Working in the Fog

This time of year, if it’s not the snow, ice, or cold, it’s the wind making our Canadian winters almost unbearable. However; one of the lovely weather hazards often overlooked, is fog. Working in dense fog causes serious vision limitations. Depending on many factors, certain tasks may come to a standstill; such as crane operations and most other lifts. So, how do the rest of us protect ourselves from the hazards caused by fog?

Make yourself visible, be sure that you’re wearing a high res vest. You can also (and probably should) add high res stripes to your hard hat and gloves. Keep your head up for vehicles or moving equipment; there is a good chance they can’t see you, so watch out for them. If you’re operating equipment or driving, go slow and don’t ride someone’s tail. The low visibility caused by fog can make items appear further away than they actually are. Always have your headlights and/or fog lights on if operating any type of vehicle and make sure they work before you hit the road.

The hazards that come with Canadian winters seem never ending, but ones we have to live with regardless. Fog can happen anytime of the year, but most common in the winter. Fortunately, we only have a couple of months of winter left!

Safety Stand Downs

As trades people, I know safety stand-downs can seem like a hassle. You may feel they interrupt you right in the middle of your tasks, take time out of our day and talk dry, boring safety. But, maybe you are looking at the glass half empty? Safety stand-downs (or sometimes referred to as safety reconnect) are a great way to press the reset button. Yes, they interrupt your task but that’s a perfect time to refocus and reassess the safety hazards that you’re dealing with. Complacency happens all too often. So an interruption in your daily routine is a great way to shake things up. Yes, they also take time out of your day, but it’s a great way for supervisors to speak directly to the workers. This is the time to really listen and also use your voice. Site supervisors are just a busy as you, if not more, so for them to put a halt on their own work to talk safety… is a pretty big deal. It’s also comforting to know the big wigs care about your safety too. And yes, safety can be dry and boring, but so is filling out forms at hospitals, doctors offices and WCB. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you’re also being paid by the hour, so is it really that bad? Safety stand-downs can happen out of the blue to help workers press that reset button and they can also happen because there has been too many near misses or a serious incident has occurred. Whatever the reason, don’t treat it as a hassle, treat it as a fresh start.

AED (Automated External Defibrillator) Part 2

AEDs need to be maintained just like anything else on site. Just like a fire extinguisher or first aid kit, you can’t let it sit on the shelf for 5 years unused and hope for the best in an emergency situation. Someone needs to be in charge of regular maintenance checks. Most AEDs have a self check procedure, but battery life still needs to be monitored and service prompts handled accordingly. Most AEDs will need new batteries every 2-5 years (depending on make and model, usually every 4. Always check the owner’s manual). Pads will also need to be replaced every 2 years due to deterioration. They will also require cleaning time to time, again refer to your owner’s manual. The manual should also give you a maintenance timeline and who to contact when maintenance is needed. You should always have an extra battery on hand and accessories close by; such as razors and pads.

AEDs are amazing, life saving tools, that we need to be sure are ready to go in the unfortunate case of an emergency. Try to get proper training or at least make yourself familiar with them. AEDs are not mandatory by the government of Canada, so if you don’t have one in your workplace, talk to your safety crew and foreman. It could be any one of us in need of defibrillation and it could mean the difference between life and death. So definitely worth the small price to save a life.

AED (Automated External Defibrillator) Part 1

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada states that around 45,000 Canadians will suffer from sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) every year and 2.1% of Canadians have a history of heart attacks. With huge numbers like that, we need to be prepared for SCA at the workplace too. In come AEDs… They are relatively affordable, user friendly, and if used correctly can save lives. Let’s go over the in’s and out’s of these little lifesavers.

First, what exactly is an AED? According to American Heart Association “an AED is a
lightweight, portable device that delivers an electric shock through the chest to the heart. The shock can potentially stop an irregular heart beat (arrhythmia) and allow a normal rhythm to resume following sudden cardiac arrest (SCA).” What makes them so user friendly is that the computer in the AED will tell you if the victim needs the shock and a prerecorded voice will guide you through it. Training on proper use of AEDs is highly recommend, but you should at least be familiar with how to use them. If not, talk to your safety crew and/or foreman.

