I am James Marles, Health and Safety Specialist in Canada. Ask me anything!
I am James Marles, Health and Safety Specialist in Canada working in facility management and construction. I also run a blog at https://www.informedsafety.com/ where I explain safety related topics in an easy to understand way to help spread awareness and knowledge. I have been in the health and safety field for over 10 years working in industrial manufacturing, power generation (nuclear), consulting, and facility management.
I am also author to my new book, "The Pain-Free Office", releasing on Amazon in 2 weeks, which is a guide to help people working at a computer reduce their pain and discomfort and get their office set up to be ergonomic and prevent related injuries from occurring.
I am looking forward to answering your questions!
My Proof: https://twitter.com/InformedSafety/status/1426542222212751366
I will start answering questions at 10:00 am EST!
Edit Taking a lunch break to eat and get some errands done. I'll be back around 4:00 pm EST to answer more questions. Having a great time interacting with everyone!
Edit Back to answering your questions!
Edit Thank you everyone for the questions! I'll be signing off for the night. This was a great AMA and I had a lot of fun. Feel free to tweet at me if you have any other questions. Be sure to check out my website for more safety topics. Also, keep an eye out for my new book, "The Pain-Free Office", releasing on Amazon on August 30, 2021! Have a good night and stay safe ❤️
Serious Answer: Keep up wind, follow safety protocols, and if you're really concerned or believe their is a chance of an incident, consider changing jobs to somewhere you feel more safe (if financially/professionally possible).
Not so serious answer: get out of racoon city and don't trust red umbrellas.
Are people really that stupid and lacking of common sense hence all these rediculous new safety codes continually being dumped on workers?
Or is the safety boards full of manufacturers that just want to sell their expensive safety gear.
Great question! I would say it's not so much lacking common sense but a mixture of different factors. I'll address it in 3 parts.
Part 1: Workers I do not believe a lack of common sense is a justified excuse for safety issues. A lot of it lies in properly training workers to understand the risks and know how to control them while working. Orientation is critical, not just for legal reasons, but is also very important for workers to become familiar with the workplace. We also run into issues with complacency where workers who have been doing the same job for years may begin to skip steps for time or for convenience. This is a bit more tricky to correct and usually is addressed with refresher training and in-person observation and education.
Part 2: Safety codes/regulations Due to changes in technology, processes, and industries, updating safety codes and regulations help protect workers and the employers in the event of an incident. It is not expected for workers to know all the codes that apply to them, though I would recommend anyone get familiar with the codes that apply to their job, but having training programs updated to educate workers and protect them is key to maintaining a strong safety culture in the workplace.
Part 3: Safety board and manufacturers Yes, there are some cases throughout the safety equipment industry where it appears codes or regulations were updated to cater to a specific gear that, surprise surprise, is only supplied by one manufacturer at the time. This unfortunately can be due to lobbying behind the scenes or a "friend" of one of the reviewers/contributors to a code update. Usually though, codes are updated through a committee of professions so it is not often that this happens. Gear can also act as a way employers protect themselves as they can claim that they provided all required equipment and the worker did not use it properly, though this is rarely successful as it falls to the employer to train workers to use it properly. Always read through and learn how to use equipment provided by your employer! Ask lots of questions! My rule of thumb, learn it well enough to explain it to someone else :)
I was wondering how many homes / workplaces would you estimate have dangerous levels of radon gas but not tested for it in Canada?
Hard to say. Homes with poor ventilation in basements tend to have a higher chance. But radon gas can be found in any household, old or new. Here's a map of provinces where radon gas is above recommended levels by percentage. https://images.app.goo.gl/igmyV3xq62xnBcgX8
If you have a concern, you can get test kits online and the usually leave the test kit in the basement for a few months before sending to a lab for analysis. You'll get a report and, if needed, recommendations
The age old question, Donairs: love them or hate them? And why?
Love them! If they're made well, a flavour loaded meal wrapped up for on the go or sit-down eating. Versatile! Load them up with veggies!
Is it really the worker wages that have producers flocking to China to get all their items manufacturered cheaply or is it all the safety protocols in place in Canada that's making it so expensive to manufacture in Canada? Maybe a combination?
