Podcast Title: Health and Safety to Go!


Episode #156: Occupational Disease and Prevention



Introduction: Welcome to Health and Safety to Go, broadcasting from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.

Host: †Thank you for joining us for this episode of Health and Safety to Go. Today we are speaking with Valerie Wolfe about occupational disease and its prevention. Valerie is a Regional Executive Director with Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers, and is also the Chair of the Ontario Occupational Disease Action Plan Implementation team.† One of ODAPís key priorities is raising awareness so OHCOW, in collaboration with CCOHS, has recently developed and launched the website Prevent Occupational Disease.


Thanks for joining us today Valerie.


Val: Thank you so much for having me.

Host: When we see or hear the term occupational disease, we can assume what it means but can you explain what occupational disease is and why it important that we act on it?

Val:† Occupational disease is a broad categorization of illness, health conditions and medical disorders which negatively affect the systems of the body arising from, or exacerbated by environments and activities related to work.† It spans the spectrum from annoyance and disruption to severely disabling and can certainly be fatal.† In fact, in Ontario, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board allows far more occupational disease fatality claims than those caused by traumatic injury every year and that doesnít count the hundreds that are not recognized nor those denied for lack of detailed exposure history.†

Action is important on a number of levels.† First primary prevention, which means reducing exposure in order to avoid harm, injury and death now and in the future.† Secondary prevention involves education and better screening for early recognition to mitigate severity and harmful conditions.† Tertiary prevention is supporting ill and injured individuals in access to treatment, return to work and especially recognition of the link between harm and exposure to foster future prevention.


Host: It is a broad categorization.† What are some examples of occupational diseases and harmful exposures?


Val: The most recognized diseases are noise-induced hearing loss and contact dermatitis.†† However, very common and serious diseases include Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD) and other respiratory conditions, including pleural plaques and asbestosis and even work related asthma.† And of course, a wide variety of cancers including lung, bladder, leukemia, mesothelioma, skin and prostate are associated with work exposures.† Key exposures include noise, chemicals, asbestos, silica, diesel exhaust, wood dust and other particulates, as well as naturally occurring hazards like water, in terms of wet work, mould and radiation, like the sun.


Host: Is there a specific type of occupation or person who can suffer?


Val:†† No, workers in many walks of life and types of workplaces fall victim to occupational diseases, including labourers, supervisors and managers in many sectors, construction, mining, manufacturing, petrochemical, hospitality, agriculture, even government to name a few.


Host: That includes a lot of workers. What can be done to counter occupational disease?


Val: Controlling exposure to harmful substances, energy or conditions is critical, ideally following the Hierarchy of Controls.† Eliminating the hazard where possible, even if by substitution.† Engineering Controls to isolate the source and/or the worker.† Administrative Controls to limit exposure time and least effective, is Personal Protective Equipment.


Host: Can you tell our listeners about the website Prevent Occupational Disease? The type of content and who itís for?


Val: The Prevent Occupational Disease website is an awareness and education tool that should be of interest to all workplace parties.† It is designed as a dynamic portal to trusted, evidence-based information and resources from around the world on the incidence, associated hazards and prevention of occupational disease.† It is easy to navigate because it is sorted by type of hazard, occupation or disease.†† There is also the ability to submit a suggested link or resource so that it may constantly improved.


Chris: I see that thereís a link to WHMIS.org on the site. Can you talk about that?

Val:† Yes, actually we chose to put that link there because WHMIS, the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System is a key tool in understanding hazards in your workplace. Go look at the labels and read the safety data sheets and most importantly, talk to your supervisor, your peers and your safety reps about ways to reduce exposure to materials that can cause illness and disease.


Host: Before we wrap up, are there any closing thoughts youíd like to leave us with?


Val:† The key message on the site is Prevent Today for Health Tomorrow, since many serious diseases have a long latency, which can plague people through their career and into retirement if they get there.† Control is the goal and to achieve that you need to R.A.C.E. to Health, by recognizing hazards in the workplace, assessing the potential for exposure, controlling that exposure to minimize risk of harm, and evaluating effectiveness and continuously improving.† The first step is literally getting started.† Visit the website today to see the types of hazards that can cause disease or vice versa, check for any in your workplace and start talking about ways to avoid exposure.

Host: Valerie, thank you again for joining us for this podcast. To visit the Prevent Occupational Disease website, you can go to preventoccdisease.ca. visit ccohs.ca and click on the banner link to the site or visit ohcow.on.ca -† thatís ohcow.on.ca.† Thanks for listening everyone.