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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*
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
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:
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:
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.
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