i.e. mining uranium, burning coal or making fertilizer).

To reduce worker exposure, consider:

  • Using raw materials that are low in naturally occurring radioactive materials.
  • Designing and constructing, or modifying, buildings to prevent radon entry through soil gas – and facilitate its removal.
  • Increasing air circulation by regularly opening windows or by installing mechanical ventilation.
  • Implementing administrative controls such as reducing the time spent by workers in areas where excess radon may be present.
  • Using NIOSH-approved respirators for radionuclides and radon daughters when engineering and administrative controls are insufficient.

In your home, Health Canada recommends that the higher the radon concentration, the sooner steps should be taken to remediate the issue:

  • Over 600 Bq/m3 - Remediate within 1 year
  • Between 200 and 600 Bq/m3 - Remediate within 2 years
  • 200 Bq/m3 and below - No action required

The specific methods used to remove radon from existing buildings depend on several factors, including building construction and soil type. The most effective of these methods is called “active sub-slab depressurization”, where a remediator installs a pipe through the floor slab of the foundation. This pipe is attached to a fan that runs continuously to draw radon gas out from beneath the home, to the outdoors where it is effectively diluted.

For new buildings, the National Building Code of Canada encourages builders to prevent radon entry by implementing what's called a "roughed-in radon reduction system" during construction.  This procedure involves laying a polyethylene barrier under the slab, sealing the slab perimeter and all areas where pipes run through the slab, and installing airtight coverings for sump pit covers. 

Other remediation approaches are summarized on Health Canada's Radon Reduction Guide for Canadians page.

This article was contributed by CAREX Canada, the country's leading source of evidence on Canadians' exposures to workplace and environmental carcinogens, to support the effort to raise awareness of radon exposure.

Other useful resources:

Partner News

Presenteeism: Worth a Closer Lookprint this article

Martin doesn't miss a beat, coming into work each day at 8:30 am and leaving just in time to catch his train home. Yet he's easily distracted, and he spends a lot of time on the phone with his spouse.  As a result, his productivity has slipped. This is what is known as presenteeism, and a new study reveals that employees may be more aware of this issue than their employers.

Human resources consulting firm Morneau Shepell released findings from a national study on workplace absenteeism, which found that more than half of Canadian employees view presenteeism as a serious issue within their workplace, compared to 32% of employers.  Presenteeism is defined as time spent at work while not productively engaged in work, and it can affect an organization just as absences can in terms of productivity and performance.

The report, based on a survey of employees, employers and physicians across Canada, also revealed that 81% of employees indicated they have gone into work while they were not able to perform as well as they would have liked. Reasons given included physical sickness, stress, anxiety, workplace issues and depression.

Presenteeism contributes to a culture of absenteeism, which can significantly impact worker well-being, overall work productivity, and the organization's bottom line. According to the report, different workplace factors can predict the reason for absenteeism. When asked to identify the reason for their last absence, the majority of employees indicated the reason was not related to illness, which included both mental and physical illness. Those employees were more likely to report both higher work-related stress and lower levels of support from their organization for mental wellness.

"Our research findings suggest that employee absenteeism is not random, meaning that predictors of both illness and non-illness related absence can be influenced by an employer," said Paula Allen of Morneau Shepell. "What this means is that employers have a tremendous opportunity to influence absenteeism in their workplaces, and ultimately improve the health, well-being and productivity of their organization."

Access the full report: The True Picture of Workplace Absenteeism, PDF

Health and Safety To Go

Podcasts: Glenn French: Workplace Violence and Radon on the Radarprint this article

This month's Health and Safety To Go! podcasts feature a new episode with Glenn French talking to CCOHS about workplace violence and the importance of prevention and an encore presentation of Putting the Spotlight on Radon.

Feature Podcast: Glenn French : Workplace Violence
Most people think of workplace violence as a physical assault. However, workplace violence has taken on a broader perspective. It is any act in which a person is abused, threatened, intimidated or assaulted in his or her employment and can include psychological harassment or bullying.

In this episode, Glenn French, President and CEO of the Canadian Initiative on Workplace Violence, talks to CCOHS about workplace violence and the importance of prevention.

The podcast runs 5:08 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.

