Category Archives: Occupational Hygiene

Two military personnel charged with sexually assaulting colleagues

FEDERAL – In its ongoing campaign to eliminate sexual misconduct in the military, the Canadian Forces (CF) National Investigative Service charged two more members with assault against colleagues on Oct. 24. A news release from the Department of National Defence (DND) stated that Bombardier Mathieu Poirier, based at 2 Royal Canadian Horse Artillery in Petawawa, Ont., is facing charges of drunkenness and sexual assault under the National Defence Act, pertaining to an alleged incident in May at the CF base in Wainwright, Alta. According to a separate DND release, the Service has also laid two charges of sexual assault against Leading Seaman Darryl Ryan, a member of HMCS Fredericton in Halifax. These charges stemmed from two alleged incidents at the CF base in Borden, Ont., in Sept. 2016. “Accusations of harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour are always taken seriously,” Lieutenant-Colonel Kevin Cadman, commanding officer of the National Investigation Service, said in a press statement. “Military police always investigate such cases to determine the facts, analyze evidence and, when warranted, lay charges.” Dates and locations of court martials in both cases are to be determined.

Firefighters exposed to harmful chemicals through skin: study

A new study from the University of Ottawa has found that firefighters absorb toxic chemicals from smoke through their skin while on the job.

Published on the Environmental Science & Technology journal’s website on Oct. 18, “Elevated Exposures to Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons and Other Organic Mutagens in Ottawa Firefighters Participating in Emergency, On-Shift Fire Suppression” detailed the results of a research team’s examinations of Ottawa Fire Services (OFS) members from Jan. 2015 to April 2016.

The report revealed that after fighting fires, urine samples of OFS workers show four times the potential for DNA damage and contain between three and five times more polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), which are harmful chemical compounds often linked to cancer. Examples of common PAH metabolites in firefighters include naphthalene, pyrene, phenanthrene and fluorine.

“We were looking specifically at compounds that are known to be in smoke that could be contributing to health problems,” explained Dr. Jules Blais, a professor of environmental toxicology at the University of Ottawa and the leader of the research team. “We wanted to determine whether it is possible that the exposures that they experience during on-shift fire suppression could be contributing to this.”

The team studied urine samples and skin swabs from 27 male firefighters and 18 office workers before and after their OFS shifts, Dr. Blais added. “If they fought a fire during that shift, we would do sampling after the shift, and we would be able to see how those exposures changed.” The researchers also had firefighters fill out questionnaires on their roles in the fire-suppression event and the size of the fire and smoke.

OFS Captain David Matschke put the study in motion when he contacted the university after seeing an advertisement about research funding by the Ontario Ministry of Labour, who sponsored the report.

“I’d seen lots of previous studies that looked at exposures, but all of them were done with training fires and really didn’t represent what we were truly being exposed to,” said Captain Matschke. “So I felt there was a need to have a look at the real fires we were dealing with and what the new materials were producing for chemicals.”

Captain Matschke called the study results “somewhat surprising and somewhat not.

“We’ve all known for a long time that we’re being exposed to stuff,” he said. “The biggest ‘aha moment’ for us was when we determined that it wasn’t from breathing in stuff; it was more from the chemicals being deposited on our skin.”

The researchers looked for evidence of lung damage in the study subjects, but found no change from before and after fires. “But what we did find,” said Dr. Blais, “was that when we did skin swabs and looked at what was depositing to their skin, and compared that with what we found in their urine, there was a pretty close correlation. So this suggested that dermal exposure, exposure through the skin, is a driving factor.”

For Dr. Blais, the “take-home message” of the study is to find a way to reduce chemical exposure to firefighters’ skin. “There’s good reason to suspect that dermal exposure,” he said, “is important in determining whether a firefighter is exposed to these chemicals.”

“We’ve already submitted to the Ministry of Labour for a follow-on study on the best methods for removal of the toxins. So we’re hoping to get an answer on the funding for that shortly,” said Captain Matschke. “How do we get it off? Or how do we reduce the effects of it?”

