November 24, 2011
On Saturday Nov. 19, I visited a conference for construction safety workers who want to “bridge the gap” in their knowledge about the industry’s health and safety issues. I visited safety product vendors and service consultants at the trade show portion, then went to a seminar called Pre-Inspection to Ensure Your Protection.
A group of safety product demonstrators were stationed at tables where they gave 12-minute demos on what construction safety officers need to look for when inspecting personal protective equipment. The session was led by sales manager Derek Malone, of HazMasters.
“As a safety officer, you’re going to deal with multiple trades coming in with safety equipment,” Derek told me, as he timed the sessions and led attendees to their next PPE demo station.
He said the session “gives a general introduction to some of the things to look for” when they inspect equipment used for gas detection, fall protection, and other types of PPE.
Networking for construction safety pros
Derek explained the spark behind the conference.
“The original intent of Bridging the Gap was to give construction safety officers the vision to see what else they can do – other than taking what they learned in their programs – and continue to evolve it and network with other officers and safety manager who have got to a higher level,” he said. “Some of the concerns were younger CSOs coming out and not knowing what was available as a career path. Sometimes they got to a job and didn’t have the support. They have the ability to speak with somebody here – maybe a manager for a larger company – who says ‘This is the support you should have.’ Then they can see what they can work towards.”
Stay tuned for more stories from people I met at the conference that was sponsored by WorkSafeBC in partnership with the BC Construction Safety Alliance, BC Association of Restoration Contractors, Canadian Society of Safety Engineering, HazMasters, Applied Science Technologists and Technicians of BC, and BCIT.
October 13, 2011
Recently I heard a conversation on CBC radio between Heidi Von Palleske and her mother, in the last days of her life with mesothelioma – a rare cancer nearly always caused by asbestos exposure. The mother asked the daughter to record her plea to government and the asbestos industry that they end Canadian mining and exports.
She really wanted people to know about what happened to her – how her husband came home from work every day at the asbestos plant, covered in “fairy dust” and hugged her and the kids. She wanted to stop it from happening to others – here in Canada and elsewhere.
I thought about this recorded interview when I received an email from Ben Leer, introducing himself as the new Public Outreach Coordinator for the Mesothelioma Center (Asbestos.com). Ben said his organization is working hard to connect with other organizations and individuals – so I’d like to help by sharing their social media coordinates.
You can Like the Mesothelioma Facebook page that links people, resources, legal aid, and information on all asbestos issues ranging from occupational exposure to mesothelioma treatment options.
Follow them on Twitter @TheMesoCenter and on LinkedIn as “The Mesothelioma Centre.”
Their website Asbestos.com is “a comprehensive one-stop resource for all asbestos- and mesothelioma-related issues, from occupational exposure to treatment options.”
In July, I wrote about Paul Douglas, who survived 11 years after a mesothelioma diagnosis and an estimated six months to live. He wrote about his experiences in an online forum for others with his condition. WorkSafeBC created hiddenkiller.ca so you can “tune into the facts so that you, your coworkers, your friends, your family are protected.”
July 28, 2011
Recently I was at my favourite cafe. It’s small and strangers talk to each other a lot, which is one of the things I love about it (aside from the delicious coffee).
A construction worker came in, all caked in dust after a hard day’s work. He said he had been working beside a young guy using a jackhammer all day. That’s why his skin, hair, and clothing were covered in grey dust.
Considering my interest in workplace safety, I couldn’t help but ask: “What kind of respiratory protection were you using?”
He laughed scornfully and said, “They offered me a mask, but I just said: ‘Look at all this nose hair! I’m old [early 40s?] and I grow a lot of nose hair now, so I might as well use it for something!’” Read more
July 21, 2011
Here’s a story of danger at sea from a federal agency officer who wants to be “on the low.”
I’ll tell you what he told me about his most dangerous workplace moment – without revealing his name nor that of his agency. The most dangerous thing he ever did at work was going out to sea in a Zodiac and boarding a huge ship. He did this as required – on rare occasions – as part of his duties as a federal public service manager.
“Some officers have better training – those more frequently on the water.” he said. “I might have felt like saying no – but frankly – I was thrilled to do it.”
I asked if he’d been trained to board ships at sea, but he said no. He had lots of training – firearms training, combat defence, and vessel inspection – but nothing specific to boarding ships at sea. He wore a life jacket and hung on tight.
