A respirator is just a mask for a problem!

Safety Solutions at Work would like to address a serious problem that we are witnessing in industries across the province.

Employers are asking their workers to wear respirators as personal protective equipment.  However, the respirators are being assigned without fully understanding the hazards involved.  This newsletter explores the importance of occupational hygiene testing in order to properly manage the risk of workers being over-exposed to dangerous substances.

Here is some background into how companies should control exposure to dangerous substances: The Hierarchy of Hazard Control.

Hierarchy of Hazard Control

The diagram below shows the control hierarchy, with the more preferred measure on top.


  1.  Elimination of Hazard, which is the process of removing the hazard from the workplace. It is the most effective way to control a risk because the hazard is no longer present.

  2. Substitution, which refers to substituting the hazardous chemical/industrial process with a less hazardous one. Replacing currently used chemicals with  less toxic ones is an important part of  industrial evolution.  

    Here is an interesting example: Diacetyl was previously widely used to provide the buttery flavouring to popcorn. Twenty years ago, epidemiology studies and case reports revealed its effect of reducing lung function among popcorn making workers. Nowadays, 2,3-pentanedione is used as a safer substitute for diacetyl to produce butter-flavoured popcorn. However, substitution is not on the top of the hierarchy, because no chemical is absolutely safe. In the example of popcorn flavouring, more recent studies revealed that 2,3-pentanedione will reduce lung function as well.  Ongoing monitoring of all chemicals is essential.

  3. Engineering controls are the methods that are built into the design of a plant, equipment or process to minimize the hazard. Examples would be process control, LEV (local exhaust ventilation) and hazard isolation.

  4. Administrative controls  limit workers’ exposures by scheduling shorter work times in contaminant areas or by implementing rules and company policies to reduce either the time or the number of workers being exposed. The efficacy of administrative controls is subject to a variety of human factors.

  5. PPE is on the bottom of the control hierarchy, which means it is the least preferred method. Personal protective equipment (such as respirators) should never be the only method used to reduce exposure. The reasons this are further explained below.

Limitations of PPE

  • PPE may fail with little or no warning. For example: “breakthrough” can occur with gloves, clothing, and respirator cartridges, and the consequence of relying on it as the sole way of control could be catastrophic. Air-purifying respirators cannot be used for gases and vapours with poor warning properties, especially when end-of-service-life indicator is not available. Air-supplying respirators, on the other hand, although supply clean air from air tank or compressor, have limited mobility and require a larger purchasing/maintenance budget.

  • The absorbing material inside cartridges and filters of air-purifying respirators may not be efficient for certain contaminants. Examples of such contaminants are nitrogen dioxide, nitric oxide and nitrous oxide.

  • There is an assigned protection factor (APF) for each specific respirator.  Air-purifying respirators for example,  have an APF of 10 to 50. An APF of 10 to 50 means that if the respirators were fit tested, being worn properly by the worker and not being broken through, the theoretical exposure level that the worker is expected would be 1/50 to 1/10 of  a worker who is unprotected. However, the actual protection efficiency may not be achievable, due to the various human factors. For example, the APF will be reduced if workers are not clean shaven.  Getting men to shave every morning is no easy task!

Necessity of Exposure Assessment

WorkSafeBC OHS Regulation mandates the following workplace monitoring procedures:

  • When a worker is or may be exposed to a hazardous substance, the employer should ensure that a walkthrough survey is conducted to assess the potential for overexposure taking into account all routes of exposure.

  • If the walkthrough survey reveals that a worker may be at risk of overexposure to an airborne contaminant, the employer must ensure that air sampling is conducted to assess the potential for overexposure. 

  • Additional workplace monitoring to reliably determine worker exposure is required if a worker may be exposed to an air contaminant in excess of 50% of its exposure limit.

Currently, WorkSafeBC regulates the maximum allowable exposure level for around 800 substances. It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that the workers are not exposed to levels higher than indicated by WorkSafeBC Exposure Limit. Only by doing a hygiene testing can you make definitive conclusions. A complete list of these substances and exposure limits can be found in G5.57 of WorkSafeBC OHS Guidelines.