“Elevated Exposures to Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons” is accessible online at; non-subscribers must pay US$40 for access to the full report for 48 hours.

Ontario government to fund review on effects of McIntyre Powder

Nearly 40 years after the Ontario mining sector ceased the practice of making workers inhale McIntyre Powder, the provincial government is planning to provide funding for a review of the powder’s long-term effects on miners’ health.

A news bulletin from the Ontario Ministry of Labour (MOL) stated on Oct. 11 that the province will provide a $1 million grant to the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW), which is conducting the review. OHCOW will assemble a team of health professionals to research whether past exposure to McIntyre Powder is connected to health issues. A proven connection would allow ill former miners to claim compensation from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.

A finely ground dust of aluminum oxide and aluminum, McIntyre Powder was once believed to prevent silicosis. From 1943 to around 1980, 45 Ontario mining companies exposed about 10,000 employees to the substance in a province-wide prevention program, according to information from the MOL. Today, OHCOW has 325 case files from current and former miners who were exposed to the powder, while another 195 have reported health effects to a voluntary registry run by the McIntyre Powder Project.

“In addition to this funding initiative, we have conducted a comprehensive mining safety review,” Ontario Labour Minister Kevin Flynn said in a press statement. “Implementation of its recommendations is well underway to further the health and safety of mine workers.

“It is critical that occupational diseases be treated with the same seriousness and importance as physical injuries,” added Flynn.

Marcelle Crouse, the province’s Acting Chief Prevention Officer, said in a statement that the grant would help to expand OHCOW’s capacity to address miners’ occupational illnesses.

“It is essential mine practices be safe and that controls are put in place to prevent dangerous exposure,” said Crouse. “We all have a shared responsibility to ensure workers are protected when they work in Ontario mines.”

McIntyre Powder Project founder Janice Martell thanked Flynn and his staff for working with her organization to research the health effects of the powder.

“This funding is critically important to enable the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers to process the large volume of information gathered from mine workers and their families by the McIntyre Powder Intake Clinics working group,” said Martell in a statement.

Martell founded the McIntyre Powder Project in 2015, after her father, Jim Hobbs, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease following years of exposure to the powder on the job. Hobbs died earlier this year in Elliot Lake, Ont. (COHSN, June 6).

There are currently about 40 underground mines and thousands of surface mines in Ontario, employing about 26,000 workers, according to the MOL.

Sun, asbestos among top causes of work-related cancer in Ontario, says OCRC report

A recent report by the Occupational Cancer Research Centre (OCRC) in Toronto has identified solar radiation, asbestos, diesel-engine exhaust and crystalline silica as the four major causes of work-related cancer in Ontario.

Burden of Occupational Cancer in Ontario, published on Sept. 28, was based on statistics from CAREX Canada, a Burnaby, B.C.-based organization that tracks carcinogens, as well as input from scientific and policy experts, according to an OCRC news release. The study found that about 1,400 Ontario workers are diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancer from on-the-job sun exposure every year, while asbestos exposure causes nearly 800 occupational cancer cases in the province annually.

“The objective of the study was really to raise awareness about the importance of occupational cancer, the size of the issue, and to promote prevention,” explained OCRC director Dr. Paul A. Demers, one of the report’s three authors. “We were funded for a large project by the Canadian Cancer Society to estimate the number of new cancers that are diagnosed each year that are caused by workplace carcinogens.”

The 60-page report stated that diesel-engine exhaust in workplaces causes an estimated 170 lung-cancer cases and 45 bladder-cancer cases in Ontario each year, while crystalline silica accounts for nearly 200 cases of occupational lung cancer.

“The report actually does identify a number of other carcinogens that cause cancers and other ones where we know there’s exposure and the number of cases may be uncertain,” added Dr. Demers. But sun, asbestos, diesel-engine exhaust and crystalline silica are the four “big hitters.”

