Silica Control in the Workplace
Intro: This podcast is brought to you by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.
Silica is the second, most common mineral in the earth's crust and a major component of sand, rock, and mineral ores. It exists in both crystalline and non-crystalline form. The crystalline form is the main concern when considering potential health effects. Breathing in crystalline silica dust over time can cause silicosis, a disease occurring, when fine silica particles deposited in the lungs scar the lung tissue.
Exposure has also been linked to lung cancer. Workers in mines, quarries, foundries, construction sites, masonry workshops, and those who manufacture glass, ceramics, and abrasive powders can be particularly at risk. A new tool developed by the BC Construction Safety Alliance in 2016, called the Silica Control Tool it is backed by research from a team at the UBC School of Population and Public Health at the Faculty of Medicine. Based on inputs regarding the type of work they're doing, the tool helps users to develop an appropriate exposure control plan to mitigate potentially hazardous exposures.
We're joined today by Kimberly O'Connell, Executive Director for Eastern and Northern Regions at Occupational Clinics for Ontario Workers. We will discuss the tool, a pilot program currently underway in Ontario, and why it's important.
Kimberly, thanks for joining us.
Thanks for having me.
To start off, can you tell us a little about the development of the Silica Control Tool in B-C and how it came about?
Sure. It's similar to your intro. It's really sort of an online risk assessment tool, and it was created for the British Columbia construction industry back in 2016 and this partnership with Hugh Davies at the U-B-C School of Population of Public Health and Dr. Melanie Gorman Ng, who's now with the BC Construction, safety Association, an adjunct professor there, and Work-Safe B-C.
So that partnership created this resource for the construction industry, and it helps construction industry access and use existing exposure data to educate all parties about respirable crystalline silica exposure and control.
Can you tell us exactly how it works?
Yeah. It's based on a linear regression model. So, it's basically derived from about over 4,500 personal exposure measurements. So, it allows people to utilize this data that we have on similar exposure groups in industrial hygiene or common construction exposure scenarios and allows them to look at their tasks that they're using and use this data to look at what their exposure would be, both controlled and uncontrolled.
Okay. So, speaking of the data, what are some of the key takeaways from the rollout of the tool in B-C and are there differences in how you're rolling it out in Ontario with the pilot program?
In BC was launched back in 2017 after developed in 2016 and now there are over 3,000 registered users as of the summer July 2021 and now, they accept these risk assessments, from this tool, regulatorily. So, by Work-Safe-B-C accepts these as regulatory compliance and it includes now a mechanism for users to report work activities or controls they would like to be added.
So those are some huge benefits that have come from the tool. So, the tool can be developed further and that's how, I should mention our partnership as we move into the Ontario piece that it can be calibrated other jurisdictions, which is what we jumped upon. So, lots of key takeaways in BC and then moving into Ontario our partnership, with CCOHS, and with all of the Ontario health and safety system partners, and, you know, our work with the ODAP, the Occupational Disease Action Plan at OHCOW. We had Melanie and Hugh Davies speak at one of our October events which supports the ODAP program about this tool and particularly the respiratory hazards working group and realized what this best practice tool could [use] in Ontario. And you know, we know there are cancers that can be prevented. Over 3,000 cancers diagnosed each year in Ontario due to these common 16 carcinogens. Silica being one of them and we want to do something about that.
So, we wanted to bring this to Ontario and have it utilized here.
It sounds like it's making a huge impact.
Do you know which jurisdictions are slated for it to roll out next?
Who knew it was really that sort of the, the BC Construction Safety Association working on that as to where they can see this grow? But in terms of growth, we wanted to bring it to Ontario. We're still looking for applicants now, for the pilot program to let it run here and there has been really good feedback.
They are looking at other provinces for sure. At Manitoba and Alberta have run pilot programs. And not only that, it's expanding the whole concept of, it's a living risk assessment. So, it's actually getting big data and utilizing that for controls and that can be utilized for other exposures as well. Not just jurisdictions, but hopefully developing the concept to other hazards. Like asbestos, lead, welding fumes. So, you know, amazing potential.
That's great. So, you mentioned some of the major industry impacts that the tool is having. Can you get into some of the feedback that you're getting from workers?
Yes, the feedback from the users in BC is very positive and again contributing to contributing to the strength of the tool. So, it's doing all of what it needs to do. Its building partnerships. This is all about collaboration. It's building research and data. It's providing training and education, but with concrete solution, right?
So it is, it is actually reducing exposure through this the tool and then driving that regulatory change, that might be required since Ontario is looking at reducing its exposure limit, you know, hopefully this helps that process along and even the communications to people. So, instead of a stick for industry, you know, we're going to reduce the exposure limit. It's more like, but here's how right here. You have to reduce your exposure limit because that's what the regulations say, and that's driven by a need for protecting people, but, you know, we're going to help you do that. So, here's how to do that. “Oh, I can put this control in place. I can wet this work. I can use ventilation or a respirator.” And it shows you exactly how you can do that. And it's really the internal responsibility system at its best.
That's amazing. So, you mentioned that you're looking for organizations to participate in the pilot. How can they access it and get involved?
We sure are. And thank you to you guys again, our partners at CCOHS. And I want to give a shout-out to the Infrastructure Health and Safety Association and the BC Construction Safety Association. I mean, those, those two parties are helping us try to get people to apply. The pilot only has room for about 60 users or licenses. And we are looking to break that to get the best data into small medium and large companies, or workers for the industry and you can go to prevent occ disease at CCOHS or to our OHCOW homepage at OHCOW.on.ca or www.preventoccdisease.ca website. Both of those websites will get you to the application to sign up. And the only reason for the application is that we really just want to get the best cohort or the best feedback that we can. So, we want but course all the different sizes of business and all the different regions of Ontario and different workplaces to give us feedback.
Is there anything else that employers and workers need to know about the silica control tool and this pilot?
Well, just to help us with the occupational disease action plan and again, OCRC is estimating that 200, lung, cancers can be prevented in Ontario each year by reducing that exposure limit and controlling exposure to silica. So, let's see.
Thank you so much for joining us today. Kimberly and sharing your expertise.
Thank you. Have a wonderful day.
So, if you're interested in participating in the silica control tool pilot for Ontario, be sure to visit w-w-w dot prevent occ disease, that's prevent OCC disease dot C-A. For more information on silica in the workplace you can visit CCOHS dot C-A and search Silica. Thanks for listening.