The Perils of Plume

bright empty operating room in a hospital
Denis Simonov/Shutterstock

When we think of sterile, hygienically clean and safe spaces, an unused hospital operating room is one that may come to mind. Once a surgical procedure begins, however, that sterile space is changed to one that is filled with a myriad of potentially harmful biological and chemical agents. If any space needs a very high level of systematic controls to protect both health care workers and patients from the risk of exposure to these agents, the surgical operating room is it.

One of the more insidious biological and chemical agents that has developed into a health risk for surgical or operating room staff has been identified as surgical smoke, otherwise known as plume. Plume is created when a “hot surgical tool interacts with human tissue” as described in a recent article posted on Canadian Occupational Safety’s on-line magazine.

Click here to read the article.

As noted in the article, the incidence of health-related consequences due to exposure to plume is on the rise, as the number of related surgical procedures rises. The article explores the effectiveness of certain controls, such as smoke evacuation systems, and the ineffectiveness of other controls, such as surgical masks. Most importantly, the article reinforces the need for effective safety awareness training for all medical staff.

Perhaps our learning, the ‘take-away,’ from this particularly complex example of a biological and/or chemical hazard is that it too can be managed using the step-by-step approach of hazard recognition, risk assessment and controls.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Identify each of the following in the article:
    • What is the hazard (hazard recognition)?
    • What are the risks to specific health care workers?
    • What types of controls are effective?
  2. What are the impediments to installing effective controls in any hospital setting?
  3. As a Human Resources practitioner working in a hospital/health care setting, what steps will you take to communicate potential health care risks to hospital/health care staff?

Hearing Loss In High Numbers

Conceptual image about human hearing
Tatiana Shepeleva/Shutterstock

Some workplace health and safety issues relate to broad parameters that may impact all employees in any organization. As workplaces and industries become more specialized through technology-based factors, increased connections are made between a specific industry and a targeted impact on worker health concerns. One of these impacts is noise-related hearing loss.


Hearing loss is not a new kind of work-related injury. There are numerous articles and publications that make the correlation between consistent moderate to high levels of noise and worker hearing loss. Despite all of the information and pro-active messages about hearing loss, it appears to be an increasing problem in many sectors.

In 2014, workers in the oil and gas industry in British Columbia were surveyed for potential hearing loss with alarming results.

Click here to read the article.

Based on the information provided, more than a third of the workforce in the oil and gas industry have signs of work-related hearing loss. This means that one in three employees are losing their hearing due to work-related causes. By comparison, if one in three employees sustained a physical injury at work as a result of consistent workplace accidents, the onus on the employer to prevent these accident-related injuries would be enormous! Just because we can not see hearing loss does not mean the impact of this type of injury is less than any other physical work-related trauma.

The call to action is now. Many employees will not be able to hear it in the future.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do you think young employees, as noted in the article, do not wear hearing protection devices?
  2. If one third of a workforce was being injured at work, what types of actions do you think an employer should implement to stop that rate of injury?
  3. What does vigilant monitoring mean to you? Do you think it will change or modify an employee’s behaviour with regard to wearing hearing protection?


Risky Business

Hand stopping dominos

In our Health and Safety studies, we focus heavily on the systematic need to understand the links between hazard recognition, risk assessment, and controls. Each of these three elements must be in place in order to ensure a safe workplace for our colleagues. Of these three, risk assessment may be the most challenging to manage as it is based on degrees of probability.


To use a very simple example, when one sees a worker attempting to climb up a ladder that is not secured, the risk-related question is, what are the chances that the worker will fall off that ladder? As the probability, and therefore the risk, is high we must take action by controlling the situation and preventing the worker from going up the ladder until it has been properly secured.

When this happens, the intervention is not always perceived by the worker as necessary or even helpful. Often the person providing intervention is viewed as being overly dramatic, rigid and controlling. When that person is the Human Resources practitioner, their professional responsibility lies in preventative intervention based on the best of intentions and sound practices to ensure employee protection.

Are Human Resources professionals who work in the field of Health and Safety overly cautious and highly risk averse? Based on a recent psychological study published by Geoff Trickey of the UK, it seems that there might be some merit to those claims.