Why are they so important?  According to the government of Canada, a victim’s chance of survival are increased to 75% or more if  CPR or defibrillation is started within the first 1-3 minutes after cardiac arrest. Not everyone is trained in proper CPR and it’s not always as effective. Using an AED can take some of the guesswork out of resuscitating the victim and could be more effective. Come back tomorrow and we’ll go over how to keep your AED ready to go.

Asbestos Part 2

Most people think you only have to be cautious if you work in mining, shipbuilding and shipyard shipper/receiver, working on old cars, or renovating or demolishing old homes. But the truth is, if you are a carpenter, insulator, plumber, roofer or working in maintenance, you also need to know what you’re working with. Even if you don’t work in these categories but suspect asbestos could be a hazard, you need to bring attention to it. Even if you’re wrong… It’s better to be safe than sorry. If you are dealing with asbestos, you need to be trained to do so. There are 3 kinds of training… Awareness training, special operations, and abatement worker training. Make sure you have the correct training for the job. Proper signage must be placed to identify the hazard.  Protection must also be in place to protect the health of the public surrounding the hazard. You will need extra PPE, such as; hazmat suits, proper respirators and the correct gloves. You will need to be covered from head to toe. Leave your work clothes at work and shower before leaving work. Don’t even bring your clothes home to wash. Working with asbestos is something to take extremely seriously. Don’t do it if you’re not trained and/or don’t feel comfortable. This is something that if done incorrectly could and will probably kill you. So make sure you know what you’re working with and that you know how to correctly handle it.

Asbestos – Part 1

There is actually quite a bit of controversy surrounding this topic. Lots of people in the trades believe that Canada has a complete ban on asbestos and asbestos containing products, but this not true. CBC News reported in Oct 2018 that “New regulations designed to ban asbestos will go into effect by the end of this year [2018] — but an analysis of the final rules reveals they have been watered down from what the federal government originally proposed. The final regulations include new exemptions to allow the military, nuclear facilities and chlor-alkali plants to continue using the hazardous substance for several years.” The CBC article goes on to state that, “In its regulations, the government estimates that asbestos exposure was responsible for approx. 1,900 lung cancer cases in 2011 and 430 cases of mesothelioma – a cancer that affects a layer of tissue that covers many internal organs.”

Somewhere along the line most trades workers got the idea that you only need to be concerned about asbestos if you are demoing an old house. However, asbestos fibres are in a ton of items here in Canada. Such as, cementing compounds, shingles, floor tiles, insulation, spray fireproofing, fireproof doors, pipe and boiler wrap and break pads. Yes, asbestos is relatively safe, if it’s contained and not bothered, but any sort of deterioration, or drilling, cutting, grinding or sawing can release tiny fibers. These tiny fibers can cause a lifetime of health problems, ultimately leading to death. It’s reported that “Exposure to asbestos is the leading cause of occupational death in Canada.”

Symptoms can take years to show up. The earliest symptoms usually include change in breathing, shortness of breath, cough and a crackling sound when inhaling. Tomorrow, we will go over who’s at risk and what to do when faced with this hazard.

Laydown Yards

Laydown yards may sometimes look like junkyards (they shouldn’t) but they couldn’t be further from junk. This is where we store equipment and supplies on site that will be needed at later date. This can be everything from welding machines, lumber, pipe, scaffolding, spools of electrical cable….. you name it, it’s probably in there. These yards can be huge, depending on which site you’re at. Some of them are spread across acres just to house everything workers need to do their job. Depending on the site and the company you work for, you may be asked to retrieve something from the yard. Some sites and companies have specific employees just for the yard and no one else is permitted. This is for good reason. Laydown yards come with their own set of hazards and the best way to avoid these hazards is organization and good housekeeping. If you are allowed into your company’s yard, here are a few things to note.