“You can imagine it’s a very, very tall ship and to do that at sea, they typically slow down to about 6 knots in a rigid hull inflatable boat – a Zodiac – and they come along side of it,” he said, describing how he got from the Zodiac onto the ship. “They match the speeds and then they get close as they can get to it – usually within a metre or less. Then you go up a Jacob’s ladder – those cargo ladders you used in school, climbing up two or three storeys.”
The dangers of cold water
One major risk he faced was the cold water. If a wave hit him or he lost his grip, he could have fallen into the super-cold ocean and been vulnerable to cold water shock – which happens much more quickly than drowning.
“Cold shock occurs immediately — as you enter the cold water,” reads a WorkSafeBC bulletin, Cold Water Immersion.
“It lasts three to five minutes but it can result in quick drowning because of the way the body reacts. You cannot control these reactions:
• A large intake of breath
• A rapid increase in breathing rate (up to four times as fast)
• A reduced ability to hold your breath (to as little as 10 seconds)
• A massive increase in heart rate and blood pressure.”
Thankfully this officer got on board the ship without incident – and now he has a quite a story to tell. Do you? Email email@example.com.
June 23, 2011
She took precautions and followed protocol, but somehow it still happened.
“I was pricked with a used hypodermic while changing the garbage,” said Heidi, who worked as a barista in downtown Vancouver a few years ago.
“I was wearing sharps-resistant gloves, with a clear garbage bag that I had scanned for sharps, and I held it away from my body. Then the bag swung and bumped against the wall. The needle went into my unprotected knee.”
She said her coworker called an ambulance and “911 told us we needed to bring the needle in order for workers’ comp and insurance to cover the cost of the ambulance and treatment.” The medical history of the person who had used the needle was unknown, so Heidi took an “antiretroviral cocktail for 28 days, hepatitis vaccines, and 12 months of bloodwork.”
“The needle could have been from meds (insulin, or the like) but the area has a high incidence of HIV/AIDS and hep. It was all pretty scary, but fortunately, I’m fine.”
Outspoken about safety
Today Heidi works as a special education assistant and occasionally takes shifts as a waitress in a local restaurant. She says she’s “super anal and outspoken at all of these places, particularly about safety.” She asked me about a WorkSafeBC publication that came out after her incident.
“I was told that a handbook was in the works regarding this type of injury, but I never did see the final product,” she said.
The publication Heidi speaks of is Controlling Exposures: Protecting Workers from Infectious Disease. It points out that while health care workers face greater risk of exposure to infectious diseases, there is also a risk for workers in law enforcement, corrections, dentistry, funeral homes, hospitality, schools, animal hospitals, construction, and food processing.
Another great resource is WorkSafeBC’s Stuck by a needle? poster (pictured above), which can be adapted for individual workplaces. It lists three steps to follow if you are stuck with a needle and includes space at the bottom for filling in the name and address of the nearest hospital. Posting it on the wall is one way to help employees who find themselves in Heidi’s situation.
Employers in BC are required to follow the precautions outlined in Regulation Part 6 Substance Specific Requirements – Biological Agents.
Thanks to Heidi for sharing her story, and please let me know if you have a story of your own: firstname.lastname@example.org.
April 05, 2011
A construction employer once told me about an attitude he sees on worksites.
“People really don’t pay attention to how dangerous the industry is,” he said. “I see it all the time. It’s a leftover cultural thing where, to some degree, there’s almost a pride in avoiding some of the basic safety standards that are out there. For example, not wearing fall protection when you’re up on a roof, or not wearing eye protection and being careless around power tools.”
I emailed my good friend John Crombie to see if he agreed. John worked as a construction labourer for many years before taking the Construction Safety Officer program at BCIT and eventually moving into the building maintenance/tenant management business. He said he’d seen and done many of the same things himself in the past.
“I don’t think it is macho, or a matter of pride, exactly. I always wanted to hurry up and cut corners,” John said. “It really took me a while, and the threat of serious punishment, to realize that I was working unsafely and there was no reason, outside my own head and heart, for doing so. At some point I realized that I was the one who put the rules aside. Part of it is speed and convenience… For too long, following safety requirements seemed like an added burden. We had to put up with low pay, hard work, bad weather, overtime, and now – MORE safety rules!”
But John said his perspective changed over time, especially once he was a CSO.
