Portrait of workers' exposure to chemical substances

The Canadian Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du
travail (IRSST) has just produced a detailed portrait of the highest
concentrations of pollutants in Québec companies by examining more than 220,000
results of environmental analyses carried out in his laboratories between 2001
and 2005. These air samples were collected mainly by practitioners from health
and social services agencies, local community services centers, and joint
sector-based associations.  The interpretation of the results made it possible
to determine, by industrial class, the chemical substance exposure situations
most likely to cause health effects.

Exposures above the standards

Although the results must be carefully interpreted, the researchers considered
only the most relevant data.  In the end, 50 chemicals and 141 industrial
classes were retained. The study clearly shows that some substances are
frequently found at a level equal to or above the exposure standards.  This is
the case for welding fumes, quartz, styrene, lead, beryllium, isocyanates, wood
dusts, nickel, toluene, iron and methylene chloride. For some of them, action
programs are being carried out at the provincial level.

In the case of fibres, grain dusts, triglycidyl isocyanurate, quartz, diethyl
ether and methyl ethyl ketone, the analyses show that more than 60% of the
concentrations exceed the standard in a few industrial sectors.

The industries

Among other things, the IRSST's report examines the results from the standpoint
of the industrial classes.  The environmental analyses carried out in some
industries such as machine shops, masonry work and the truck and bus body
industry show high concentrations for at least five substances. In the case of
the custom coating of metal products industry and the boatbuilding and repair
industry, more than one substance was measured at concentrations exceeding the
standards in at least 60% of the analyses.

The report identifies many situations where the results are more than twice
the standard. Some examples are:

  • fibres in the other machinery and equipment industries;
  • triglycidyl isocyanurate and oligomers of HDI in the custom coating of metal
    products industry;
  • beryllium in the industrial inorganic chemical industry;
  • lead in the other non-ferrous metal smelting and refining industries;
  • hardwood and softwood dust in forestry services.

Commenting on the report's results, the IRSST's president and CEO, Diane
Gaudet, reminded that there "are action programs to reduce workers' exposure
and prevent occupational injuries for some analyzed substances.  This study has
the advantage of identifying major trends that determine the most problematic
pollutants and the high-risk sectors in order to better guide the
practitioners' actions."

More information

AplusA-online.de - Source: European Agency for Safety and Health at Work