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Protect the Hidden Victims of Workplace Hazards

This September is the 12th anniversary for the 911 attack. It is truly a tragedy for us to remember and commemorate; however, from an occupational health perspective, the tragic story is still going on, as the list of hidden victims keeps expanding.

With the collapse of the World Trade Center, building material such as asbestos and fiber glass were pulverized and spread all over the area. Firefighters, policemen, communication workers, and janitorial workers involved with the clean-up process are exposed to contaminants which are potential carcinogens or may cause permanent lung dysfunction.

However, it was not a long time ago since these occupational hazards were realized by the media and public health authorities, and the recognition and compensation remains to be an issue, which is demonstrated in the video below.

The Hidden Victim of 9/11 (Youtube)

This case reflects the dilemma faced by OHS professionals: On the one hand, the issue of workplace safety has been realized widely, and continuous effort has been put to eliminate them.

On the other hand, occupational diseases, as a result of the chemical, physical and biological exposure at workplaces remains to be unsolved: It is estimated by International Labour Organization (ILO) that almost 80% of fatalities at workplaces are caused by occupational disease. In Canada, many provinces have made great progress in reducing the number of workplace injuries. However, the overall number of work-related deaths remains unchanged. The reason is that deaths caused by work-related disease have increased steadily over the past two decades.

Why is occupational disease not getting the deserved attention in spite of the catastrophic outcomes?

First reason is that compared with occupational injuries, whose cause could be identified by accident investigation following certain procedures, the identification of occupational disease is much more complex. Of course we can indicate some chemicals as being “toxic”, but the definition of “toxic” is so broad that it hardly makes any sense in associating the certain disease with exposure. Take occupational cancer as an example, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) evaluated the carcinogenicity of around 900 chemicals; however, consider the numerous chemicals that exist at workplaces, those evaluated are just the iceberg above surface. 

The second reason for the lack of awareness is that occupational diseases seldom develop on a single day. Take occupational cancer for example: cancer is a chronic disease, the latent period between exposure and disease occurrence could be decades. This is a huge barrier when linking disease with exposure.

With so many gaps remaining to be filled, preventative approaches have been made to protect workers from the emerging risk of occupational risk: provincial regulations have set up exposure limits for the chemical, physical and biological hazards, and for those with potential to induce cancer and other permanent damage, it is the employer’s responsibility to keep the exposure level “As Low As Reasonably Achievable” (i.e. ALARA).

As part of the due diligence for employers, initiating an air testing is the fundamental step to prevent the occupational disease!

Posted on: September 16th, 2013 by Phil Comments

Introducing Occupational Hygiene Services!

Hello everyone, I am Phillip (Hanchen) Chen! I just joined Safety Solutions at Work as an Occupational Hygienist last month. It has been a fun month for me, especially when I walk into the workplace and introduce my role as an “Occupational Hygienist”.  I get amusing questions about my role as an occupational hygienist such as: “Are you responsible for keeping the patient’s teeth clean?” “Nope, but dental hygienists do”. “Do you remind workers to wash their hands?” “Yes, we promote workplace health, but we do more than that!”

So, what do Occupational Hygienists do beyond providing workers with soap?

Why do we need to use the soap? Probably because our hands are dirty. At workplaces, the “dirt” could be more complex with amorphous forms. A big part of our job is to recognize and assess the dirt!

Let’s suppose that when a worker walks into the factory to start his job, what could he be exposed to and what could harm his/her health? Chemicals for sure. Solvents, degreasers, resins could be released into the work environment and then the worker will inhale those into the lungs. Dust of course, especially when he works in a sawmill or welding shop. Noise and vibration are ubiquitous issues as well. So, as occupational hygienists, we can go to the field and assess worker’s exposure to this wide variety of chemical, physical and biological hazards.

Why do we do that? – To protect the worker’s health for sure!  The value of them being healthy at work is of key importance to the family, community and society. Also, provincial regulations  set up limits of these hazards!

Which kind of soap do choose? There are lots of factors to consider, such as your skin type, the cleaning efficiency and $$$. To fully protect workers from the occupational hazards, we also advise control measures, by taking all the factors into consideration. To achieve that, we work with civil and environmental engineers, safety engineers, chemical suppliers, protection equipment manufacturers and the employer to provide comprehensive protection to the workers.

“Hygiene” as a science, deals with the promotion and perseverance of health. In spite of the differences on the technical aspect, “Occupational Hygiene” deals with the health and well-being at workplaces, which is  consistent with the general concept of “Hygiene”. Thus, I would like to share a picture of Hygieia, who is the Greek goddess of health. It is nice to realize that the title on my card has sort of association with Hygieia.

Posted on: September 3rd, 2013 by Phil Comments

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