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CLF BLOG: How to Protect Your Workers from Occupational Diseases

Geoff Clark with WorkSafeBC is presenting the How to Protect Your Workers from Occupational Diseases workshop at the Vancouver Regional Construction Association’s Construction Learning Forum in Whistler.

Geoff Clark with WorkSafeBC is presenting the How to Protect Your Workers from Occupational Diseases workshop at the Vancouver Regional Construction Association's Construction Learning Forum (CLF) in Whistler.

Workshop description: Construction workers are regularly exposed to many hazardous materials during the course of their work that can cause life-threatening occupational diseases, such as occupational asthma, asbestosis, silicosis, and cancer. In light of new B.C. Occupational Health and Safety Regulation requirements this workshop will focus on how you can help protect your workers from industry hazards. Attendees will also receive an informative package with WorkSafeBC tools and resources.

Clark started the presentation by saying that a lot of occupational diseases can take 20 to 40 years to show up, so it’s tough sell as there are no immediate indicators of a problem.

“You don’t get sick from asbestos exposure, at least not immediately,” he said.

This workshop will include identifying the hazards for occupational disease and how to mitigate or eliminate them.

Asbestos, silica, lead, isocyanates, hydrogen sulphide, welding fumes, mould and bacteria can all cause occupational disease.

There are a number of hazards in the workplace, Clark said. These include wood dust, asphalt fumes and diesel exhaust.

There are also emerging hazards that include nanomaterials, electromagnetic fields, lasers and radon.

Clark said that over the last few years that there have been more deaths from asbestos exposure than from car and truck accidents.

In 2012, there were 68 deaths from asbestos diseases, while motor vehicle accidents only accounted for 22 fatalities.

These exposures happened decades ago, but their effects are still being felt.

He added that the vast majority of these exposures were in residential construction and especially demolition.

Clark said that older homes can contain asbestos in shingles, bathroom tiles, bricks and numerous other building materials. He said there were more than 30,000 different materials made with asbestos.

They used to have asbestos in a variety of everyday household items including toasters, baby bottle warmers, Christmas tree decorations and even cigarette filters.

It use to be very common was but was later determined to be cancer causing.

If a house in newer than 1990, it shouldn't have asbestos in it, he said, but added that if it's older than 1990 it could and a professional should be called in to determine if it's there.

There is also asbestos in commercial and industrial buildings, he said, and tests must be done to be sure.

Now, Clark is discussing silica.

"Silica exposure causes a number of silica-related diseases," he said. This includes cancer and silicosis, which is the scarring of lung tissue.

Clark said that it's sometime hard to trace a disease to an exposure that happened decades ago, so reporting and tracking numbers don't show the whole story.

Silica tracking is tricky, he said, and some people don't know how to do it. Another challenge is that a job may be small and only include drilling a few holes or a cutting a single piece of concrete or masonry. Testing everything can be a challenge.

"You must do a risk assessment," he said.

This assessment must include:

The results of any relevant exposure monitoring that has been carried out

Effectiveness of existing and planned control measures

Any additional information needed to complete the risk assessment

Clark stressed that this risk assessment must be completed by a qualified person.

The Exposure Control Plan must also include a number of elements:

Purpose and responsibility

Risk Assessment and Control

Education and Training

Written work procedures

Hygiene facilities

Health monitoring


Clark said that you will definitley need a respirator when working with silica, but it's important to pick the right one for the job.

WorkSafeBC has a lot of resources on their website for exposure control plans and risk assessments, as well as general information about silica exposure and products.

The website includes information on choosing the correct respirator for the job you're doing. These resources are downloadable and use by companies.

Clark said there are new rules and regulations surrounding silica and that it's best to get familiar with them. However, he said that they're not as onerous as they may seem.

Clark is now discussing lead in coatings and the dangers they pose.

He said that houses built before 1975 could have lead paint in both the exterior and the interior.

"Just like silica, you need to do a risk assessment," he said.

There are two routes for lead exposure. One is inhalation during the work processes (ie dust from sanding or blasting). The other means of exposure is ingestion of contamination from surfaces.

Clark pointed out that welding, burning or torch cutting of steel that is coated with lead containing paint can create hazardous lead fumes.

Current regulations state that you must remove the lead containing paint before cutting or welding.

Clark is now discussing isocyanates, which are used hardners and glues. He said that many products are made with them. They can lead to occupational asthma and other problems after multiple exposures.

Exposure to isocyanates can come from:

Spraying paints or forms containing it

Heating polyurethane plastics

Cutting polyurethane foams using hot wire cutting

Manufacturing urethane forms

Hand painting or rolling isocyanates coatings.

Information and resources for dealing with isocyanates can be found on the WorkSafeBC website.

Clark is finishing up his presentation by talking about WorkSafeBC's exposure registry. Entries for the registry can be made by workers or employers.

The Vancouver Regional Construction Association's 3rd Annual Construction Learning Forum is taking place in Whistler, B.C.

The two-day conference includes workshops on productivity, business development and safety.

Keep checking the Journal of Commerce for blogs from the conference.


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