Definitely a combination. Safety requirements (training, equipment, staffing, and protective gear) along with wage differences play a large part of where a company chooses to manufacture its products. Subsidies offered by cities/governments can also play a part by offsetting the costs of manufacturing.
Hi James, thanks for doing this.
I work in IT and support both office and production environments.
Over the last week I've been having some issues with my ears (continuous ringing) , went to the doctors today for a walk in to get it checked out and it's not as a result of an ear infection as I initially thought.
About 11 months ago the business I work for moved and my desk is now situated so my head is about 6 Meters away from the loudest equipment in the building. Originally this equipment was supposed to be contained within walls, but this part of the building plan was scrapped due to funding.
The business had an air pollutant and noise assessment done a few months back and at the time I thought the report didn't look accurate. I have recently scrutinized the numbers and they make virtually no sense at all, non of the methodology of the results is elaborated on. I can provide completely contradictory information with fairly rudimentary equipment and even without a sound meter it's obvious that areas they show in the report as the same ambient noise levels are not.
I do not believe that the noise generated exceed the 85 Decibel 8 hour average or the 97 Decibel 30 minuet average, but I am really concerned that this equipment is having a negative impact on my hearing.
I was on vacation when the testing was initially done and I have heard from other members of staff that the testing device situated near the loud equipment got unplugged for an undetermined period of time, this is not mentioned in the report.
What recourse do I have either in terms of getting the noise assessment redone and ensuring that they test the noise levels when the equipment is running, or in terms of this causing me harm even if it's not exceeding the guideline numbers?
Edit: Apologies for multiple posts that have been deleted, the auto mod didn't like my poor grammar.
I would speak with your supervisor and HR to request a retest, get your doctor to write a note to support this, and ask to have your desk relocated. This would help determine if the workplace is the cause and help address any issues with your hearing. I don't want to provide you with any labour relations advice as this is not my field but you have basic worker rights that all employers must respect.
Hi, I’m curious about what kind of training/education or professional designation you have or is required to work as a H&S specialist. Is Health and Safety specialist your job title? And do you work as a consultant for various industries or do you work internally for a company?
Thanks in advance
I have a Bachelors Degree in Kinesiology from university and I took an Occupational Health and Safety program through my local college. An educational background in Health and Safety is definitely a starting point for many as there is a great deal that cannot be learned in the workplace without formal education. Different schools have different program lengths, some ranging from a 1 year course to 3 years. In terms of designations, Canada as two safety specific designations, a Canadian Registered Safety Technician (CRST) and the higher level, Canadian Registered Safety Professional (CRSP). Those with engineering degrees or environmental degrees can also attain certifications related to health and safety, it depends on what field you are specialized in. The US has a Certified Safety Specialist designation (equivalent to our CRSP). My job title is Health Safety and Environment Specialist and I currently work internally within a company but have, in the past, worked as a self-employed consultant for private sector clients.
If HR designs develops and manages training why have they never been held accountability for a workers death?
It's not often, but I have read of cases, where individuals are held accountable in worker deaths (usually due to negligence or a serious case of carelessness or willful failure to take all reasonable precautions). In most cases, the accountability rests with the employer/company overall, and in some cases the supervisors. Because HR does not directly provide the training, but rather facilitates it, the accountability rests on the worker, their supervisor, and the employer/company.
If you own the curriculum you control how learning looks including the delivery. The education discipline has a 100 year history defined by scholars from around the world. The courts however have not defined curriculum in a corporate environment like it has for the public school system. No one has actually taken an HR employee to court. That right is reserved for the Ops employee by default.
In Canada, some of the courses for worker safety, like working at Heights, are certified by the Ministry of Labour to ensure they are compliant to standards. However, yes you are correct that in many cases HR controls the internal training curriculum but it relies on supervisors to deliver. HR is also acting as the "employer" so the courts go after the company as a whole unless it can be proven that one specific individual was willfully negligent. If the courts were able to go after individuals it would be difficult to get reparations from said individual or HR staff would get liability insurance, much like I have for my Registered Kinesiologist designation.
