Health and Safety ReportVolume 11, Issue 8

In the News

Study Reports Occupational Cancer the Leading Cause of Work-Related Deaths in Canadaprint this article

When you hear about work-related deaths, what first comes to mind? Falling from heights, being smothered in collapsed trenches, or sustaining tragic fatal injuries - these are the types of incidents that make headlines. However, according to a recent study, occupational cancer is now the leading cause of compensated work-related deaths in Canada, exceeding those from traumatic injuries and disorders. The research, conducted by the Occupational Cancer Research Centre, was published in early August 2013 in CMAJ Open.

Data from the Association of Workers' Compensation Boards of Canada from 1997 to 2010 was analyzed to gain an understanding of the trends in deaths from workplace-related cancer, high-risk industries and exposures, and the types of occupational cancers that are most commonly compensated. In addition, data from the Canadian Cancer Society was used to compare compensated occupational lung cancer deaths with total estimated lung cancer deaths between 2006 and 2010.

Compensation for occupational cancer deaths in Canada has been on the rise in recent years, particularly in Ontario (Canada's largest working population), where there are now more than two occupational cancer deaths for each traumatic injury death. It is important to note that worker compensation board rules vary considerably between jurisdictions affecting eligibility for claims, and provinces may collect statistics differently.

Nationwide, the high risk industries for occupational cancer were found to be manufacturing, construction, mining and, more recently, government services (believed to be the result of an increase in the number of claims accepted for firefighters in Ontario).

Deaths from asbestos exposure accounted for 70% of the increase in accepted claims for work-related deaths in Canada. Lung cancer and mesothelioma, usually the result of asbestos exposure, represent most of the compensated claims for deaths from occupational cancer. Although widespread use of asbestos has decreased and stringent safety measures have been implemented, there are workers involved in jobs such as building renovations, maintenance, and demolition who may be at risk of asbestos exposure and its associated occupational diseases. Asbestos-related cancers have a long latency period, meaning that these cancers can appear as many as forty years after exposure, creating serious challenges for people seeking compensation. The study suggests that because occupational cancer is often unrecognized and underreported, claims for compensation represent only a fraction of the true burden of this problem.

"Physicians can play a key role in identifying individual cases and assisting their patients with compensation by being aware of their patients' hazardous exposures and being vigilant for early signs of work-related disease", study authors write. "By adopting a model in which physicians are more involved with the active surveillance of occupational cancers, and in which the current and projected burden of occupational cancer has been more systematically assessed, Canada can be in a position where efforts are aimed at eliminating or minimizing occupational exposures and preventing these cancers from occurring."

Occupational cancer carries with it a high human cost, as well as significant costs to the health care and compensation systems. Preventing exposure to carcinogens will save the lives of workers, and reduce the burden on health care.

More information:

Tips & Tools

Desk Job: Position for Safety and Comfortprint this article

Tips for selecting and adjusting ergonomic chairs, and sitting properly

Today, in industrialized countries, many people spend the majority of their waking hours sitting; whether it's at home while watching television or on the computer, travelling to work in a car or bus, or working at a desk in front of a computer. Although sitting requires less physical effort than standing or walking, it puts stress on the lumbar area. The effects of a sedentary lifestyle combined with a job that requires sitting can lead to many health problems.

Selecting the right chair and adjusting it properly is an important part in making your workstation safer. Also, learning and practicing how to sit properly can reduce stress and strain on your muscles, tendons, and skeletal system, and thereby reduce your risk of developing a musculoskeletal disorder.

Pick a seat

If you work in a sitting position, selecting a suitable chair is a critical step in preventing health problems. Choose a chair with:

  • controls that are easy to operate from a sitting position,

  • a seat that adjusts for both height and tilt,

  • a seat that does not put pressure the back of thighs or knees,

  • a seat with a front edge that curves towards the floor,

  • breathable, non-slippery fabric on the seat,

  • a backrest shaped to support the lower back,

  • a stable five-point base,

  • wheels or casters suitable for the type of flooring,

  • a swivel mechanism,

  • armrests that can be adjusted to the elbow height when your upper arms are hanging down and your forearms are at about a 90 degree angle to the upper arms, and

  • armrests that do not interfere with free movements within the workstation.

Adjust your chair to suit

Ergonomic chairs are designed to suit a range of people; however, a chair only becomes ergonomic when it specifically suits your body size, workstation, and the tasks that must be performed.

Your chair should be fully adjustable. The optimal seat height is about one quarter of the body height - a general rule since the torso-to-leg ratio can vary widely.

