Care for Seldom Used Safety Equipment


We’ve all had it happen at home. A sudden kitchen cut. The dash to the bathroom and the accusatory cry: “Who used the last Band-Aid?” While we wrap a bleeding finger in toilet paper and vow to keep the first-aid kit stocked in future, it is important to remember that in the workplace, accidents are far more costly when vigilance is allowed to slide.

Safety equipment used on a daily basis is easy to monitor and maintain. Safety glasses, harnesses, helmets, protective clothing and gear get used regularly and are top-of-mind. Then there are the safety equipment ‘orphans’ – rarely used, but critical when the occasion arises. Such occasions are often the litmus test of a company’s safety awareness and training success.

Every team can brainstorm about the kinds of safety tools they seldom use – but would need to access and use successfully the second the need arises.  Here are three often-neglected pieces of safety equipment, according to Seton product manager Christine Wendt.

Eyewash stations:  Work sites where there is a danger of eye injuries involving chemicals need eyewash stations in every room. But if the eyewash station starts to double as a catchall, and products are not kept up-to-date, serious trouble looms, especially when time is of the essence. Here, says Wendt, is how to keep eyewash stations current:

  • Check expiry dates on disposable eyewash fluid regularly. Replace as needed.
  • Regularly test water lines on re-usable eyewash bottles, ensuring clean water flushes through at all times.
  • Erect clear signage near eyewash stations – posters overhead and floor markings, with arrows, so that the products can be found quickly when time is of an essence.
  • Ensure there are stations in every area where chemicals are in use and not just one station for the entire workplace. Quick access is everything.
  • Attach inspection logs to the station so that records can be kept of when supplies were last checked and replaced.

First Aid Kits: Workplace first aid kits should be inspected regularly – weekly or once a month at the very least, says Wendt. An inventory of supplies should be attached to the kits and checklists kept.

  • Replenish dwindling supplies as needed
  • Inspect the kits for open packages, expired medication, items that need to be sanitary and may have been left to the air. Replace if necessary.
  • Ensure visible and clearly worded signage is placed prominently near the First Aid station, so that employees can find supplies quickly and use them properly. This includes floor markings and overhead posters.

Spill ProductsHazardous spills in the workplace – chemicals, oils, even flooding from burst pipes – require a speedy response if injury and serious property damage is to be avoided. Absorbent pads, materials to contain and absorb spilled liquids must be kept ready to use and should be regularly inspected.

  • Ensure supplies are kept up to date and ready for emergency spills.
  • Make sure spill kits – which can look like large garbage cans – are easily accessed with nothing piled on top and with appropriate signage overhead   and indicator tape on surrounding floor area.

Wendt recommends never letting the seldom-used get short shrift in safety talks.

“They should be made a regularly scheduled part of team meetings,” she says. “Beyond that, there should be special safety courses around maintenance and use of seldom used equipment at last once a year.”

In the meantime, keeping the location of seldom-used equipment uncluttered and readily visible and maintaining a regular maintenance schedule, will ensure that when the time comes, no one will be caught flatfooted.


National Sleep Awareness Week

Job Safety  Seton Canada

March 3 – 10 is National Sleep Awareness Week and it’s a reminder that fatigue on the job can be a health hazard, increasing the risk of accidents and elevating the chances of a disabling injury.

No one is more at risk than the estimated 25 to 30% cent of the working population who work nights, evenings, rotating and irregular hours.

A 2010 study by researchers at the University of British Columbia concluded that evening and night shift workers are almost twice as likely to be injured at work as those working regular day shifts.

The UBC study analyzed data on 30,000 working Canadians in Statistics Canada’s Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics. Researchers noted that while work injuries in Canada declined overall between 1996 and 2006, injury rates for night shift workers remained unchanged.

That comes as no surprise to Dr. Robert Whiting, a senior project manger with the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, or to Dr. Cameron Mustard, head of the Institute for Work and Health.

“It is a real problem,” says Whiting, who recently convened a one-day symposium on the health hazards of shift work.

“Shift workers, particularly those who work at night, are vulnerable on three counts: fatigue, lower levels of supervision and less co-worker support. And more incidents are generally reported on the 4th successive night shift than on the first.”

Whiting says working at night, or on an irregular schedule, plays havoc with an individual’s natural circadian rhythms, creating internal confusion in the body.

“We are not a nocturnal species,” says Mustard, noting that human beings are biologically programmed to get sleepy at night, even after 6-8 hours of sleep.

As well, many night workers have problems with the quality of their daytime sleep, as they contend with families and surroundings that are busiest during the daytime.