I would argue the delivery of training and the manufacturing process of a training program are one of the same. You can't deliver a training program unless you have created a learning blueprint. This is the role of HR. No one in Ops has or needs to have an understanding of curriculum design, learning theory etc... They are operating on the express orders of HR. I am also implying Ops has very little say in how learning is structured. It's unlikely for an Ops executive in the C-suite to debate the nuances of constructivism learning theory vs democratic learning theory. As for accountability well that's reserved for the Ops employee. When a court issue fault the most likely candidate is someone from Ops. The one person who knows Jack about training. Education is a discipline with it's own scholars. I suggest education separated from business and HR is run by the HR industry who defines the processes. The HR dept. is a business run in a business.
Yes, a separation of HR from the safety group (like with my employer) helps focus safety and makes it a pillar of the workplace culture.
If HSE is in charge of the training should the person managing the training have training credentials eg., an undergrad degree in education or HSE? If training is it's own disciple as HSE is should we not have educated educators running the show designing, creating and managing a learning system?
We should, absolutely agree. Training needs to be informative and comprehensive but also relatable and easy to understand. A difficult balance. When I host training sessions, I use a mixture of listening, reading, watching, and doing. They listen to me talk, read slide shows, watch a video of a mock hazard or interview with survivor, and then we do an exercise where I ask them "what do you see or how would you control the hazard".
When does too much safety become unsafe? As a skilled tradesman who has to deal with overkill safety protocols on a daily basis with general contractors, I genuinely want to know where the line will eventually be drawn
This is a really tough question to answer. Truthfully I don't know where the line is as it is dependent on the industry, the job, and the worker. I do agree that there can be an overabundance of safety protocols to the point where it can limit or burden a process or complicate a simple job. The best way to approach this is to train workers to understand, recognize, and know how to control the hazards they are faced with. This can include a pre-job hazard assessment, safety awareness and recognition training, equipment maintenance, etc. Safety protocols are put in place to ensure the task is completed safety and successfully. If it is overly complicated or provides too much information, it may be time to review the protocols for improvements or change how workers are trained in them.
I'm not allowed to change a light bulb where I work now. That requires an electrician... In my previous job I changed the ballasts on live lights. It's amazing how one company can look one way and another goes the opposite direction.
That's why you, as the expert in your job, and other experts should work with safety professionals and HR to highlight issues and address them. I never try to claim to know how to do a job more safely than the worker. I always try and learn/observe and shadow them to get a better understanding, ask questions, and make improvements with feedback and involvement from those dealing with it first hand.
Your attitude towards safety and the worker is not shared by safety officers I have worked with in the past. It feels that they try to make every area of work into a place where a 5 year old kid can't get hurt. I've seen playground equipment built in the last 5 years that allow kids to be in more precarious positions then we were allowed to be on a job building a factory
You need to treat the workers with a level of respect. Trying to "bubble wrap" everything so that it's safe is not sustainable and does not promote a safety culture, it makes the workers feel like they are incompetent and does not correct the root cause of accidents. It's a balanced approach to implementing safety aspects and educating workers to be aware and control hazards as they arise. I can't be expected to be present holding their hand all the time. 🙂
Its not really bubble wrapping but rather it is adhering to a set of rules and systems that are premade before they get on a job site, and not allowing the workers to present the problem. When they are shown the problem, their solution is more troublesome then it needs to be.
Allow me to present an example that happened years ago on a commercial renovation project on a strip mall in Calgary AB. I was erecting scaffold on the outside of the building. The safety wanted 100% tie off while scaffold is being erected or brought down. They wanted us to use safety rope, and rope grab with our fall arrest system. They wanted us to tie our safety rope to a solid object on the roof.
The problem was that we were working on scaffold systems that were about 100 feet long, which meant that we were creating a swing path with our safety rope. This meant that when we were on certain areas of our scaffold, if we did fall, the swing path would ensure that we would fall to the ground, as if as a pendulum.
It did not matter to the the site safety, so long as we wore our safety harness and were attached to the rope. They could not move out of that idea even though I presented a problem to it. It actually made the site management angry at me and everybody was frustrated at each other.
Rigid adherence to safety protocol without reviewing a work plan and collaborating with workers makes a dangerous combination for sure. Sorry you had you experience that. It doesn't sound pleasant at all, borderline reckless on their part.