  1. Stand in front of the chair. Adjust the height so the highest point of the seat, (when in the horizontal position), is just below the knee cap.

  2. Sit on the chair and keep your feet flat on the floor.

  3. Check that the clearance between the front edge of the seat and the lower part of the legs (your calves) fits a clenched fist (about 5 cm or 2 inches).

  4. Adjust the back rest forwards and backwards as well as up and down so that it fits the hollow in your lower back.

  5. Sit upright with your arms hanging loosely by your sides. Bend your elbows at about a right angle (90 degrees) and adjust the armrest(s) height until they barely touch the undersides of the elbows.

  6. Remove the armrests from the chair if this level can't be achieved or if armrests, in their lowest adjustment, elevate your elbows even slightly.

  7. Tilt the seat itself forwards or backwards if you prefer.

A well-designed chair allows you to sit in a balanced position. Buying an ergonomic chair is a good beginning but it may not bring the benefits expected. The actual sitting position depends on your personal habits; you have to learn and practice how to sit properly.

Take a good position

A neutral body position is a comfortable working posture in which your joints are naturally aligned. Working with the body in a neutral position reduces stress and strain on the muscles, tendons, and skeletal system and reduces your risk of developing a musculoskeletal disorder (MSD).

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) offers tips on how to maintain neutral body postures while working at the computer workstation:

  • Hands, wrists, and forearms are straight, in-line and roughly parallel to the floor.

  • Head is level or bent slightly forward, forward facing, and balanced - generally in-line with the torso.

  • Shoulders are relaxed and upper arms hang naturally at the side of the body.

  • Elbows stay in close to the body and are bent between 90 and 120 degrees.

  • Feet are fully supported by the floor or a footrest may be used if the desk height is not adjustable.

  • Back is fully supported with appropriate lumbar support when sitting vertical or leaning back slightly.

  • Thighs and hips are supported by a well-padded seat and generally parallel to the floor.

  • Knees are about the same height as the hips with the feet slightly forward.

Working in the same posture or sitting still for prolonged periods is not healthy. Remember to change your working position frequently throughout the day by making small adjustments to your chair or backrest, stretching your fingers, hands, arms, and torso, and by standing up and walking around for a few minutes periodically.

Also, remember that the chair is only one of the components to be considered in workstation design. All the elements such as the chair, footrest (if needed), work surface, document holders, task lighting and so on need to have flexibility and adjustability to be "designed in".

More information

Partner News

Global Standard for Occupational Health and Safetyprint this article

The world will soon have a new global standard for occupational health and safety. Earlier this month the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) approved the creation of a new project committee to develop an international standard for occupational health and safety management systems (OHSMS).

The standard is intended to provide governmental agencies, industry, and others with effective, usable guidance for improving worker safety around the world. The work on the standard will be overseen by ISO Project Committee (PC) 283, Occupational health and safety management systems - Requirements.

ILO statistics show that 6,300 people die every day as a result of occupational accidents or work-related diseases - more than 2.3 million deaths per year. 317 million accidents occur on the job annually; many of these resulting in extended absences from work. It is hoped that the future ISO standard will provide an international framework for OH&S best practice, and help prevent and reduce work-related injuries, diseases, and deaths worldwide.

The secretariat of ISO/PC 283 has been assigned to the British Standards Institution, and its first meeting is expected to be held on 21-25 October 2013 in London, United Kingdom.

"The economic burden of poor occupational safety and health practices is estimated at 4 per cent of global Gross Domestic Product each year, according to ILO", commented Charles Corrie, Secretary of ISO/PC 283. "Employers face costly early retirements, loss of skilled staff, absenteeism, and high insurance premiums due to work-related accidents and diseases. The future ISO standard has the potential to improve occupational health and safety management on a global level."

ISO website

Estimating the Economic Costs of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses in Developing Countries PDF, ILO


Emergency Eyewash Stations and Showersprint this article

This month's Health and Safety To Go! podcast discusses the importance of emergency eyewash stations and showers.

Feature Podcast: The Importance of Emergency Eyewash and Showers

Anyone who works with hazardous chemicals knows they can work safely and avoid injury if they follow the appropriate safety precautions. However, accidents can happen, and if and when a corrosive chemical gets into your eyes or on your face or body, the first 10 to 15 seconds are the most critical for preventing injury. If the treatment is delayed, even for a few seconds, serious injury may be caused. That's where emergency showers and eyewash stations come in, providing workers with on-the-spot decontamination and the ability to flush hazardous substances away. This podcast discusses the importance of emergency showers and eyewash stations, and proper procedures in using them.

The podcast runs 3:33 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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