About 450,000 Ontarians are exposed to solar radiation on the job, the study revealed, while approximately 301,000 workers in the province are exposed to diesel-engine exhaust and about 142,000 are exposed to crystalline silica. Among the diseases that asbestos exposure causes in Ontario are mesothelioma and lung, laryngeal and ovarian cancer.

The numbers did not surprise Dr. Demers and his colleagues, but he conceded that the statistics on sun exposure might startle people unfamiliar with previous research on it.

“Most people don’t realize how common skin cancer is, and we tend to attribute them in the healthcare community to just recreational sun exposure,” he said. “But in fact, there’s a large segment of the working population that really works outdoors almost all the time and has no choice but to be out there in the sun.

“The only way to protect them is, I think, a programmatic approach,” added Dr. Demers, “which would involve a number of different aspects, and really not the same approach you would necessarily use for recreational sun exposure.”

The report made several general policy recommendations to reduce occupational cancer cases in Ontario, including strengthening occupational exposure limits, establishing exposure registries and surveillance and reducing the use of toxic substances.

“This report does make recommendations that are broad and crosscutting, and sometimes, they’re fairly specific in terms of, for instance, sun exposure and the need to have more sun-protection programs,” said Dr. Demers.

“Here in Ontario, we have a Toxics Reduction Act, where we can proactively try to eliminate carcinogens in the workplace through changes in technology and substitution. So we have tools in place.”

Burden of Occupational Cancer in Ontario is available online at

Prison goes into lockdown following possible drug exposure

After a recent incident in which a group of correctional officers might have been exposed to fentanyl, the Joyceville Institution near Kingston, Ont. was locked down for a major search from Sept. 13 to 19.

Rob Finucan, Ontario regional president for the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers (UCCO), said that the alleged drug exposure had occurred while the guards had been searching cells in the federal prison. During the search, the officers suddenly felt as if they were intoxicated, he explained.

“We’re not sure if it was fentanyl,” said Finucan. “The one guy had recently had a surgery, so had pain medication, and he said it almost felt the same way as when he had the pain medication.” Doctors have often legally prescribed fentanyl as a pain reliever.

The officers underwent immediate medical examinations, “and I think their heart rates were elevated a bit, but nothing serious,” added Finucan. “So they went home, and they all said they’d slept for 12, 13 hours. And then the next day, they were fine.”

Following the incident, Joyceville’s assessment unit was locked down at 1 p.m. on Sept. 13, to enable staff to conduct an “exceptional search,” according to a news release from Correctional Service Canada (CSC). The release added that CSC was committed to preventing contraband in federal correctional facilities.

CSC did not indicate whether the lockdown was connected to the incident, but Finucan later confirmed that it had been.

“The union executive there said, ‘Okay, let’s search,’” he said. “They didn’t, and then finally, after a day and a half of arguing, they agreed to lock it down and search the entire institution.”

Joyceville’s assistant warden of management services did not respond to COHSN’s request for comment. But a second CSC release on Sept. 19 announced that the lockdown had ended and that normal operations at the prison had resumed.

“Correctional Service Canada… is strengthening measures to prevent the entry of contraband into its institutions in order to ensure a safe and secure environment,” the latter release stated. “CSC also works in partnership with the police to take action against those who attempt to have contraband brought into correctional institutions.”

Finucan noted that contraband is the most common way that drugs like fentanyl enter prisons and that there had been exposure incidents in the federal system. “They’ve had to use the naloxone on several officers in the prairie region,” he said, adding that fentanyl had been discovered at the Warkworth Institution near Campbellford, Ont. and that incidents had occurred at the Pittsburgh and Collins Bay facilities in the Kingston area.

UCCO has been lobbying to improve staff protections against drug contamination in federal correctional facilities. “What we want to do is make sure that we have a solid national protocol,” said Finucan. “We’d like to make sure that at every site, the officers have the equipment necessary if there is searching” for fentanyl or other drugs, he said. “The gloves, the goggles, the long-sleeved shirts and all that to protect them.”

Another protective measure that UCCO has recommended is that employees wear hoods in the mail rooms and other vulnerable areas. “And that’s probably the main thing,” said Finucan.