“The third piece of the puzzle”, says Mustard, “is the way work changes in the evenings and overnight.” With less co-worker and supervisory support, the risk of injury increases at night.

Researchers have found the body responds better to staying up later than being forced to perform earlier in the cycle, says Whiting. With that in mind, shift schedules should consistently move workers from earlier to later shifts, rather than vice versa, to allow for easier transitions.

Whiting says research has also indicated shifts should be switched more often, with “no more than three days on a rotation, with at least a day off in between the next three-day cycle.”

When you regularly change your shift, it is easier to make the transition, he says, rather than working one shift for a very long time, then enduring a change. “The body makes the switch much easier if it changes regularly.”

Workers often express a preference for 12 hour shifts, notes Whiting, as it gives them lots of time off in the shoulder periods and allows them more flexibility in their personal lives.

“But there are more accidents on 12-hour shifts,” he argues, “especially when the job requires a high level of concentration.”

Establishing a strategy in the workplace for dealing with the health effects of shift work should be a team effort, with consultation all around.

There is increased recognition that organizations scheduling staff for evening and overnight work benefit from what is called ‘self-rostering.’

Says Mustard: “There will always be people who prefer to work at night, and with computers, this is easy to organize. Airlines have been doing this for years.”

Whiting agrees: “You need to involve the workers who are doing the shifts. There are always compromises to be made. It is also important in scheduling to ensure workers don’t get isolated on a shift rotation, and that there are managers and senior staff on site working.”

What is NOT a good idea, says Mustard is the use of stimulants – caffeine being the #1 choice – to get through the night. Higher octane stimulants, such as amphetamines, are even worse. Similarly during the day, night shift workers who take sleeping pills, sedatives or even ‘natural’ remedies such as melatonin to help them sleep are making a poor choice.

Finally, Whiting argues that shift work is not strictly a younger worker’s game.

“Older workers have established routines and are probably better candidates for the physical discipline of shift work,” says Whiting.

As well, using shift work as a reward system or symbolic of the workplace pecking order  “is not good for social cohesion in the workplace. If there is some element of social prestige awarded to working days, night workers will feel punished and less satisfied on the job.”

Tips On Improving Safety Harness Compliance

Seton Canada

Construction sites are among the most dangerous workplaces in Canada, in time lost and deaths due to on-the-job mishaps.

Canada’s construction sector has seen sharp declines in lost-time injuries since the 1960s. But falls continue to be problematic and costly.

Traumatic falls account for the lion’s share of those catastrophic construction accidents. In 2009, falls accounted for 63% of all worksite fatalities in construction.  And while construction safety experts work to create environments that are safer all-around, it is fall prevention that dogs their best efforts.

“Injuries due to falls are not dropping at the same rate as other injuries,” says Enzo Garritano, vice-president technical services for Ontario’s Infrastructure Health and Safety Association (IHSA). “And that really says something.”

Fall-related injuries are the costliest to manage, notes Garritano. “Fractures, lower back injuries and shoulder injuries are the main area of concern. These, above everything else, cost the industry a lot of money.”

Statistics fail to differentiate between fall types – an accident where safety harness use would have been useful, versus falls resulting from a floor opening up or tumbling through a missing guard rail tend to be counted together.

Still experts agree that getting workers to be more vigilant about wearing safety harnesses for fall prevention would go a long way towards reducing injuries…

Reinforcing rules around wearing safety harnesses is a big issue in construction – as employers search for answers to creating the kind of work environment that fosters safe behavior at all costs.

Experts estimate, between 80 and 90 per cent of all accidents are attributable to ‘human factors’. But if workers are not vigilant about suiting up in safety harnesses, prior to going above ground, what is an employer to do?

Managers who face truculence and avoidance of harnesses have to confront several realities that may be contributing to reluctance.

  • Is the equipment provided adequate and comfortable? Is it CSA-approved? Is it personally fitted to each employee?
  • Are there consequences for non-compliance? Some owners/managers have taken to sending workers home on-the-spot for non-compliance; others to writing health and safety certification into contracts.
  • What is the workplace safety “culture”? A job site that emphasizes getting the job done at any cost is more accident-prone.
  •  Safer sites work on building up productivity gradually with an eye towards arriving home safely every night.
  • Are managers leading by example and automatically donning their own PPE on the job site?
  • Are managers made aware of the costs of non-compliance, in terms of fines large enough to matter, replacement of injured workers and retraining, impact on insurance rates and damaged equipment?
  • Is standard government health and safety certification, such as the Canada-wide COR (Certificate of Recognition) written into contracts?