“At some point, especially when I became responsible for the safety supervision of other workers, and responsible for how well they followed the rules, I realized that adherence to safety was all part of doing our best,” John said. “Doing our best became: safely, completely, and on time. Getting paid more also helped, as in working safely is also working more skillfully, and if this is rewarded with better pay – reflecting a higher level of training and output – then it all works better.”
Thanks to John for sharing his story and always being there for my questions. For more information on residential construction safety, check out the cover story by Helena Bryan in the March/April 2011 issue of WorkSafe Magazine.
More info is also available from the BC Construction Safety Alliance – a non-profit association that develops health and safety programs, tools and resources for more than 35,000 construction employers and 180,000 workers in our province.
March 08, 2011
That’s the word from one of my safety contacts in the UK who emailed an answer to my question: “What’s the most dangerous thing you’ve ever been asked to do at work?”
Back in 1975, he was a trades apprentice renovating a school built in 1950.
“I was given a damp cloth to cover my mouth, and a large hammer and told to smash down the ceilings in the corridors to make way for the new replacement ceiling,” he wrote. “The old ceiling was completely made up of asbestos boarding! My how things have changed!”
Very true. Today there are strict procedures for dealing with asbestos. A wet cloth over your mouth is a far cry from what’s required by the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation here in BC.
Here in my jurisdiction, OHS Regulation Part 8 Personal Protective Clothing and Equipment calls for full facepiece powered air-purifying respirators with HEPA 100 filters.
More asbestos resources
Many other organizations work to protect workers against asbestos exposure. Their offerings include the following:
OHS Answers: Respirator Selection from the Canadian Centre For Occupational Health and Safety
Safe Work Practices For Handling Asbestos from WorkSafeBC
Health Risks of Asbestos from Health Canada
Asbestos from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Commission
Today my UK contact is a health and safety consultant who advises companies, and I thank him for sharing his shocking story. If you have a story of workplace danger to share, please email me at email@example.com.
This video – Overview of Asbestos Removal Procedures US 1999 – was produced by the US Environmental Protection Agency.
January 18, 2011
“There are some things you can’t un-smell,” said Geoff Shellard, project manager at Bio Solutions, a Coquitlam-based company on-call 24/7 for cleaning up crime & trauma scenes, stolen and recovered vehicles, clandestine drug lab damage, and many more unusual situations around BC.
I met Geoff at the NAOSH/CSSE awards in October and was extremely curious about this unique line of work. He told me what it’s like to clean apartments of people who have died alone at home.
“When you walk in, the first thing you experience is the smell. It can tell you a lot about what to expect before you even enter,” he said. “Once inside, there is a degree of detective work as we need to determine the location of the deceased at the time of expiration, and then determine the scope of work and the size of the area impacted. It can be challenging, as what you initially see is not always the whole picture.”
I asked Geoff how his crew protects themselves against bloodborne pathogens and other biohazards. He said everything is treated with a hospital-grade disinfectant before they start the clean up. Their PPE includes extra thick gloves and Tyvex suits from head to toe, among other tricks and tools of the trade.
Dealing with toxic mould
Bio Solutions also deals with mould inspections and the subsequent damage caused by mould – often in rental homes used for growing marijuana. He’s seen some bad damage in grow-op homes; one had mould spores on every wall and extensive water damage. Bad news for many out-of-province landlords.
Bio Solutions recently won a Consumers Choice 2010 award for their mould inspection/remediation work.
During mould remediation, workers use “a full-face respirator with vapour gas cartridges, P100s; Tyvek suit with gloves and booties tuck taped to the cuffs to keep out any debris and hazards,” Geoff said.
I could have bugged Geoff for hours – asking him morbidly curious questions I’m not mentioning in this blog post. After hearing his stories, I’m thankful the Bio Solutions crew is available to do a critical job that very few people could handle.
October 19, 2010
I’ve admired paramedics ever since I was a kid in the 70s, watching the old TV show Emergency!
Since then, in real life, I’ve seen paramedics do amazing things, with such kindness and compassion. A while ago, I saw on Facebook that Nicholas Chernen, an old high school friend of mine, was in paramedic school at the Justice Institute of BC.
I wrote to congratulate him on his career choice, and also asked what he is learning about staying safe on the job. Here’s what he told me:
“The first thing we always think about is hazards. Is there anything in/on/around the emergency scene that could cause harm to ourselves or fellow first responders? (We’re no good to anyone if we get injured.) Read more