Built in 1959, the Joyceville Institution is located about 20 kilometres northeast of Kingston. It has a rated capacity of 752 inmates, according to its profile on the CSC website.

Screamfest gets fine, probation after worker blinded in 2013

CALGARY, Alta. – Screamworks Incorporated, the company behind the annual Halloween attraction Screamfest in Calgary, was recently convicted for an incident in which an employee was permanently blinded by a customer four years ago. The accident occurred during a Zombie Paintball event at the fest on Oct. 12, 2013, according to an undated announcement on the Alberta Labour website. A paying customer shot the worker with a paintball gun and caused irreversible blindness, the announcement read. On July 25 of this year, Screamworks was convicted of failing to handle equipment according to the manufacturer’s specifications, a violation of Section 12(d) of the province’s Occupational Health and Safety Code. Additional charges were dropped, and the company was fined $50,000 and ordered to serve 18 months of corporate probation, Alberta Labour said. Screamfest is Canada’s largest Halloween festival, running from Oct. 13 to 31 this year, according to its Facebook page.

Workers feel ill during reported “incident” at B.C. shipping terminal

An unspecified incident at Fairview Container Terminal in Prince Rupert, B.C. sent 11 workers to the hospital for precautionary treatment on the morning of Sept. 3 – but all of the parties involved have stressed that the employees are fine.

While few specific details have been released, a press statement from DP World Prince Rupert, the company that runs the shipping terminal, said that employees in a certain area of the container yard had developed symptoms of respiratory and eye irritation. The workers received medical treatment at a local hospital at about 5 a.m. that morning.

“Two [of the employees] were initially kept for observation, and thankfully, all were discharged within hours of their arrival,” DP World said. “We continue to check on their well-being.”

The company added that the worksite had been evacuated and shut down temporarily after the workers had been treated. “Our incident command management team also brought an external industrial hygienist to conduct onsite assessments and air-quality monitoring,” the statement read.

DP World declared the worksite to be safe at 4:30 a.m. on Sept. 4, and normal work operations resumed on the following day.

“Our first priority is the safety and well-being of our employees, the local community and any others who may have been affected,” the company said.

A news release from the Port of Prince Rupert stated that DP World had based its response to the incident on proper emergency procedures.

“There is no inhalation hazard to the community of Prince Rupert, nor [a] hazard to the marine environment, as related to this incident,” the release stated, adding that the Port of Prince Rupert, other port partners and responding agencies were “fully aware of the situation” and supported DP World’s response.

Rob Ashton, president of International Longshore & Warehouse Union Canada, told COHSN that the safety committees with DP World and the union’s Local 505 are investigating the incident. “I believe they’d be looking at it and figuring out ways to prevent anything like this from ever happening again,” he explained, adding that he did not know whether WorkSafeBC is also investigating.

He said that all of the workers affected by the incident were fine as far as he was aware. “If there are any longstanding issues, I don’t know,” said Ashton.

DP World recently completed an expansion project, dubbed “Phase 2 North”, to increase Fairview Container Terminal’s handling capacity from 750,000 to 1.35 million 20-foot equivalent units, or TEU. The terminal upgrade was marked in a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Aug. 30, according to a media release from the company.

The Fairview Container Terminal was upgraded from a general cargo facility to a container-handling terminal in 2007, according to information from DP World’s website. The terminal is currently North America’s closest major port to Asia.

A leader in global trade specializing in container handling, DP World employs more than 36,500 people in 103 countries.

Association raises funds for paramedic nearly killed by drug exposure

Following a near-fatal drug exposure that a Calgary paramedic recently experienced while on the job, the Alberta Paramedic Association (APA) activated its own provincial fund to raise money to support the worker.

The paramedic, identified only as Ryan B, has been recovering from the exposure at home under medical oversight, with support from his partner, Stacey, and two daughters, according to an APA Facebook post dated Sept. 3.

“I am touched,” Ryan B said about the support from the paramedic community, as quoted in the post.