In addition to meeting the WorkSafeBC regulation requirements, conducting air quality testing can also provide you with the following key information:

  • The assigned protection factor (APF) for a disposable facial mask is 5 for single use facial mask, and is 50 for air-purifying half mask. If the workplace is heavily contaminated (i.e. above 5 times of Occupational Exposure Limit), the use of respirators, even under ideal conditions, will fail to provide workers with sufficient protection.

  • Air quality testing should be conducted before and after  installing  engineering controls, to evaluate its efficiency.

  • Each year WorkSafeBC receives claims of occupational disease claims. Conducting  industrial hygiene testing and documenting the report could demonstrate the employer’s due diligence in recognizing and evaluating workplace hazards.

Posted on: February 26th, 2023 by Phil Comments

Prevent Bullying and Harassment at Your Workplace

November is a memorial month, to remember those who contributed their lives in the line of duty to fight for peace and freedom. This November also has special meanings for the workforce in the province, as WorkSafeBC approved OHS policies focused on preventing workplace bullying and harassment. The concept of “workplace hazard” keeps evolving, from  the obvious safety hazards, to more subtle chemical/physical exposure. And now it is time to say “NO” to workplace bullying and harassment.

What Constitutes Workplace Bullying and Harassment?

Before discussing the definition of workplace bullying and harassment, I would like to share this workplace video clip with you. Does this account for a workplace bullying and harassment?

According to WorkSafeBC definition, Workplace Bullying and Harassment

  • Include any inappropriate behaviour or comment by a person towards a worker that the person knew or should have known would cause that worker to be humiliated or intimidated.
  • DO NOT include any reasonable action taken by an employer or supervisor relating to the management and direction of workers or the place of employment.

So… if we look at the firing lady, the dismissal decision itself is not workplace bullying and harassment activity. But doing this with mouth full of Chinese food? Probably yes.

Other examples of bullying and harassment include:

  • Vandalizing personal tools/belongings
  • Spreading malicious rumours
  • Targeted isolations


What Shall the Workers Do If He/She Is Bullied at Workplace?

As a worker, you should not engage in bullying and harassment activities. However, if you become the target, you should file a complaint of the incident, any witness, and the detailed description of word/activity. If you are diagnosed with any metal disorder as a result of workplace bullying/harassment, it is covered by WorkSafeBC compensation.

What Shall the Employer Do to Prevent Workplace Bullying and Harassment?

  • Living in a non-ideal world, we all know that managers and supervisors undergo stress and pressure of increasing productivity, reducing cost and keeping the whole system work on a daily basis. That is why they impose management actions on the employee, such as changes in workloads, deadlines, transfers, and disciplinary actions. However, managers and supervisors should ensure performance problems are identified and addressed in a constructive, objective way that does not humiliate or intimidate.
  • Employer should develop a written policy statement declaring that workplace bullying and harassment is not acceptable and will not be tolerated. Employers must also make sure workers are made aware of the policy statement.
  • Initiate investigation into filed complaints regarding workplace bullying and harassment.

What Are the Challenges Foreseen?

  • Unlike safety issues or chemical exposure which are quantifiable, it is fairly difficult to draw a cut-off line to define bullying and harassment.
  • We are proud of the cultural diversity of BC, which are reflected in the workplace. Sometimes, cross-cultural misunderstanding can lead to conflict, which can escalate to bullying and harassment.
  • Workplace bullying and harassment might come from multiple sources, such as customers, client, sub-contractors. It requires teamwork between the management, HR, and OHS professional to develop the prevention program.
  • Cyber-bullying (a potential path of bullying and harassment if you mistakenly add your supervisor & coworkers as Facebook/Twitter friends…)


Posted on: November 15th, 2022 by Phil Comments

Vibration: Not always fun!