“It can be difficult sometimes to identify situations where fall protection equipment is necessary,” says Dave Rebbitt, Corporate Health and Safety Manager for VOICE Construction, which operates in the Alberta oil sands. “Some companies request workers wear their gear at three feet, whereas regulations set the lower limit at ten feet.”

The biggest excuse for not wearing safety harnesses, says Rebbitt, Is expediency. “A worker will say, well I’m only going to be up there for a few seconds. But there are examples of workers being killed in falls from three feet in the air.”

And then there are workers who say “I’ve been doing this for so many years and haven’t had an accident yet.”

Fall protection can be expensive. But skimping on costs of safety harnesses is shortsighted. Rebbitt points to a line of counterfeited made-in-China safety harnesses that some employers unwittingly purchased. “The claim was that they were CSA-approved, although they certainly were not. They were cheap, didn’t last as long and were not as safe.”

“The financial investment in training workers to use their safety harness pays off,” he says. “By training people in fall protection, you’re telling them that they are more qualified, specialized employees and therefore more valuable.”

“The carrot always works better than the stick,” he adds

Garritano agrees. “Motivating workers is top-down. You have to look at the commitment from a manager who oversees the worksite. If the message is get the job done at any cost, guys are going to be hanging by their fingertips. If you say, look, we want you to go home at the end of the day, you’re going to build up on your productivity over a long period of time, then you are adopting a long-term approach.

“It is a systemic approach, working with the Ministry of Labour, owners, contractors and the unions to make it clear that it is not acceptable to compromise the safety of your workers. “

To that end, the IHSA recently launched a poster campaign entitled “Keep Your Promise”, reminding workers that “returning home safe to your loved ones is a promise you make every day.”

“We want to remind workers who they really are working for,” says Garritano. People should be aiming to go home at night, thinking about who is there, depending on them.”




Young Worker Safety: Memorial Quilt

Young Worker Safety

When Nova Scotia fabric artist Laurie Swim completed work on Breaking Ground, a quilted public memorial to the 1960 Hogg’s Hollow disaster and the five young Italian immigrant workers killed underground, she was convinced she had just finished one of the most heartrending projects of her career.

Almost immediately, Swim learned that what had happened in a subway tunnel more than forty years earlier was not a thing of the past. Workplaces remained potentially deadly for some workers. And in 21st Century Ontario, a dramatic number of those fatalities were young workers.

“The idea of a memorial quilt to young workers who had been killed on the job was suggested to me as a project. At the time, I wasn’t certain I wanted to undertake such an emotional task.

“But we had a teenaged son, who would soon be seeking summer employment.  Like all parents, we wanted him to be safe.”

And so began the process of building support, and eventually designing and sewing The Canadian Young Workers Memorial Quilt – an 18’ X 9’ quilted memorial to 100 young workers killed at work. The quilt consists of 10 panels, each containing the pictures and stories of 10 young workers. A 5’ X 9’ centerpiece – a young man with arms outstretched – used Laurie’s son, Jake, as a model.

Laurie secured a classroom in a boarded-up school in her neighborhood and work on the Young Workers Quilt began with a team of 20 volunteer quilters.

“As I read the case histories, emotions of anger, sympathy and grief passed over me,” Swim recalls. “These deaths mostly happened on the first days and weeks of the job, due to the young workers’ inexperience and the lack of training in situations where they were under-supervised.”

The quilt was a stunning reminder of the particular vulnerabilities of young workers. Each piece had the victim’s photograph printed on fabric, their history with details of how they died, their name and age and a personal token from the family stitched into the fabric. The quilt was unveiled at an emotional ceremony packed with tearful bereaved parents, at a downtown Toronto hotel in 2003.

Inspired by Laurie Swim’s art and forged by the families of young workers who died on the job, a non-profit organization was born. Called Threads of Life, it aims to increase awareness of workplace safety for all ages.

Threads of Life is the voice of victims of workplace tragedies – the families whose loved ones died or suffered life-altering injuries or occupational disease as a result of workplace accidents.

“The 1,400 families who are part of Threads of Life are just the tip of the iceberg,” says executive-director Shirely Hickman. In 1996, Hickman lost her 21-year-old son Tim in an explosion at the London, Ontario arena where he worked part-time.

“None of us who go out to speak about our experience would have ever envisioned ourselves as public speakers,” says Hickman.  But Threads of Life speakers tell their stories straight from the heart, with a powerful impact on their audiences.

The quilt, renamed the LifeQuilt by the group, is taken out occasionally for special appearances. It is now 10 years old, expensive to ship and in need of repair from all its travels.