Most information about the incident has been unavailable to the public, including the drug involved and the date when it occurred. APA executive director Marc Moebis said that the organization would provide no further detail “to respect Ryan’s family.”

Local media reports have stated that Ryan B required mechanical ventilation and medications to support his vital signs in an intensive-care unit after the exposure. He reportedly remained critically ill afterwards because of ongoing organ dysfunction.

“Right now, the paramedic community is just pulling together to provide some relief and support for Ryan and his family,” the APA said in a press statement.

The APA activated fundraising efforts from Sept. 1 to 7 via the Alberta HELP Fund, a nonprofit society that the association founded, initially to raise money for the families of victims of line-of-duty deaths. The HELP Fund had previously raised more than $18,000 in donations for a victim’s surviving family in 2015 and supported the construction of a registry of psychologists specializing in paramedic treatment last year, according to information from the APA website.

A Sept. 2 Facebook post from the APA called the continuing public support for Ryan B “overwhelming and very appreciated.”

An e-mailed response from Alberta Health Services (AHS), Ryan B’s employer, stated that it was reviewing the incident. “We take the safety of our employees very seriously and investigate any concerns brought to our attention,” added AHS.

Health Sciences Association of Alberta vice president Trudy Thomson told COHSN that her union was working with AHS and Ryan B regarding the incident. “I know the employer is doing their own internal investigation, and as an organization, we have requested that it have a full oh&s investigation,” she said, adding that Alberta Labour’s occupational health and safety division had agreed to look into the incident on Sept. 1.

Thomson could not provide any specific details about the exposure itself. “I know there’s lots of speculation out there,” she said. “We have not entered into any of that.”

She added that the risk of toxic exposure has become “more of a reality” for first responders today. “Their likelihood of being exposed is much greater than the public.”

The APA acknowledged that its members face many other risks as well.

“Due to the nature of paramedics’ unpredictable profession, oftentimes, we find ourselves exposed to hazards,” the APA statement read. “Whether that hazard is a sharp piece of glass, liquids at an accident scene, a street drug or a violent patient, facing these hazards is an accepted part of the job and requires a certain level of grit.”

The APA was founded in 2015 as a nonprofit, voluntary membership organization aiming to enhance skills, education, health and wellness among Alberta paramedics.

Province to observe annual Respectful Workplace Week

FREDERICTON, N.B. – The Government of New Brunswick has declared Sept. 4 to 8 to be this year’s Respectful Workplace Week, an annual event in which the province promotes gender equality while recognizing the issues of workplace bullying and discrimination. The N.B. Ministry of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour announced in a Sept. 1 news release that the week would include a series of free joint educational lectures by the Workplace Violence and Abuse Research Team of the Muriel McQueen Fergusson Centre for Family Violence Research and the Women’s Equality Branch, at the Fredericton Public Library on Sept. 8. “All workers deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Respectful and positive behaviour in the workplace contributes to individual, organizational and societal well-being and prevents unnecessary suffering,” said Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour Minister Donald Arseneault in a press statement. “It is the employer’s responsibility to prevent and eliminate harassment.” Arseneault added that his government was committed to ensuring healthy workplaces that value all employees.

Military private faces charges for assault against three colleagues

SAINT-JEAN-SUR-RICHELIEU, Que. – The Canadian Forces (CF) National Investigation Service has charged a military member with three counts of sexual assault, regarding incidents that allegedly occurred at the Leadership and Recruit School at the CF’s Saint-Jean Garrison last November. According to a news release from the federal Department of National Defence, Private Jeremy August is accused of assaulting three other CF members during basic training at the school. On Aug. 23, Pte. August was charged with three counts under section 271 of the Criminal Code, punishable under section 130 of the National Defence Act. “The investigators of the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service are committed to protecting and supporting the victims of criminal sexual offences,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Bolduc, the commanding officer of the National Investigation Service, in a press statement. “This charge illustrates the continued success of our efforts to identify, investigate and bring to justice those persons responsible for these offences.” The date and location of the court martial are yet to be determined, the release noted.