Canadian Rental Service

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What went Wong: Suit up for safety


March 26, 2021
By James Wong

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Walking down the street the other day, I noticed a guy outside a newly constructed condo building operating a walk-behind cutter. His workmate was on his knees a few feet away. Both were wearing only boots and a hard hat. My jaw literally dropped! What does this picture tell us? For me, it demonstrates that the topic of PPE requirements for protection can never be emphasized or covered too much.

Let’s look at what’s wrong with this picture. Exposure to flying debris, hazardous dust/materials, excessive noise, extreme vibration and a plethora of unanticipated circumstances can cause serious and long-term damage.

Approximately 700 eye injuries occur on worksites every day in Canada. The smallest particle can severely injure the eye and if not immediately treated, can cause permanent damage.  Even if treated there might be persistent problems.

Respirable crystalline silica is airborne dust found in stone, rock, concrete, brick, block and mortar. Invisible and deadly, dust size can be as small as .01 micrometer in diameter. Did you know that out of 570 lung cancer cases each year, the majority are reported in construction workers?

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Workers frequently use equipment with ratings far above the safe sound level recommendation. That is why it is so important to use ear protection. A decline in hearing can make life very challenging and pose safety hazards to you and the crew.

Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome, caused by working with vibrating tools, can affect tendons, muscles, bones, joints and the nervous system leading to “permanent finger numbness, muscle weakness and bouts of white finger.” It’s always critical to wear work gloves for protection and hypercritical when preventing repetitive trauma associated with excessive vibration. If you can even slightly protect your vulnerability to injury, do it.

Eye and face protection used for the most dangerous working conditions are often disregarded in the most common working conditions. Personal experience tells me that debris can find its way into the eyes from above, the sides and bottom of basic safety glasses. Without safety glasses your eyes are targets for injury. The best eye protection for low-exposure work will have side shields, fit snuggly to the forehead and cheeks, and be breathable or with built-in anti-fog coating.

Whether using foam rubber ear inserts or heavy-duty ear muffs, consider that all ear protection prevent materials from entering the ear and causing damage.  A common unsafe hygiene practice is repetitively handling ear plugs with dirty hands or gloves. When appropriate, use plugs that are attached to a neck brace,.This allows for using the frame as opposed to touching the ear plug itself.

Respirator guides outline safety and performance requirements. Guides are available from OHS organizations stipulating the material, exposure limits, properties, exposure routes, symptoms, target organs and first aid treatments. One such source is NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards.

Employer and worker PPE responsibilities are somewhat different from province to province. Legislation language varies from “requirement” to “general duty.” The Canadian Centre of Occupational Health and Safety provides information on jurisdictional requirements for individual provinces. Your customers can find the information by going to the CCOHS website, clicking on “OHS Answers” and then on “Personal Protective Equipment” which outlines provinces “where either party must pay for specified types of PPE.”

It’s important to note that “even where legislation requires employers to provide PPE, that statement does not mean it must be provided without cost to the employee.” Your customers must know that PPE requirements should always be clearly stated in the hiring contract and, if not, employees can make a point to request it to be included.

Be proactive. Educate customers on how to protect themselves from injuries. They should understand how to operate the tools and equipment and the protection they need. Educate them to help ensure their safety. 


James Wong is an OHS chief for the construction industry.