Swim, who continues to craft huge quilted public memorials, wishes it were  ‘out there’ for the world to see, in a permanent display, much like the “Breaking Ground” memorial quilt, which is on permanent display in Toronto’s York Mills subway station, near the site of the Hoggs Hollow disaster.

“The Canadian Young Workers Memorial Quilt took the issue of young worker safety out of the closet,” says Swim. “It put the personal stories of young people killed on the job into the public realm through the testimony of their loved ones.”


FOOTNOTE: After 10 years of travel, the LifeQuilt is currently with a conservator for maintenance, while the partners of Threads of Life prepare to discuss how best to use it in future outreach efforts.

To honour the contribution her organization has made to families who have suffered from a workplace tragedy, Hickman and two Threads of Life volunteers, Lisa Kadosa and Eleanor Westwood, this year received Queen’s Diamond Jubilee awards. Hickman was nominated by Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters for her leadership in founding Threads of Life and for her “outstanding contributions in the field of workplace health and safety.”

Take Our Kids To Work Day


This Wednesday November 7 is Canada’s Take Our Kids To Work (TOKTW) Day – an annual event sponsored by The Learning Partnership, a national charitable organization that supports public education.

The idea of an annual event to help Grade 9 students begin to think about career options began in 1994.  Today, more than 250,000 Grade 9 students across Canada participate in workplace events supported by more than 75,000 participating employers.

In some workplaces, TOKTW Day features special programming and work simulations for visiting students. Others simply allow students into the workplace to job-shadow and observe.

Some key health and safety considerations should be kept in mind. This is all the more important in light of a tragic 2000 incident in which two teenagers participating in a TOKTW event were accidentally killed.

Some helpful hints:

  • Employers should make health and safety considerations a top priority before designing a program for TOKTW Day.
  • Students should be oriented to the workplace when they first arrive and have the day’s program fully explained to them.
  • Students should be properly supervised at all times.
  • TOKTW participants are not covered by legislation insuring the workplace safety of regular employees (eg. Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Act). To that end, employers should check with their liability insurers to make sure they have adequate coverage for student visitors.
  • Students should be equipped (and have explained to them) with proper personal protective equipment (PPE) – such as helmets, safety footwear, gloves, ear plugs, eye protection, et cetera – before they access workplace areas.
  • Students should be prohibited from handling or accessing hazardous materials, power tools and motorized vehicles.
  • If it is decided that your workplace is just too hazardous by nature to permit student visitors, it would be a useful workplace safety exercise to design a program for interested students that points out these hazards and still gives them a sense of what the workplace is like. Get creative!

With proper planning and attention to health and safety considerations, Take Our Kids to Work Day can afford a rich opportunity to make safety a top concern for kids, as they embark on planning their careers.

Have fun and stay safe!











Young Workers: Training The ‘Nintendo Generation’

As the Baby Boom generation prepares to retire, the biggest issue facing the mining industry is how to bridge gaps in the physical skill set of young workers, or what employers call the “Nintendo Generation”.

Training young workers “is the biggest safety issue in mining,” says workplace safety expert Alan Quilley, President of Safety Results, an Alberta-based job safety consulting firm.

That concern can be extended to any industry where mechanical know-how is essential.

Young workers whose problem solving skills were largely developed in front of a computer face an information gap when they move into jobs that require manual skills.

“My generation of workers entered the work world with much more exposure to mechanical skills,” says Quilley. “My father taught me how to rewire a house when I was a teenager. I have five children. Not one of them has shown any interest whatsoever in taking apart an engine.

“That’s not to say they’re not capable. But they have not grown up in that atmosphere.”

Quilley maintains that young workers entering mining and other industries are better educated, smarter and “more than capable” of being trained to do the job safely.

“We have to be patient,” he says. “We can’t just wish the gap did not exist. It’s wrong to say they ‘know nothing’.”

Young workers’ “experience gap” presents management with fresh opportunities to create a safer work environment, Quilley argues. These advantages include:

  • No ‘fossilized’ bad work habits, short cuts, small acts of carelessness learned long ago and brought to the job
  • A new style of problem-solving skills, greater familiarity with technology and an ability to adapt quickly to technological changes
  • Attitudes that embrace ‘personal’ learning styles and are resistant to one-size-fits-all, top-down training

“We need to ask young workers: what works for you? What do you need to know to feel safe on the job? And let them reflect on that,” says Quilley.

“It might seem effective to just make a safety training DVD and away we go. But it’s not effective. Young workers don’t respond to a safety rule lecture. It’s a more organic, problem-solving process.”