For the past few weeks, I have spoken with a few clients regarding the concern over occupational exposure to vibration. So for October’s newsletter, I will be focused on the generation, evaluation and control of occupational exposure to hand-arm vibration.

Vibration: Not always fun!

We may come across vibration through our daily life, such as the one that Mrs Brown is exposed to in the following video:

However, as an OHS consultant, we focus only on vibration which is generated at workplace and which may harm you. This type of vibration includes Whole Body Vibration (WBV) and Hand-Arm Vibration (HAV). WBV enters the whole body through a vibrating floor or seat, which could happen among vehicle/heavy equipment/marine operators. HAV, which attracts most of the concern over vibration, affects the hands and arms. Hard-arm vibration is ubiquitous across the industry, which could happen among operators of chain saws, chipping tools, jackhammers, grinders and others who operate hand-held vibrating tools.

Why should vibration be of concern?

Hand-arm vibration is associated with a variety of health outcomes:

  • Neurological effects. The health outcomes are progressive, which include: numbness, tingling, reduced sensory perception and dexterity.
  • White finger (WF) syndrome, which refers to the attacks of whitening (i.e. blanching) of one or more fingers when exposed to cold. Vibration-induced white finger is the most common syndrome among workers using hand held tools.  The development of WF syndrome is gradual, which may take several years to develop. If you take measures after the worker’s fingers have blanched, IT IS ALREADY TOO LATE!
  •  White finger syndrome
  • Raynaud’s phenomenon, which refers to a disorder of blood circulation in the fingers and toes. This condition aggravates with cold exposure. Crucial facts: 50 percent of 146 tree fellers examined in British Columbia had Raynaud’s phenomenon. 30% of 1540 forestry workers in Quebec had Raynaud’s phenomenon. After 20 years of chainsaw use, over 50% the workers had Raynaud’s phenomenon. (Resourced from Canadian Council of Occupational Health and Safety)

What are the regulations out there for HAV?

Vibration exposure can be quantified by acceleration, which is a measure of how quickly speed of vibrating object changes with time. A complete assessment of exposure to vibration requires the measurement of vibration acceleration in meters per second squared (m/s2). Vibration exposure direction is also important and is measured in a well-defined directions.

American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) sets up exposure limit for hand-arm vibration, which is then adopted by jurisdictions such as WorkSafeBC. The standards are summarized in the table below. It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that the workers are not over-exposed to the limits stated below.

Total daily exposure duration TLV of the dominant axis, frequency-weighted, rms, component acceleration
4 hours and less than 8 hours 4 m/s2
2 hours and less than 4 hours 6 m/s2
1 hour and less than 2 hours 8 m/s2
less than 1 hour 12 m/s2

 What should I do if vibration is of concern at my workplace?

  • Initiate the measurement right away. Several variables may determine the worker’s exposure to vibration, such as duration, types of tools used, worker’s posture and hand-grip force. Only through personal measurement performed following industrial standards can you assess vibration exposure and make sure that the workers are not over-exposed. Safety Solutions at Work is pleased to announce that we provide occupational hygiene services, which includes vibration measurement!
  • Be aware of noise too! CCOHS suggests that there might be a correlation and combining effect between vibration and noise exposure: Since most vibrating machines and tools produce noise, a vibration-exposed worker is likely to be exposed to noise at the same time. Studies of hearing loss among lumberjacks revealed that, for equal noise exposure, those with vibration-induced white finger (VWF) had greater hearing loss than those without VWF. The reason for this effect is still unclear. Safety Solutions at Work can perform the measurement of noise and vibration at the same time, thus significantly reduces the cost of survey.
  • Choose your tools wisely. If possible, choose vibration reducing hand-arm tools.
  • PPE. There are vibration reducing gloves commercially available. However, it should be only used as supplemental measures, as their efficacy in reducing vibration with frequencies of highest risk of exposure is questioned.
  • Keep warm. Low temperature might also contribute to the blocking of circulatory system around hand and arm and might make the VFW syndrome more severe.
Posted on: October 21st, 2022 by Phil Comments

Asbestos- a hidden killer in the construction industry

Safety Solutions at Work is proud to feature the following guest article from the Mesothelioma Center. You can learn more about their centre by checking out

Need information to pass along to your construction contractors? Be sure to read our article discussing how asbestos can affect construction workers!

