Post #351 – Facility Reopens after Mercury Spill

Excerpt from the OH&S Canada magazine

By: Jason Contant

The doors to a health clinic in Norman Wells, Northwest Territories were again fully opened one week after a mercury spill resulted in a partial shut-down.

The Sahtu Health and Social Services Authority (SHSSA) was evacuated following the February 8, 2008 discovery of mercury, says Colin Eddie, director of health and social programs for the authority.

About 100 cubic centimetres of mercury leaked from two blood pressure cuffs being transported from a facility in Tulita to one in Norman Wells, Eddie reports. The cuffs were “being carried into the clinic when they did notice that there was mercury leaking from them,” he reports. No workers suffered any adverse health effects as a result.

Mercury may be fatal if inhaled and harmful if absorbed through the skin, reports the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS). Exposure to mercury vapour can result in chest pain, cough, impaired lung function, coughing up blood and inflammation of the lungs, the CCOHS notes. “Exposure to high, but unspecified, concentrations of mercury vapour has caused death due to respiratory failure.”

Following the incident, the territorial WCB issued orders requiring the SHSSA to clean up the spill using safe work procedures and to carry out air sampling using a mercury vapour analyzer.

Mercury vapour checks on February 16, 2008 showed levels of zero throughout the building and in the vehicle used to transport the cuffs, Eddie says.

The equipment had been bubble-wrapped to be placed in double boxes upon its arrival in Norman Wells, but the temperature had fallen to -50 degrees Celsius. “I’m quite sure that what happened was the temperature change caused the glass to crack,” he speculates. “We know it wasn’t dropped.”

The SHSSA intends to pack the instruments differently in future to help prevent similar leaks, Eddie reports.

My opinion

In Ontario, we used to have Ontario regulation 844, “Designated Substance, Mercury”. It has been changed and belongs in the new standard, Ontario regulation 490, which includes all the previous ‘designated substance’ regulations except for 278/05, ‘Asbestos on Construction Projects and in Buildings and Repair Operations.’

Mercury has a TWAEV (time weighted average exposure value) of 0.025 mg/m3. There is a notation that deals with skin, (Danger of cutaneous absorption) . There is a section of 844 which stated,

“The regulation applies to every employer and worker at a workplace where mercury is present, produced, processed, used, handled and stored and at which the worker is likely to inhale, ingest or absorb mercury.”

It further states,

“An employer to whom this regulation applies shall take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances to ensure that every worker who is not an employee of the employer but who is working in the workplace of the employer and is exposed to mercury and whose health is likely to be affected thereby is protected and the worker shall comply with the requirements of the employer.”

All employers need to recognize any or all of the designated substances and ensure that controls are in place to deal with them. In Ontario, if a designated substance is found in the workplace, even though the number of workers, including office staff, is less than the required 20 employees to determine if a health and safety committee is mandatory at the workplace, then there must be a committee regardless of the number of employees.

I hope every company in Ontario is aware of that and has a plan in place to control the particular ‘Designated Substance’ hazard that may exit in your workplace.

Remember — In Canada, “ALL Accidents are Preventable”

HRS Group Inc. has a great team that can help you with all your health and safety needs. Contact Deborah toll free at 1-877-907-7744 or locally at 705-749-1259.

We can also be reached at 

‘Work’ and ‘Play’ safe.

Daniel L. Beal
CHSEP — Foundation Level
VP & Senior Trainer
HRS Group Inc.

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