How do you convince people that have become comfortable in an environment with potential dangers, yet dangers that rarely or have never occurred, that they still have to use the safety protocols?
Preferably without gaining contempt from the employees. Asides from firing them.
The best way, in my experience is for one of these dangers to actually occur. But almost blowing up staff members is a really poor idea. People are then careful and use protocols for a small period of time and slowly get comfortable again.
If you're on site with the workers, inspections or job shadowing helps keep them thinking about safety. Asking them questions and even just being there can get them back to the program. The other part is the post job review where you highlight what they did well or safely. Positive reinforcement and validates their actions.
In my area, a few years ago there was a situation at a mushroom farm (normal mushrooms). What occurred was one employee went down into the deep of a pumping station and immediately succumbed to H2S poisoning (for those unfamiliar with the naturally occurring H2S, a few parts per million in one breath will knock you out and shut off your nervous system leaving you without a heartbeat or lung function). Naturally, ignorant (as in, those without proper training) followed to rescue the guy, each succumbing to the same fate: death. Three people died that day, two due to rescue attempts.
My question is, do you think that all workers who might need to go underground should be trained appropriately? It's a lot of money to train people who might go underground once in a lifetime, but here we are.
I have first hand experience with an H2S victim, and that lad is still alive today thanks to the training and quick thinking on my part and the amazing work done by our onsite medic (who ran out with no PPE, barefoot in -35 celcius at 3:00 at night. Helicopters (2) came in like nuts.
Sidenote: that guy... the medic was able to revive him, she was so good. I'm holding him down though. As soon as he opens up his eyes, he starts throwing punches and trying to kill me, which apparently is a normal response.
It's always unfortunate when accidents like that happen. During my training we had a case study where a worker entered a freighter storage container (used for liquids). After about 30 second he lost consciousness. They lost another trying to rescue him who didn't have gear/training. They found out after that while it was drained, residual gases from the previous liquid displaced oxygen and the workers suffocated.
I think it's important for any business to conduct a thorough hazard assessment. Any work underground should be assessed for confined space (regulated in Canada) which includes testing of the air mixture. Canadian regulation requires workers to be recertified in confined space training every 3 years or more often if they rarely perform the work.
Confined space was a big part of the worksite I was at previously. We had annual mock emergencies where we would have an external trainer come on-site and supervise a training session where we would simulate a worker losing conscious while in an underground valve chamber. This gave workers a great refresher and improved teamwork.
If a workplace does not want to train their workers, then hire an external contractor certified to do the work and who's familiar with the hazards and rescue procedures. For high risk work, we hired an external rescue company while our workers performed the work.
How do you feel about the gender diversity in this industry in Canada? Is there still a "boys club" that exists especially at the senior management levels?
I think in some workplaces and a couple of industries it is still very much a boy's club. But there's a growing number of women in the health and safety field which is great to see. The company I work for has a lot of gender diversity within our health and safety department, including a number of senior management and our VP. Many of these women I consider role models and mentors to my professional development.
I had a co-worker who was exposed to some serious glues and adhesives were used and stored right next to our work space. (Portrait studio in Walmart, Walmart decided to assemble bicycles right next to the studio, left glues and solvents open at all times) She now has serious lung issues and Walmart and Workers Comp say no correlation. How bad are these glues and solvents if you inhale them unmasked for 8 hours a day? Long term outcomes? Thanks in advance!
Depends on the chemical composition. The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) is an organization that provides exposure limits to chemicals. If your coworker can find out what chemicals are used by the glues and solvents, they can look it up in the exposure limits (https://www.acgih.org/science/tlv-bei-guidelines/). They could also look up the effects of excess exposure and make a case to have an industrial hygienist test the work area for concentrations (safety data sheets on the chemicals are required which will list safety measures and exposure effects).
If there's no or little non work-related sources, I would recommend they push workers comp to test and review the claim. Though this might go towards legal action
In Ontario, and I believe the rest of Canada, the law puts PERSONAL liability on managers and supervisors for the safety of those they supervise. How does this work for managers that are remote? We have some managers that are in other countries (France or the US). What responsibilities do these managers have under Canadian law?