Housekeeping is key. If you need to move items to get something, put them back when you’re finished. Items should be stored with proper walkways and ample room for trucks and forklifts where needed. Still, you need to watch your footing; slips, trips and falls are very common in lay down yards. Even if your laydown yard is immaculately organized, please remember some of these items have been there for months, maybe years. Moving them at this point will disrupt the ground and you could be dealing with water, mud, snow etc, etc. Speaking of material that’s been stored for a while, you will also need to watch out for wildlife. Some of the materials stored makes a great home to all sorts of critters. Always give a once over to the item you’re removing. Make sure to use proper signage and flagging. Don’t store a pipe such that it is protruding at head or foot level and not flag it off. It’s only a matter of time until another worker will injure themselves. When using a truck or forklift to take material, always have a spotter. Make sure to communicate, with anyone else in the yard, where you’ll be and what you’re doing. Do not treat these yards like a junkyard… If something is garbage, remove if and place it where it belongs.

These yards should be well organized and easy to manoeuvre around, unfortunately that’s not always the case. So keep your head up and be on the lookout for hazards! Also make sure you’re not causing any hazards as well.

Energy Drinks – Part 2

I find it hard as a consumer to know what I’m getting into with these drinks. Lots of them have added vitamins and therefore marketed as “health drinks” or they add ginkgo biloba and it’s marketed as making your mind sharp. Not to mention there are a million studies both for and against these drinks. One argument is that your healthy allowable amount of caffeine is a whopping 400mg a day and energy drinks are around 100-800 mg. So that makes some of them safe right?……Unfortunately, this may not be so. Sadly, the WHO (World health organisation) studies against energy drinks have one thing to support their argument that the others don’t… Stats on hospital visits and deaths. In Canada, we do have some regulations on energy drinks, but there is still definitely some gray area. Some drinks fall into different categories such as the energy shots that can have as much as 800mg of caffeine in one mouthful shot. Also, mixing any of these drinks with alcohol is a huge no-no, but still allowable in most places in Canada. There are still no regulations on these drinks being sold to children.

So, I guess what I’m saying is know your stuff, educate yourself on the risks. If you already have a heart condition, definitely do your research and talk to your doctor. One now and then is probably safe if you’re healthy, but given the controversy, I’d recommend always playing it safe. So, does this mean we just fall asleep at work? No, instead try getting more sleep at night, regular exercise and a healthy diet. I know it’s not a quick fix but hey neither is a heart attack?

Energy Drinks – Part 1

I think any trades person that’s been pulling 12’s for a while can admit they have downed at least one or two energy drinks in their day. I know working those long days on those long shifts can seem like you may not make it through. However, energy drinks may actually cause way more harm than good. Here’s the down low on these drinks.

Energy drinks seem like the answer when we can’t keep our eyes open or are moving at a snail’s pace, but according to the NHS (national health services UK) these drinks contain such high amounts of caffeine, taurine and sugar, they can potentially cause real damage. They also note that the amount of caffeine and taurine can reek all sorts of havoc on you; from high blood pressure, nausea, vomiting, irregular heartbeat, seizures and even death. They go on to say that long term use of these drinks can lead to type two diabetes, dependency problems and obesity, and for  pregnant women, these drinks can actually cause miscarriages, still births and babies born with low birth weights. NHS also states children drinking these drinks are at risk for neurological and cardiovascular problems. You may also want to skip these drinks if you have a pre-existing heart condition or work a very physical job… AKA working in the trades. Come back tomorrow and we’ll go over the in’s and out’s of these sneaky little drinks.

Diesel Emissions Part 2

We need to be proactive in protecting ourselves. I know it’s not very likely, but when we can, try and replace diesel with electric engines. Keep on top of our tune ups and maintenance of the diesel engines we are using, we should be doing this anyway for other safety reasons and the longevity of our equipment. Install engine exhaust filters, use cleaner fuels and it wouldn’t hurt to test the air for unsafe levels. Even doing all of that, we need to limit our exposure to diesel emissions. Try to always keep them outside. If you have to run it indoors, be very cautious about ventilation, keep fumes away from other workers in the same work zone and use a respirators. Even if your equipment is running outside, be sure the fumes are not blowing directly into walkways, use a tail pipe hose to direct it out of the way of other workers. And when those temperatures dip into the ice age realm, try not to idle your engine for long periods.

I know this is a hard one to mitigate the hazards of… Diesel is everywhere on site. If you’re weird like me and the smell doesn’t bother you… maybe you actually like it? Hey it smells like money to me! You still need to take every precaution to avoid it. The life altering and threatening side effects just aren’t worth the extra 10 minutes it may take you to plan better and remove the hazards.