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As spring turns to summer, using pesticides may seem like a natural solution to control, repel or kill those pesky organisms that cause damage to crops, people or animals. Although pesticides can be a regular part of agriculture and forestry industries, they can still pose many hazards to workers if the appropriate controls are not implemented.
Employees may be exposed to pesticide hazards in a number of ways, such as handling chemicals while they’re in storage, when they’re being mixed or prepared for use, and also when applying them. Pesticides, like any chemical or hazardous product, may cause harm to workers if the pesticide enters the body through skin contact (i.e., a spill, or working downwind), inhalation (i.e., breathing in spray during application), and ingestion (i.e., not washing hands or face thoroughly before eating, drinking, or smoking).
Because handling and applying pesticides can be such a common task for workers, it’s incredibly important that each and every worker knows the hazards of their job duties, the risks of working with pesticides, and the controls to work safely.
Communicate the risks
Did you know that workers may be exposed to pesticides without even realizing it? Workers, who may not have worked directly with pesticides, may unknowingly be exposed if they’re working downwind, in the same area that pesticides are mixed, or if re-entry procedures (which outline the minimum amount of time that must pass between pesticide application and the time when people can go into the area without protective gear or clothing) have not been established or communicated. These are just a few reasons why implementing safe work procedures and communicating the risks of pesticides is important.
And not only is it important – it’s the law. If an employer in Canada is using pesticides, they are required to ensure workers have the appropriate applicator certification and provide workplace training. Onsite training provided by employers should use clear language that is suitable for the workers’ age, ability, reading level, and language preferences.
Let’s look at Gabriel, for example. Gabriel came to Canada with his pregnant partner from France just a few months ago, and he’s spending the season working at a strawberry farm that uses pesticides to control pests and soil-borne pathogens like fungi and bacteria. Gabriel’s employer made sure to provide onsite, specific health and safety training, to supplement the pesticide applicator’s certificate that he had already obtained. By using clear language and visuals, his employer was able to promote good work practices, such as separating contaminated work clothing from his regular and his family’s clothing, as well as seeking regular medical check-ups, letting his doctor know which pesticides he and his family may have been exposed to. His employer has also provided access to safety data sheets and technical pages so that he can share with his physician during these check-ups.
To help workers like Gabriel, it’s important for workplaces to make sure that their employees understand the training they have been provided, and are aware of the risks to themselves, and to members of their family or their immediate household.
Share the signs
In addition to informing workers on the hazards of pesticide use, employers should also include the potential risk of health effects with prolonged or over exposure, including any acute effects, which occur shortly after exposure, and long-term effects, like cancer.
Pesticides most commonly affect the nervous system, which is responsible for controlling nerves and muscles. General symptoms can range in severity, and include but are not limited to: irritation of the nose, throat, eyes or skin; headache, dizziness; vomiting; excessive salivation; coughing; feeling of constriction in throat and chest; the inability to breathe or rapid breathing; and chemical burns.
It’s important that employees learn to recognize these symptoms and know what to do if they suspect that they or a co-worker have been exposed. Planning and training can support this, as does learning about the specific information about the pesticides used at the workplace. This training should also include how to contact a supervisor or manager to report any symptoms and to seek medical attention. This may include calling the local poison control centre or going to the hospital in the event of a medical emergency.
Prioritize worker safety and control the risks
Employers must implement controls to protect workers, like ensuring there is ventilation and lighting in the areas where pesticides are mixed, providing additional temporary ventilation to remove vapours or aerosols when spraying indoors, and conducting a workplace assessment to find opportunities to minimize exposure.
Workplaces must also provide the appropriate application equipment with adequate ventilation, ensuring proper work practices are implemented, and providing the proper respiratory protection and personal protective equipment for the task. Workplaces may also opt to have specific washers and dryers available for pesticide-contaminated clothing or provide a coverall service.
In addition, workplaces must ensure the pesticide is appropriate for the pest they wish to control and is the least hazardous option that will still be effective. More is not always better – always follow the label and apply the recommended amount of pesticides.