Click here to read the article.

Rather than viewing the tendency for risk aversion by Human Resources professionals from a negative perspective, the author characterizes this tendency in a positive way, as one that is prudent. The prudent risk type is one that is “systematic, orthodox and detailed.” The HR professional with a high tendency for prudence relies on clarity and order. This helps to reduce organizational risk. It seems that our ability to focus on details and apply an organized, systemic approach is essential to promoting a culture of health and safety in the workplace.

Let prudence prevail!

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you characterize your own approach to taking risks?
  2. From a Human Resources perspective, how do you rate your own psychological characteristics against the author’s findings?
  3. Do you agree or disagree with the characteristics and tendencies that the author provides? Why?

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and Other Workplace Disasters

Corporate Seminar Conference Team Collaboration Concep

How do you really create workplace safety awareness?

Usually, employee engagement that tries to build Health and Safety awareness can be decimated with three simple statements:

  • WHMIS,
  • First Aid,
  • H&S policy.

Let’s face it! Health and Safety is not exciting and stimulating for most employees. In fact, many of Health and Safety programs and policies are downright boring. In light of this, a UK company realized that something drastic needed to be done to raise safety awareness in the workplace with some ingenious techniques. Their approach was drastic and silly but it seems to be effective.

Viking Direct knew that their employees were not reading their Health and Safety manuals so they tried a new approach: “To remedy this, we decided to have some fun, and test whether our employees read all of the way through the new guidelines, by including some very questionable emergency situation advice… The advice was impossible, improbable, or just plain terrible; and the scenarios ranged from what to do when the floor inexplicably becomes lava, to using the ink of red liquid ink pens to escape a horde of zombies.”

Click here to read about the Viking Direct safety awareness program and illustrations.

This approach raises an interesting legal and ethical safety thought, does using humor to increase health and safety awareness devalue the seriousness of the program in the work place?

I would love to spend some time in deep thought over this question, but I think four horsemen have just arrived at my office door.

Discussion Questions:

  1. The VP of HR has asked you to raise awareness about H&S in the workplace with the goal to reduce slip and fall type injuries and would like to see a draft presentation in a week. What will you suggest?
  2. Would you use humor in your safety awareness program? Why or Why not?

The Workplace Risk of Wearing Contact Lenses

Medicine and vision concept - young woman with contact lens, close up
Africa Studio/Shutterstock

Contact lenses: who knew?

Hundreds of thousands of workers depend on them and wear them every day to work. Most of us, as workers, have no idea that those tiny soft and hard contact lenses may pose a safety hazard to us.

As an individual who has to wear contact lenses daily, and as a worker and health and safety professional, I find this an interesting subject to ponder.

Due to the fact that glasses do not provide the correction needed for my eye condition, I have no choice but to wear contact lenses and, it seems, to put myself and my eyes at risk. This risk comes from the possible damage that can come from exposure to chemical or biological hazards while wearing contact lenses.

The Canadian Centre of Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) has provided a fact sheet titled Contact Lenses at Work.

Click here to read the full fact sheet.

The fact sheet covers many aspects of the potential and somewhat controversial facts of wearing contact lenses at work, such as:

  • Situations where contact lenses may be hazardous in the workplace
  • The difference between possible hazards of soft and hard contact lenses
  • Wearing contact lenses with full face respirators
  • Health and Safety laws linked to contact lens use in the workplace.

It is interesting to note that not all Canadian jurisdictions have specific laws regarding the wearing of contact lenses, even though the hazards are common throughout all Canadian workplaces. In the development of items that cause hazards to workers, contact lenses do need to be included on that list as yet this is now one more topic requiring a proper hazard assessment. Our eyes depend on it!

Discussion Questions:

  1. Review your provincial H&S legislation with regard to wearing contact lenses. Is the topic addressed? Is it in the act, the regulations or in a guideline?
  2. Think about a job you have had and the type of work you were doing, would wearing contact lenses lead to greater potential risk? If so, what biological, chemical, or physical hazards should be assessed to reduce the potential risk? What type of controls, engineering, administrative or worker would you recommend to reduce the potential risk?