I am no expert in the legal side but I would assume that even though they are international, they are still liable for worker training and safety for Canadians under their supervision. Now, whether they can be made to provide reparations or compensation I don't know. Though international Labour laws may provide traction for their accountability. In the end though, it may be that the company pays the charges as they are the employer and are ultimately responsible.
Do you think the design of safety equipment harms women? Or is simply less effective? For example seat belts are designed for men's bodies, helmet's for men's heads, etc. Is having a false sense of security better than having none?
And is there progress being made on this front?
I think that a lot of safety equipment has been designed around male bodies yes. Though with the increase in women in traditionally male roles has lead to research and improvements to equipment to accommodate the differences. I think false sense of security is dangerous because people may take it for granted and act in a more risky behaviour. If the work is unsafe and you don't have the equipment or training to do it, you should refuse (one of the 3 worker rights in Canada).
How'd you get started in the industry if you don't mind me asking?
While I was going through university I d did 5 work placements at 4 different companies where I working as a health and safety student. I realized it was a lot more interesting and I was more passionate about helping people. After I graduated I worked for a few years as a consultant before going back to school to get a certificate degree in safety and then got a job with my current employer.
It was difficult but I love my job and have no regrets with my path cause I've learned a lot and worked with some awesome people.
Hey James, I'm wanting to go into an Occupational Health Nursing program in the next year.
What's the market like for this field? Have you met many OHN's?
I've met quite a few and I think the field is growing and there is a demand. A lot of companies are improving their safety programs to minimize insurance premiums and increase worker retention. Mental health and wellness is one area seeing a big jump due to the impacts of the pandemic. I've worked with several in the past. Some work as consultants for companies, some work in house to develop programs, and some work with return-to-work and insurance companies for injury recovery.
Are you a dog person or cat person and why?
Animal person in general but I prefer dogs because that's what I've grown up with my entire life and I love the freedom to go hiking and jogging with my dog.
Safety I or Safety II?
A healthy mix of both is the best approach but I try to be as proactive as possible and lean more towards a Safety II approach through focusing on the successes. For example, a post-job review when it is completed successfully. It helps reinforce the positive behaviors and understanding of safe work practices. It is also less accusatory.
Hi, I read that by removing all safety instructions from products would help with natural selection.
What are your thoughts on this?
Removing safety instructions may help natural selection but it makes all our lives a lot easier due to legal issues to keep the instructions :)
Yea, I have a foot bath, and the instructions on the lid tell me to ensure no people are in it before I put the lid on.
Kind of makes you wonder if that was put in because it really happened!
what is the food quality in Canada? I mean, how many places can you walk in and easily buy something that has no salt, sugar, isn't fried, and isn't cheese?
Food quality tends to be pretty good I find. A lot of variety of local food options, plus a lot of international restaurants. Definitely finding more healthier options are opening up. Even ready meals at the grocery store are really healthy.
That sounds nice! It's getting better in America too. When I was twenty I travelled to France and New Zealand a few years before that and noticed a .... Really .... noticeable difference in food quality. It's a lot harder to stay in shape in America because.. well, I already described why. Thank you !!!!
Yes, America can be a bit more endulgent than other countries, but we (Canada) also have beaver tails (deep fried dough covered in sugar), poutine, and sugar pie... 😅
heard about poutine (bleh) but what is sugar pie?
Basically you mix cream and brown sugar in a saucepan, cook it till thickened, add nuts, then pour into a pie crust and bake. Very rich and sweet.
What bear is best?
Obviously black bear Jim... Bears, beets, battlestar galactica
How many times have moose caused injury on the job and what are you doing to prevent it?
I haven't worked in remote areas where moose have been a problem but when I consulted for a military client, they had a patrol vehicle (little buggy) side swiped by a moose. They didn't do anything cause the animal was fine and ran off. Left a wicked dent in the roof though.
Do you feel that employers do enough to protect their employees?
Are there sufficient protections for workers in this day and age? Are they on the same level playing field as cooperations?
I think that many workplaces do enough to protect their workers but it varies depending on company size and industry. Construction for example has a lot of regulations and is regularity inspected by labour inspectors. Temporary work agencies are botorious for doing absolutely nothing, even if an order is issued by the courts cause they just fold and reopen under a new name. I think there are sufficient protections for workers but only if they are used and the workers are properly trained. This includes continued improvement and refresher training. Improving safety controls through consulting with the workers helps boost safety adherence as the workers paricipate in making the workplace safer and they can see the changes they suggest.
