MRO Magazine

Employee actions in B.C. and N.B. cause hurt or the death of another

Ottawa, ON -- Two incidents reported in recent hazard alert bulletins, one from New Brunswick and the other from Br...

Health & Safety

February 1, 2007
By MRO Magazine

Ottawa, ON — Two incidents reported in recent hazard alert bulletins, one from New Brunswick and the other from British Columbia, show how the lack of hazard awareness, poor communication, lack of training and unsafe work practices affected the health and safety of others.

In the incident reported by Worksafe BC, four workers were exposed to a hazardous substance. And in the tragedy reported by the Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission of New Brunswick, a man inadvertently was involved in the death of his co-worker.


When a worker in a medical office noticed small droplets of a silvery substance on her workstation, she didn’t know what they were. The employer tried to clean up the spill with household cleaners and eventually the mysterious substance spread throughout the office. It was later identified as mercury, likely the result of a broken piece of medical equipment. Four workers were exposed to potentially harmful mercury vapours.


Mercury is a hazardous substance that can cause harm by breathing in the vapour, following skin contact, or ingestion. Long-term exposure to mercury vapour can affect the nervous system causing muscle incoordination, tremors, nervousness, and personality changes, eventually damaging the kidneys. Some countries, including Sweden and Holland, have banned the use of mercury in medical equipment. The devices are easy to calibrate and extremely accurate, however, and are still widely used in Canada.

Worksafe BC recommends replacing any mercury-containing devices with mercury-free alternatives. If mercury-containing devices are present in the workplace, Worksafe BC advises that the employers must develop and implement an exposure control plan.

The exposure risk to workers and patients must be evaluated and the necessary controls (e.g., anti-spill plugs for manometers) implemented. Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) must be readily available in the workplace – these can be obtained from the equipment manufacturers. Safe work procedures must be developed for the handling, storage, and use of mercury-containing equipment. Emergency spill procedures must be developed. Specific responsibilities should be assigned if a spill occurs. Ensure that all workers and supervisors are trained in these procedures.Any mercury exposures should be documented, and the health of the affected worker(s) monitored.


An experienced tree feller in a New Brunswick logging operation tried to cut down a dead, standing tree, rather than ask his colleague, an experienced skidder operator, to push it down, which is the recommended procedure. The man made a straight cut at the base of the tree instead of notching it. The tree remained standing, and the feller continued cutting another tree farther away.

Meanwhile the skidder operator came to the area to pick up other trees. Seeing the dead, standing tree, he did not try to push it down, but instead left his skidder’s cab to place slings around the butts of other felled trees. Something pushed over the dead, standing tree. The tree fell on the skidder operator and killed him instantly.

Emergency responders arrived on the scene to find the feller in a state of distress -distraught over the death of his long time co-worker.

In a conventional logging operation, having a cutting plan — and sticking to it — is an essential life-saving practice. Forestry workers must always remove any known hazards and, most importantly, communicate clearly with one another at every stage of their work.

Safety rules and recommendations from WHSCC include:

Dead, standing trees should be identified and pushed to the ground by skidders before work begins. If a tree cannot be felled by a skidder and must be cut by hand, fellers should notch trees properly and ensure they fell them completely to the ground. If a loose branch is hanging from a dead tree, workers must stay away from it completely. Any dangerous trees that are to be left standing should be clearly marked with ribbons. All workers must stay out of the marked area, and no trees can be felled into the marked area.