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A young worker comes to. He is groggy but reaches for his phone to call 911. Earlier, he had been working with a gasoline-powered concrete saw in a basement when he began to feel dizzy. Luckily he made it out of the basement before losing consciousness. Little did he know he had passed out from carbon monoxide poisoning. A few more breaths of the 'silent killer' and he could have been fatally poisoned.
Every year in Canada hundreds of workers experience carbon monoxide poisoning. Many survive, but others are not so fortunate. During the winter months, this odourless, colourless, deadly gas creeps back into the spotlight. The heightened concern is due in part to the increased use of furnaces, space heaters and generators as we try to escape the cold, but also because of the use of fuel burning tools indoors.
Learning about carbon monoxide, and how to identify the signs and symptoms of poisoning is critical. Some initial symptoms mimic those of the flu (but without the fever). But don't be deceived, they can worsen very quickly. Implement safety measures to protect workers from this silent killer.
How exposure to carbon monoxide can affect your health
When we breathe in carbon monoxide, it interferes with the ability of our blood to carry oxygen to vital organs such as our brain and heart. The most common symptoms of exposure are headache, weakness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and confusion. Prolonged or high exposures may lead to convulsions, coma and even death. Large amounts can cause a person to be overcome in just minutes with few or no warning signs. The mental impairment and sense of confusion brought on by this gas can interfere with the victim's ability to realize that their life is in danger and prevent them from getting to safety.
Another hazard of carbon monoxide is that it is also an extremely flammable gas, which can easily ignite in air.
Sources of workplace carbon monoxide emissions
Carbon monoxide is produced when natural gas, coal, and other carbon fuels such as gasoline, kerosene, oil, propane or wood are not burned completely. Cigarette smoke and motor vehicle exhaust are also sources of carbon monoxide.
In the workplace, internal combustion engines (engines that burn the fuel inside the engine) are a common source of carbon monoxide. Workers can be exposed to this deadly gas in smelting operations, warehouses, construction sites, welding shops, steel production, and in areas with heavy vehicle traffic such as border crossings. While workers in confined spaces, such as mines or basements, are at higher risk, harmful levels of carbon monoxide can also be present in large buildings and outdoor areas. Emergency workers entering uncontrolled environments without wearing a carbon monoxide detector have also been seriously injured or died as a result of being poisoned.
Steps that employers can take to protect their employees
Employee awareness and action
Employees should be able to recognize the sources of carbon monoxide, and the symptoms of exposure. Some basic guidance for employees includes:
Understanding the danger of carbon monoxide and taking adequate steps to reduce the presence and risks of exposure in the workplace can help to create safer work environments and stop this silent killer.
This month's Health and Safety To Go! podcasts provide tips for winter driving, and feature an encore presentation on how to shovel snow.
Feature Podcast: Winter Driving Tips
Winter weather conditions can pose unique challenges and safety risks for Canadian drivers. In this podcast, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) offers safety tips to ensure driver safety.
The podcast runs 3:44 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
Encore Podcast: The Scoop on How to Safely Shovel Snow
Think you know how to shovel snow safely? Here's the scoop from CCOHS.
The podcast runs 4:03 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!
Our website has come a long way since its debut on the World Wide Web back in September 1994. Over the years, it has steadily evolved to become a cornerstone of the service we provide to Canadians. We have expanded our offerings, adapted with technology, and made more information available over the years, so that workplaces can access the tools and resources they need to stay healthy and safe.
There comes a time, however, when a tidy-up is in order. So we are excited to announce that we are revamping our website to serve you even better. This winter look for a new look and feel, so you can find what you need faster, from your desktop, tablet, and mobile devices.
Visit us at ccohs.ca
Jeff is asked by his boss Adela what time he came into work that morning and what time he left the night before. Is this harassment?
The Treasury Board of Canada's harassment policy defines harassment as consisting of repeated and persistent behaviours towards an individual to torment, undermine, frustrate, or provoke a reaction from that person. Although harassment is normally a series of incidents it can be one severe incident which has a lasting impact on the individual.