Thanks to the popularity of energy efficiency upgrades and environmentally friendly home overhauls, construction workers are handling an ever-increasing number of home renovation requests. Often, multi-worker construction teams tackle the same project, providing high-quality upgrades in a short amount of time. However, workers must mindfully allocate time to safety addressing asbestos hazards. If mishandled, asbestos products can lead to a number of serious diseases including the most common type of mesothelioma, pleural mesothelioma cancer.

Construction workers have some of the highest risks for asbestos-related diseases, thanks to the frequency with which they handle asbestos-containing materials. Asbestos is present in many of the insulating, flooring and roofing products that construction workers renovate on a daily basis.

Workers in many different construction sectors may encounter asbestos. Some of the riskiest construction industries include:

  • Demolition
  • Plumbing
  • Pipefitting
  • Roofing
  • Carpeting

These industrial sectors have high rates of mesothelioma, asbestosis, lung cancer and other asbestos-related diseases. However, any construction worker who handles older construction materials may have an elevated risk of contracting these diseases.

How Construction Workers can Reduce their Risk of Asbestos Exposure

Construction workers are not always required to undergo asbestos training. However, abatement professionals and workers who may encounter asbestos during their work must complete asbestos licensure courses outlining methods of safe handling and disposal. Workers should complete these classes before beginning any asbestos work, and they must remember to renew their certifications before they expire.

Until asbestos inspections confirm otherwise, construction workers should assume that materials installed before the 1980s contain the fibers. These fibers can easily enter the air if the materials are cracking, crumbling or otherwise in poor condition. Additionally, construction work such as grinding, sawing or cutting can release asbestos fibers into the breathing space. Workers must take special precautions – such as using wet removal methods – when handling these products.

Although wet removal methods can help reduce the likelihood that asbestos enters the air during renovation, construction workers should still wear protective gear when working in older homes. Supervisors must provide respirators, face masks and other safety equipment when construction workers head to jobsites where asbestos is present.

Author bio: Faith Franz researches and writes about health-related issues for The Mesothelioma Center. One of her focuses is living with cancer.


Posted on: March 18th, 2022 by Victoria Comments

Wildlife on the jobsite

It is hunting season and most of us are out in the backcountry scouting for game. Since the change in weather in Southern BC, the animals are coming down the hills and are feeding in town.  Urban wild life has always been a problem across BC and can cause problems on your job site.

One of my custom home builder clients had to implement a new housekeeping rule on their jobsite in Naramata, BC. The crew needs to remove all human garbage from the site at the end of the day.  A black bear has been ripping through the neighbours garbage in the development.  The bear was so aggressive that it tore open the top of the neighbour’s jeep and destroyed the doors.  Wildlife conservation has been notified and the community needs to avoid putting out garbage overnight.

Jobsites sometimes get treated like garbage dumps.  Crews toss their chicken bones on the ground.  The site is often littered with Timmies cups, granola bar wrappers and Subway napkins.  The mentality is that the ground will be backfilled soon anyway.  Our miny-landfill at the job site is creating the same problem that we find at our local dumps- bear fodder!

The development in Naramata is rural.  This week there has been wild times on the job in the city as well.  Yesterday, a coyote chased a four point buck right through our large construction site in West Kelowna.  All crew stopped and stared.  It was a remarkable sight.

If I only had my bow.   Keep your high viz vests on to be safe!

Happy hunting!  Have a safe season and enjoy the harvest.

This video is of a black bear on a jobsite in the States.  Watch this and take note of how not to interact with a bear.  It is a simple illustration of how a bear on a jobsite could quickly become a nuisance and a serious problem.  Share your wild stories with us!

Posted on: October 31st, 2021 by Victoria Comments

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