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MOL inspection initiative focusing on respiratory hazards

Welder with torch

The Ministry of Labour is now inspecting workplaces with activities that produce respiratory hazards in the form of welding fumes, diesel exhaust and silica dust. The inspections will continue until December 24 as part of the ministry's Healthy Workers in Healthy Workplaces Initiative, which began September 1.

Not sure if your workplace poses these or other respiratory hazards? "Rely on science, not your gut," says Warren Clements, WSPS Occupational Hygiene Specialist. "People may not see, hear, feel or taste exposure, and such symptoms as cancers, chemical hypersensitivity and nervous system impairment may take years to appear."

Long latency illnesses (those appearing long after exposure) due to respiratory hazards account for the greatest proportion of WSIB benefit costs, and include lung cancer, mesothelioma, pleural plaques and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Cancer Care Ontario and the Occupational Cancer Research Centre estimate that exposure to asbestos, diesel engine exhaust, crystalline silica and welding fumes cause approximately 1,300 cancer cases a year in Ontario. "Considerably more work needs to be done by employers in terms of risk assessment and training, and reducing exposures to workers," says Warren. Find out what inspectors will be looking for, and how you can prepare below.

Inspectors' focus

MOL Inspectors will be focusing on workplaces that

  • may be generating diesel exhaust indoors, such as in the transportation sector, and sectors using diesel powered equipment, such as warehousing and storage,
  • carry out welding activities in relation to fabricated metal manufacturing and industrial services,
  • cut, grind and polish countertop stone (e.g. granite, which contains up to 60% crystalline silica, and engineered stones, which contain approximately 90% of quartz, a type of crystalline silica) commonly manufactured for use in kitchens).

Inspectors may ask for paperwork, make observations, talk to the joint health and safety committee (JHSC), and ask questions about:

  • incidents related to hazards of silica, welding fumes and diesel exhaust exposures in the past year and what has been done to prevent recurrence,
  • the employer’s risk assessment and control program, including ventilation, safe work practices and hygiene facilities. Requirements for risk assessment and control of designated substances, such as silica, are outlined in Ontario's Designated Substances Regulation, O. Reg. 490/09,
  • methods and procedures to monitor workers and the workplace for airborne concentrations,
  • whether exposed workers are acquainted with the hazards and their health effects,
  • whether medical surveillance for exposed workers is provided where applicable,
  • whether the joint health and safety committee has reviewed control measures and procedures,
  • whether workers wearing respirators have been fit-tested, and have received information and instruction for the safe use, care and maintenance of respirators.

How to prepare

Before inspectors come knocking, compare the above list against what you've got in place, says Warren. "If you've conducted exposure assessments, check your most recent readings against current occupational exposure limits. Make sure engineering controls are working as they should be, ensure workers have been trained, consider updating the sampling to find out what workers are being exposed to now, and explore all possible routes of exposure: inhalation, skin contact, eye contact, and ingestion - co-workers may be welding, grinding or operating diesel equipment around them as they eat. Then adjust your control strategy as needed.

"If you haven't done these things, take steps right away. Which steps will depend on what's missing from your program," says Warren. "This may require reaching out to a third party consultant for assistance, or revamping your procedures."

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