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Volume 2, Issue 7 - July 2004

In the News
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Falling Out Of Glove - Exposure To Latex Can Make Protection Turn Bitter

In places like hospital operating rooms, intensive care units or dentist offices, wearing latex gloves has been an important way for people working with infectious substances to protect themselves and others. Ironically, the very gloves that are meant to protect can also be a hazard to those allergic to products made with natural rubber latex. Workers who commonly wear latex gloves include doctors, nurses, dentists, dental hygienists and assistants, food service workers, hairdressers, housekeeping and cleaning staff. People who have other allergies and wear latex gloves in their everyday work are at higher risk of developing a latex allergy.

In sensitive individuals, latex allergy is caused by repeated exposure to the protein from the natural rubber in latex. The powdery starch (added to the gloves to make them less sticky inside) can absorb the protein and become airborne when staff put on or take off powdered latex gloves.

Latex allergy can affect the skin, causing redness, itching, rashes and hives. Other allergic symptoms include hay fever-type reactions such as itchy swollen eyes, runny nose, and sneezing. More severe reactions affect the respiratory system causing asthma symptoms such as chest tightness, wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath. Exposure to latex is one of the leading causes of occupational asthma in healthcare workers, currently affecting five to 18 percent. In rare, severe cases of latex allergy, the victim can go into anaphylactic shock, a potentially fatal reaction.

If you experience any of the symptoms described above or you suspect you may be allergic to latex, the first step is to inform your supervisor and minimize your contact with latex-containing products until you see your doctor. You will need to be tested by an allergy specialist to confirm if you have the allergy or not.

There is evidence that the more you are exposed to latex, the more allergic you can become. If you have only a minor latex allergy, you should minimize your exposure to latex so that you do not risk becoming more sensitive. If you suffer from hay fever symptoms when exposed to latex, you could develop asthma with continued exposure.

Healthcare workers who develop allergies to latex must significantly alter the way they do their jobs to minimize or eliminate latex exposure whenever possible. Those with severe allergies (like asthma or anaphylaxis) may find their health so compromised that their employment in the healthcare profession is put in jeopardy.

How to reduce the risk of an allergic reaction to latex:

  • Use non-latex products whenever possible, including non-occupational exposures (e.g. balloons, costume masks). Non-latex substitutes are available for most commonly used natural rubber latex products. However, be warned that "hypoallergenic" gloves are usually made from latex so latex-sensitive workers should check to see if they are made from latex or some other material.
  • If there are no other suitable types of gloves, use reduced-protein, powder-free latex gloves to reduce the risk of allergic reaction.
  • Control latex-containing dust through good housekeeping practices in the workplace. Identify areas that need frequent cleaning due to latex dust (upholstery, carpets, ventilation ducts, and plenums) and ensure ventilation filters and vacuum bags in high-latex areas are changed frequently.
  • Know the procedures for prevention, and learn to recognize the symptoms for latex allergy.
  • If your allergy is severe, obtain and wear Medic Alert bracelet printed with "severe allergy to natural rubber latex".

Hazard Alerts
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East To West, Caution Urged For Tree Fellers

The Workers Compensation Board of Prince Edward Island (WCB of PEI) is urging that safe work practices be taught and followed after a forestry worker who had not received any formal training in forestry safe work practices was seriously injured. The worker had cut a tree, which became lodged in another tree during the felling process. The worker then positioned himself under the lodged tree and proceeded to cut the supporting tree. This caused the lodged tree to fall and strike the worker on top of his helmet, causing a traumatic injury to his spinal cord. The WCB found that several factors were the cause of the accident: worker received no formal training; the work was not properly planned; and proper felling techniques were not followed.

In 2003 the Workers’ Compensation Board of British Columbia (WCB of BC) accepted six claims for benefits resulting from fatalities involving fellers and loggers being killed by falling trees and branches. An accident that seriously injured a faller prompted them to issue a hazard alert. Reportedly when the lead feller of a seismic felling crew cut down a 34 metre (110 feet) cottonwood tree, the rest of the crew stood a few metres away, behind him. The tree fell off course and struck another tree. The top third of the falling tree broke off, was thrown backwards and hit one of the crewmembers, causing serious head injuries. The accident victim had one year’s experience.

Safe work practices
The WCB of PEI released a hazard alert that lists safe work practices for tree fellers. These include having the necessary tools for the job; examining the tree for its size, height, shape and condition; using recommended safety practices to remove a lodged tree, flagging a lodged tree if it cannot be removed immediately; and planning an escape route in case the tree does not fall according to plan.

WCB of BC recommends that forestry workers keep at least two tree lengths away from a tree being felled by another worker, and when felling a tree themselves, ensure that others keep the same distance. It also stresses the importance of carefully choosing the direction of a fall, ensuring the right cut for that direction, and working under proper supervision when felling.

OSH Answers
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Driving Safely - Concentration is Key

Driving seems easy, and today’s technology laden vehicles make it seem increasingly easier. But driving still means facing constant hazards as other cars, transport trucks, motorbikes, bicycles and pedestrians compete for the same road space. It requires skill, sharp instincts, and split-second decision-making. Anything that takes the driver’s attention away from the task — and the road — is dangerous.

Is driving a workplace issue?
Driving is the leading cause of unintentional injury, both in the general population and in the workplace. It is enough of an issue to be chosen as the theme for World Health Day 2004: Road Safety is No Accident. Driving was the cause of 13,337 occupational fatalities in the United States from 1992 to 2001 (NIOSH, 2004). The industries with the highest rates of driving accidents were transportation/communications/public utilities (includes commercial trucking), services, construction and manufacturing.