To help you better understand workplace harassment, the following scenarios provide examples of what may or may not constitute harassment.
What generally does not constitute harassment
Adela has spoken to Jeff about his working hours as he has been absent from his desk some mornings and afternoons. They have had two discussions confirming Jeff's work hours and they both agreed that he needs be at his desk at his assigned start time. In this example the manager gave direction in a respectful and professional manner.
Why? Adela has had a discussion with Jeff that was respectful and professional.
What may be regarded as harassment
After their two discussions, each morning Adela makes a point to ask Jeff what time he came into work and at what time he left the night before.
Why? This scenario may depend on how Adela is confirming Jeff's work hours and if it can be considered justifiable. Following up on work absences is not generally considered harassment, but how the situation is handled can create the risk for the potential for harassment or perceptions of workplace harassment.
What is harassment
Adela is frequently sarcastic in her tone when talking to Jeff and has openly questioned his ability to do his job in front of his colleagues. The situation with Adela has become both embarrassing and stressful for Jeff. He dreads these daily encounters and worries about his job security.
Why? Harassment can include making serious or repeated rude remarks, making comments that are inteneded to degrade a person's reputation, or taking actions that repeatedly single out one person. Harassment may also include when a person abuses their position of authority to threaten another person's job or undermine someone else's performance.
What you can do
You do not have to tolerate behaviour at work that is unreasonable and offends or harms you. There are steps you can take if you feel that you are being subjected to any form of harassment. However, it is also important to remember that the carrying out of managerial duties where the direction was carried out in a respectful and professional manner does not generally constitute harassment.
If you are unable to discuss this with the person responsible for the unwanted behaviour, report the situation to the person identified in your workplace policy, your supervisor, human resources manager, or a delegated manager. If you feel your concerns are being minimized and you are not satisfied with the response you receive, proceed to the next level of management.
Still need more help? Contact the confidential Inquiries Service at CCOHS, free to all Canadians, by calling 1-800-668-4284 or using the contact form on the website.
There is more information and help available:
Read the fact sheet on bullying in the workplace from CCOHS.
Download the free poster, Bullying is Not Part of the Job.
Take the free Violence in the Workplace: Awareness e-course.
Workplace Health & Safety Matters
Workplace Health and Safety Matters is the blog of Steve Horvath, President and CEO of the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. In his latest blog post, Steve reflects on his recent trip to Queen's University and the enjoyable experience he had interacting with a new generation of business minds.
Last week I was honoured to represent professional industry experts as a judge in the oldest and most prestigious undergraduate business case competition, the Inter-Collegiate Business Competition (I.C.B.C.) hosted by Queen's University School of Business. This competition has become a global forum for the brightest minds from the top business schools across North America, Asia and Europe and provides the opportunity for students to demonstrate their analytical and presentation skills in front of judges, faculty and fellow students.
The quality of the presentations was exceptional, as was the dialogue with the students afterward. For me, this was the most personally fulfilling aspect - speaking with the participants in an informal setting about their vision and personal perspectives.
During the participants' reception after the competition, I was seated at a table with 10 young business undergrads, all who happened to be women. They were engaging and interesting and I was struck by their energy and optimism. I found myself reflecting on how rarely we give our young business minds credit for their sense of the pulse of today's global market realities. The students had a refreshing perspective on the complexities of tomorrow's business environment, yet I couldn't help thinking that the business community under-values the diversity of youth and their understanding of emerging markets and their role in influencing them. Clearly, despite all my years of experience, I was the true beneficiary of this free-wheeling, informal discussion. I couldn't have been seated at a better table.
This whole experience opened my eyes in so many ways. I left Kingston feeling as I had seen the future through the eyes of the next generation of leaders. They painted a picture of tomorrow that is bright, full of potential and will rest in good hands. It's refreshing to see that the foundation for future corporate excellence is strong and reliable.
I hope all of the participants left the competition with a sense of accomplishment and confidence in the value they provide in shaping the future. I know I did. And I hope I'm invited back again next year . . . I still have so much to learn.
Read Steve's blog, Workplace Health and Safety Matters.
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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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