What are your thoughts on safety measures being introduced that produce more hazards to the workers? A great example is miners being made to wear self-rescuers (Drager oxyboks) on their hip, adding an extra 10 pounds to one side of the workers body, causing hip pain, and preventing the proper use of seatbelts in vehicles.
I think that a review of equipment like that for improvements and consider the application and user impacts is important. When items like the above example are introduced, you add more problems and eventually, workers will find ways to either not use it or modify it to be more comfortable, which may reduce its effectiveness. Before implementing a big change like that, workplaces need to test and consult the workers to ensure it is successful and effectively used.
Why would you leave nuclear?
I was working as a student so it was on a 4 month term before going back to school. I would go back but I live in a city where we don't have a nuclear energy facility
What's the healthiest and what's the safest thing about Canada?
Healthiest is probably the amazing amount of greenery and parks for people to explore.
Safetest would be the workplace regulations and federally funded programs that are focused on preventive safety practices (mental health, workplace inspections, healthy eating, etc).
Any idea when people can buy N95 masks with vents again? We have had to switch to the non vented to ones and they fog your glasses up.
Also the company next door sprays white stuff on our property some times any suggestions on testing it? They usually will ignore us till a rainy day then come say there is nothing there. It is probably concrete dust as they are melting concrete in acid.
Vented N95 masks are issue with regards to pandemic control as most do not have filters on the exhalation valves, which means it does not protect others around you, only the user. If you are having issues with glass fogging, you could try using a piece of tissue paper or tape at the nose to stop the air from coming up. N95's should also be fit tested. As an alternative to disposable filters, many companies/health care facilities have switched to half-face or full-face elastomeric respirators as they can be cleaned/re-used, provide N95 or greater protection, and the exhalation valves can be/are filtered (depending on brand/model).
When it comes to the neighbouring company spraying on your property, I would first confirm with them what is being sprayed. If they are not willing to provide the information, call the city to inspect and determine if there are any hazards/issues with regards to what is being used.
Thanks you for answering. The masks are not for covid, they are for air hazards at work. The half face ones making talking in a radio almost impossible. It is to bad everything is about covid right now. There are other hazard out there.
Sorry! I agree, a lot of focus is on the pandemic. Your company could reach out to approved N95 manufacturers (CDC and Health Canada list them on their websites) to secure specific types of N95 for your workplace requirements.
Hi, American here. What’s wrong with us?
That's a loaded question but I think it's hard to generalize an entire country. America does things differently than other countries, better and more poorly so it's really relative to your situation. While I don't agree with everything that the US does, I still have a lot of love for our Southern neighbors. Plus, my brother lives in Florida so it's got at least some good things.
Do you think my body my choice includes choosing whether or not to get vaccinated? Also, why are people upset others don't and won't get vaccinated? Will they not die off (the unvaccinated) and not be a problem anymore for the people who are pro vaccine?
While this is not a vaccine debate, I believe that we should not value one life over another based on their vaccination status.
Since you're health and safety, do you think it is healthy and safe to let a million people into your country untested and unvaccinated, then spread those same people throughout the country?
I recommend everyone get vaccinated, not just for ourselves but for those we interact with as well, and the more we can help out countries struggling with the virus, the more we can make the world safer!
I don't think anyone disagrees with that, but his question seems to be more related to immigration policy and how it's connected to public health right now. You'd think that the most stringent border controls and limited influx of people would be in place everywhere if minimal spread and protecting public health was the goal. That doesn't seem to be the case in USA, Canada and some other Western countries.
While I am no political expert, I think that limiting travel between borders to stem the spread is one of many effect methods in pandemic control. I cannot say why now, and not delayed till later, they chose to open the border.
Hello, I work in a semiconductor fab with lots of nasty chemicals like arsenic, acids, and every nasty nonbiological thing in the book. The factory safety protocol in case of whatever is to get out of the building ASAP and go stand in the parking lot and wait for the black helicopters. The city protocol is to shut all the windows and stay indoors. My personal feeling is to run away as far and fast as possible. What should I really do?
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