News in brief: A look at news, facts and figures shaping the world of OHS professionals

Ontario’s Workplace Safety North issues combustible dust alert; National Energy Board releases draft ‘safety culture’ framework for oil and gas; Canadian companies increasing investment in workers’ health: Survey; Young, old employees lack workplace health coverage when needed: Report; Millions of Canadian, U.S. workers may be exposed to lead from shop towels: Study; Safety citations set after death of Vegas Cirque du Soleil acrobat

Ontario’s Workplace Safety North issues combustible dust alert

Sudbury, Ont. — Workplace Safety North has issued an alert that the risk of a dust explosion increases in winter months when low humidity levels make dust easy to disperse and ignite.

Industrial incident investigations by the United States Chemical Safety Board found that seven in eight fatal combustible dust explosions from 1995 to 2009 occurred during cold winter months when these weather conditions were most prominent, according to a hazard alert issued by WorkSafeBC.

A number of changes can commonly occur in wood processing facilities as the weather becomes colder:

• control measures and clean-up practices that rely on the use of water may not be suitable or effective
• openings such as bay doors and wall dampers may be closed up, increasing the degree of enclosure and reducing natural ventilation or make up air
• ventilation may be reduced or shut down to conserve heat
• recirculation of air from exhaust systems may also increase
• portable heating units potentially introduce additional ignition sources into work spaces.

National Energy Board releases draft ‘safety culture’ framework for oil and gas

Calgary — The National Energy Board (NEB) has released a discussion paper titled Advancing Safety in the Oil and Gas Industry: Draft Safety Culture Framework. The NEB will be seeking comments from the public and industry on this body of work until Jan. 30, 2014.

The NEB, the Canada Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board, and the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board worked together to propose a common draft safety culture definition and a framework. This body of work was developed to promote learning and a shared understanding of the emerging discipline of safety culture across the oil and gas sector in Canada.

Comments and questions on the Draft Safety Culture Framework may be submitted to the NEB until Jan. 30, 2014.

Canadian companies increasing investment in workers’ health: Survey

Toronto — More than three-quarters (76 per cent) of Canadian organizations are planning to increase their support for workforce health programs over the next two years, according to a survey by Towers Watson.

This commitment, similar to other countries in the survey, is seen as a way to keep workers healthier and improve workplace productivity.

Canadian employers continue to offer basic health awareness and prevention services:

• health-risk assessments (45 per cent)
• biometric screenings (40 per cent)
• vaccination programs (80 per cent)
• web-based health information tools (65 per cent).

Some employers have started to expand from these traditional services to implement newer approaches:

• on-site health services, such as a physician or dietitian (11 per cent)
• behavioural health services through virtual sessions (20 per cent)
• mobile applications (18 per cent).

Young, old employees lack workplace health coverage when needed: Report

Ottawa — Young workers and seniors are the most impacted when they need time off work due to an illness or disability, according to a new report by the Conference Board of Canada. Less than one-half are covered by employer sick leave and disability leave plans, the report claims.

The following was highlighted in the report:

• young workers and seniors are at the most at risk of not having sick leave and disability coverage
• coverage is lacking for employees in certain sectors, such as construction, retail and the services sector
• more Canadian organizations offer programs and supports for employees with physical health issues than for mental health issues.

Certain demographic groups are more at risk than others. Only one third of 18-24 year olds in the workforce (34 per cent) have any paid sick days or short-term disability coverage. One quarter (26 per cent) have coverage in the event of a long-term disability. Less than half of individuals in the workforce over the age of 65 have paid sick days or short-term disability leave, and only 41 per cent have long-term disability coverage.

Millions of Canadian, U.S. workers may be exposed to lead from shop towels: Study

Cambridge, Mass. — Manufacturing workers in Canada and the United States who use laundered shop towels may be exposed to lead and other metals, found a recent study.

Workers cannot see, smell, or feel heavy metal residue on laundered shop towels, so the risk is not apparent to workers who use the towels to wipe parts, spills and their hands, found the Evaluation of Potential Exposure to Metals in Laundered Shop Towels, published in the October issue of Human and Ecological Risk Assessment.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 12 million Americans, or nine per cent of the workforce, are employed directly in manufacturing. In Canada, more than one million people work in manufacturing.

In the study, exposure to metals by workers using laundered shop towels was estimated based on metal concentrations in towels and exposure modelling. The resulting exposure estimates were screened against recognized toxicity or regulatory criteria. Based on the exposure assumptions employed in the study and the results of the towels tested, a worker using a typical number of laundered shop towels each day — an average of 14 — may ingest an amount of lead 400 times higher than the health-based criterion for reproductive effects set by the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) and more lead than that associated with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) action level for drinking water.

Safety citations set after death of Vegas Cirque du Soleil acrobat

Las Vegas — Safety officials have announced plans to cite performance company Cirque du Soleil and Las Vegas casino MGM Grand after an acrobat died over the summer in a fall witnessed by a live audience.

Investigators concluded 31-year-old Sarah Guillot-Guyard fell 94 feet to the floor below when a wire rope she was suspended from was severed due to her rapid ascent.

"She ascended too quickly which caused the rope to come out of the sheave/pulley," said Teri Williams, spokeswoman for the Nevada Department of Business and Industry. "The rope was severed when it encountered a sheer point. The investigation concluded that she ascended too quickly, in part, because she did not receive proper training."

OSHA proposed six citations and more than US$25,000 in penalties for Cirque du Soleil Nevada, and three citations totaling US$7,000 for the MGM Grand, where the performance took place.

Among other things, OSHA reported Cirque didn’t provide proper training for the performer, and didn’t property assess the workplace for hazards. MGM faces citations because its employees were exposed to hazards due to deficiencies in Cirque’s hazard assessments, according to OSHA.

Officials from both entities said they will appeal the decision.

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