Safety Training Doesn’t Have To Be Boring

Safety Training Boring

Why is most safety training so boring? And so easily forgotten?

The safety training question is one Algoma University business professor and researcher Cathy Dénommé puzzles over all the time.

Dénommé’s research confirms her worst fears: Many young workers do not learn or retain the information and safety training they’re given to stay safe on the job.

“We have great information, cover all the bases, present it in what we think are interesting ways,” she says.

“But it is simply not effective.”

Dénommé complains of the apparent ‘disconnect’ between flashy videos, lectures with all manner of Power Point illustrations and interactive online courses and what young workers, in particular, are able to retain from all of it.

“They’re ‘taking the training’ but the training is not being retained,” she says.

Denomme says safety training is best retained when trainers keep in mind the outcomes they want to achieve and let their ‘students’ take them down paths of inquiry.

“We have to personalize safety training. We have to do what I call ‘training without a net.’”

Alan Quilley, an Edmonton-based work safety consultant agrees.

“Safety training is a conversation – not a lecture or a course delivered top-down,” says Quilley.

Quilley described one specific training situation.

  • Heavy machinery operators were asked: Do you feel safe doing your job?
  • When the new operators replied no, top-notch operators were brought in and asked: What are all the things you need to know when operating heavy equipment?
  • The experienced workers talked and lists were made.
  • The new operators were trained.
  • Then they had to demonstrate to the experienced operators that they had absorbed the training and knew how to operate safely.

“You have to do the loop!” says Quilley. “Any kind of shortcut in that process is probably going to result in accidents.”

Dénomme and her Algoma U. colleagues presented their research results at a conference of the Canadian Society of Safety Engineering in September, 2012, where they engaged safety manager in on-your-feet techniques to help younger workers retain safety training. Seton Canada was a proud sponsor of the workshop.

“We want to engage our audience in some meaningful training exercises – just to get a feel for what works and what does not. We hope to challenge people to be better trainers of young workers.”



Eye Health Month

October is Eye Health Month, an initiative of the Canadian Association of Optometrits. It’s a great opportunity for everyone everywhere, no matter in which industry or sector you work, to think about eye protection on the job and eye health in general.

Of course, you need the right PPE.

But eye health runs more deeply than that. If you can’t see properly, you run the risk of hurting yourself or someone else.

So if you haven’t had your eyes checked in a while, consider Eye Health Month as a kick in the pants to book an appointment with your optometrist or ophthalmologist.

Seton Eye Safety


Canada Oil Sands Employers Adopt a United Front on Workplace Safety

Oil Sands

The four major employers in Canada’s oil sands say their efforts to standardize safety practices on their sites are paying off.

The four – Syncrude, Suncor, Shell Albian and Canadian Natural Resources – banded together in 2003. They invited volunteers from oil sands worker groups, labour unions, independent contractors and training providers to join them to work together towards “an incident free workforce.” The resulting organization – the Oil Sands Safety Association, or OSSA – is aiming for a zero-incident workplace safety record.

The focused approach seems to be producing results. Figures provided by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) show injury rates in the oil sands sector down 24% between 2007 and 2010. There were two oil sands fatalities in 2010, the same as in 2009, but down from 5 in 2008.

“We’ve made great strides,” says Sheila Bailey, a Calgary health, safety and environmental consultant. Bailey, a mechanical engineer who has developed some training modules designed for oil sands employees, is president of Bailey Technical Services, previously based in Fort McMurray, Alta..

She says the thrust towards unified safety training grew out of a sense that contract workers moving between different oil sands sites received orientation and training at each site – a cumbersome and sometimes confusing process. Now everyone in the industry is reading from the same page with regard to safety, and all workers arrive ready to work with their safety orientation and training already begun.

Anyone seeking work in the oil sands now has to take two steps before they can even report for work at an oil sands site:

  • Take the OSSA Orientation to familiarize themselves with procedures common to all four OSSA member corporations
  • Pass a four-hour online CSTS (Construction Safety Training System)

The 17-module CSTS course covers hazardous materials, transportation of dangerous goods, emergency response routines, environmental factors, personal protective equipment and workplace law.

Beyond that, OSSA has also overseen development of more intensive and standardized training in four key areas of safety of concern to oil sands work sites:

  • Confined Space Practices
  • Elevated Work Platform Safety
  • Fire Watch Standards
  • Fall Protection

Employers are also aiming for standardized practices within the work sites – things as simple as alarm sounds and practices for summoning emergency assistance, to ensure that nothing falls between the cracks in terms of safety   awareness.

“Safety is top-of-mind for oil sands employers,” says Bailey. They’re aiming for world class safety status.”