By evaluating the hazards and controlling for the risk of exposures to pesticides, employers can safely use pesticides while also prioritizing the health and safety of their workers.
For many workers, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to increased stress, anxiety, and depression. And, in some cases, those feelings have turned to hopelessness, despair, or even suicidal thoughts.
Simply talking about suicide is one of the best ways to prevent it. To support conversations about suicide and mental health, the Mental Health Commission of Canada has created the Suicide Prevention in the Workplace resource.
With practical tips and resources for employers, managers, workers and co-workers, this guide helps individuals in the workplace navigate these challenging conversations. Tips for workers who may find themselves engaging with a customer or person outside the organization who is communicating suicidal thoughts are also included.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, please contact your local hospital, call 911 immediately, or contact a Crisis Centre in your area.
Providing a safe, healthy, and compassionate workplace has benefits for all. Learn more about the importance of compassionate workplaces and how to create one in our interview with Jeff Moat, Chief Executive Officer of Pallium Canada.
Feature Podcast: Compassionate Workplaces
An organization’s key asset is their workers, so ensuring that employees are physically and mentally healthy and able to perform their duties to the best of their ability is the right thing to do. To help achieve this, employers can create a compassionate workplace: one where workers feel safe to share and discuss their concerns, and one that fosters a caring culture of support in which everyone benefits. Learn more about the importance of compassionate workplaces and how to create one in our interview with Jeff Moat, Chief Executive Officer of Pallium Canada.
The podcast runs 10:55 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!
New workers are more vulnerable to getting sick or injured, especially during the first month on the job. To help prevent these incidents, there are a number of tips, reminders, and questions that new workers should take into consideration to make sure they are starting their jobs safely and are being protected by their employers.
Share this infographic to provide a checklist for workers so they can stay safe and healthy while on the job, including tips for COVID-19 prevention. It also outlines the rights they are entitled to as workers in Canada.
If you are a woman enrolled in a post-secondary occupational health and safety program, you may be eligible for the CCOHS Chad Bradley Scholarship.
Now in its second year, the $3,000 award is open to women enrolled in either a full- or part-time program leading to an occupational health and safety designation from an accredited college or university in Canada. You are encouraged to apply online and will be required to submit a 500-800 word essay detailing why you are pursuing an education in occupational health and safety; your motivation and inspiration; what and how you expect to contribute to the field and/or safe work; and other achievements and activities that demonstrate a commitment to and involvement in your community, workplace, or school.
The scholarship was established by CCOHS' Council of Governors to honour the memory of former governor Catherine (Chad) Bradley and pay tribute to her efforts as a leader in health and safety. The scholarship is intended to inspire and encourage women across Canada to pursue careers in the male-dominated occupational health and safety field.
The entry deadline for the Chad Bradley Scholarship Award is August 31, 2021, at 11:59 p.m. EDT and winners will be announced in the fall of 2021.
Learn more about Chad Bradley as well as full details about the scholarship and how to apply: www.ccohs.ca/scholarships.
April 28 is the National Day of Mourning. This day is dedicated to remembering those who have lost their lives or suffered injury or illness on the job or due to a work-related tragedy.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, CCOHS encourages organizations, communities, and individuals to consider holding or supporting a virtual event, or simply pause at 11:00 am on April 28 for a moment of silence.
Threads of Life, a Canadian charity dedicated to supporting families after a workplace fatality, will be holding a virtual candle-lighting ceremony on their website on April 28. A list of virtual ceremonies and tributes hosted by provincial and territorial organizations can also be found on their website.
These acts of remembrance help to honour the lives lost or injured due to workplace tragedy, while also acknowledging the sacrifices of frontline and essential workers who have died or become ill serving during the COVID-19 pandemic.
People can also show their support and commitment to a safe workplace by promoting these cards on social media, displaying posters, and tagging their posts with #DayOfMourning.By sharing these messages, you will be helping to remind more people to put health and safety at the forefront of their work and prevent further work-related injuries and loss of life.
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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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