Driving is an occupational safety issue for anyone who drives anywhere in the course of their work duties. A safe driving policy should be built into the existing health and safety programs and driving should be included as an important risk to be assessed, controlled, monitored, measured, reviewed and audited just like any other risk in the workplace.

Employers are responsible for employees when they drive a company or personal vehicle as a part of their work duties. They can help reduce the risk of roadway deaths and injuries for employees by ensuring they are properly licensed to drive, providing safe, well-maintained vehicles, offering driver training, minimizing irregular work hours or extended workdays (which can result in fatigued, less-than-alert drivers), and by establishing schedules that allow drivers to obey speed limits, take activity breaks and be flexible if weather conditions warrant a slight change of plans.

What is driver distraction?
Driver distraction is one of the leading causes of vehicle accidents. The more people, objects or activities that are around to distract the driver, the greater the risk. The advent of cellular phones has created a whole new reason to be cautious — dialing or talking on the phone while driving is never a good idea. There are, however, several other distractions that affect people’s ability to focus on the road. Reading a map, eating, drinking or smoking, adjusting the car seat, changing a CD, swatting an insect or engaging in an animated discussion while driving are all activities that seriously compromise the safety of everyone in the vehicle.

How to stay focused on the road
As the driver you should resist anything that takes your attention away from the task of driving safely. Even before starting your car, there are some distractions you can eliminate with a little preparation:

  • Stow belongings properly.
  • Adjust your seat, mirrors, steering wheel, climate and other controls so you won’t have to while driving.
  • Select a radio station or have the tape/CD in the player.
  • Plan your route, check the map or read the directions.

Be well rested and alert. One of the greatest hazards of roadway driving is drowsiness or "highway hypnosis". Lack of sleep or fatigue impact your ability to safely drive your vehicle. Exercise your eyes by reading road signs or shifting the focus of your eyes to different parts of the roadway. Do not consume alcohol, drugs, medications or other substances that may affect your driving. Lastly, leave your problems and stresses outside the car – and concentrate!

Partner News
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Health Canada Launches GHS Website

Chemicals can be handled safely from the moment we produce them, handle them, transport them or put them to work. More than ever before, people of all ages and from all walks of life are exposed to a variety of chemicals that can pose serious health, safety or environmental problems if not handled properly. The world’s youngest, poorest and least educated are the most vulnerable.

For more than 10 years, experts in toxicology, fire protection and other specialty areas have been working on a universal system of classifying and labelling chemicals. In July 2003 the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) was adopted by the United Nation’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Its purpose is to protect people from the mismanagement of chemicals, and allow us to classify them according to their hazard and create a labelling system based on universally understandable pictograms.

The system is ready to be implemented and many countries, including Canada, have begun the task of harmonizing their existing systems with the new, global one.

GHS information online
Anyone with an interest in Canada’s implementation of the new GHS can now access relevant information on a new web site hosted by Health Canada.

The GHS web site gives an overview of what the GHS system means for Canadians who are involved in:

  • Transportation of dangerous goods;
  • The Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS);
  • Consumer chemical products; and
  • Pest control products

The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling document (the Purple Book) can be found at the UN website. The GHS document is of interest to national and regional governments, and also contains sufficient context and guidance for people in industry who will ultimately be implementing the GHS requirements.

The Policy and Programme Services Office, in Health Canada’s Product Safety Programme, serves as the national coordinator for the implementation of GHS in Canada.

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New Online MSDS Management Service Makes Compliance Easier

Thousands of hazardous substances are used in workplaces every day. These substances range from gas and oil, paint and cleaning products, to the toner used in photocopiers. Under occupational health and safety law, employers are required to keep workers informed on the hazards of chemicals found in the workplace.

Part of the right-to-know (WHMIS) requirements is to provide a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for each hazardous substance in the workplace. An MSDS lists important information about a chemical, including health hazards caused by exposure, fire and reactivity, how to store and handle the chemical, personal protection required, spill and disposal procedures, first aid recommendations, and more. Keeping track of a collection of MSDSs and making sure they’re up-to-date can be a big job, but Internet technology has made this much easier in recent years.

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) has launched a new online MSDS Management Service that makes searching CCOHS’ extensive MSDS database easier than ever. MSDS Management Service has a unique feature that enables records to be identified and marked, and allows subscribers to create organizational, departmental and even individual staff subsets. Users can search for MSDSs from a smaller collection tailored to their specific requirements.

As chemical suppliers produce new MSDSs, users can access them automatically through their customized collection. The system makes it easy to find MSDSs using a company listing, a search box, or an existing collection of MSDSs. In addition, companies that already have their own MSDSs can add them to the database in three easy steps.

As Canada’s national source of occupational health and safety information, CCOHS offers several other products and services included as part of the MSDS Management Service. Subscribers also receive CHEMINFO, a database of more than 1300 chemical profiles; a Chemical Notification Service that informs subscribers whenever new chemical information is released; a database of WHMIS chemical classifications; a basic guide for MSDS users, and other relevant publications; monthly Internet updates; a free subscription to the CCOHS newsletter, Liaison, and FREE client support.

For further information or to order, email CCOHS Client Services or call 1-800-668-4284 (toll-free in Canada and USA)

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.

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