Encore Podcast: Putting the Spotlight on Radon
You can't detect the presence of radon but did you know it's a radioactive gas that occurs naturally in the environment? This podcast explains what radon is and what the potential health effects to workers are. CCOHS also shares how workplaces can detect the presence of radon and most importantly, how exposure can be controlled.

The podcast runs 5:22 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!

See the complete list of podcast topics. Better yet, subscribe to the series on iTunes and don't miss a single episode.

CCOHS News

Canadian Humanitarian Set to Inspire at CCOHS Forum print this article

Globally recognized humanitarian practitioner and advocate Dr. James Orbinski is set to inspire as the keynote speaker at Forum 2016: The Changing World of Work.

Canadian Dr. James Orbinski is one of the world's leading scholars and scientists in global health. Through his numerous roles with Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF), including that of international president, he has witnessed and served in some of the most tragic humanitarian crises the world has known: Somalia during the 1992-93 civil war and famine; Afghanistan in 1994; Rwanda during the genocide of 1994; and Goma, Zaire in 1996-97 during the refugee crisis.

As co-founder of Dignitas International, he has improved health care delivery and made medicine more accessible for some of the most vulnerable people in the world. In 1999, he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to MSF for its pioneering approach to medical humanitarianism, and most especially for its approach to witnessing.

Orbinski has led an extraordinary life. Through his extensive work in the field, an award-winning documentary called Triage, and his best-selling book An Imperfect Offering: Humanitarianism in the 21st Century, he has raised awareness of global humanitarian crises, and has been a witness for those who have been silenced by war, genocide and starvation.

Through his Forum presentation Creating the Space to be Human, he will share his passion for actively engaging in and shaping the world in which we live to make it more humane, fair and just – and hopefully inspire us to do the same.


Featured Speakers

The Forum program is taking shape with a stimulating line-up of speakers and presenters who are experts in their fields.

Dr. Todd Conklin: Human Factors/Performance

Todd Conklin has spent 27 years as a Senior Advisor for Organizational and Safety Culture at Los Alamos National Laboratory, one of the world's foremost research and development laboratories. He speaks all over the world to executives, groups and work teams who are interested in better understanding the relationship between the workers in the field and the organization’s systems, processes, and programs. Conklin holds a Ph.D. in organizational behavior from the University of New Mexico, and has authored several books, including Pre-Accident Investigations.

Dr. Linda Duxbury: The Changing Workplace: Work/Life Balance and Generational Shift 

Dr. Linda Duxbury, Canada's highly accomplished researcher, writer and speaker on work-life balance, has influenced policy and attitudes to help create supportive work environments in both the private and public sectors. A professor at the Sprott School of Business at Carleton University, Dr. Duxbury co-wrote numerous comprehensive national studies on work-life balance and their effect on business bottom-line. Always an enlightening and popular speaker, Dr. Duxbury's ideas and research are highly valued by major corporations and government agencies.


Other Program Highlights


Findings from the European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks, Xabier Irastorza

Xabier Irastorza of the Prevention and Research Unit of the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) will present the findings from the European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER). Carried out in two waves (2009 and 2014), ESENER is an extensive survey looking at how new and emerging safety and health risks are managed in European workplaces, shedding light on underexplored and increasingly important areas such as psychosocial risks.

Breakthrough Change in Workplace Health and Safety, Lynda Robson

What do workplaces that manage to turn around their poor health and safety records have in common? In an innovative, case-study-based study Dr. Robson examined the experiences of four Ontario workplaces that dramatically brought down their injury claim rates over a 10-year period. She will share the common themes that have emerged from her study – some of them unexpected. Dr. Robson is a scientist at the Institute for Work & Health, where she has worked since 1997.

Ergonomics, Troy Winters

Troy Winters is the Senior Officer for Health and Safety for the Canadian Union of Public Employees. He chairs and participates on many national and provincial committees, working groups, and boards related to occupational health and safety. Mr. Winters has 10 years’ experience teaching and researching at Dalhousie University in the fields of industrial ergonomics, biomechanics and work design. He holds a Master of Applied Science in Industrial Engineering, and a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology.


About the Forum

CCOHS Forum 2016 will take place on February 29 and March 1, 2016, in Vancouver, British Columbia. For more information about Forum and to register, visit www.ccohs.ca/events/forum16/.

Register by November 30 to save $100. Discounts are also offered to CCOHS Members and full-time students. Simultaneous French language interpretation will be available.

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