Environmental Risks

Asbestos:  Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral which contains strong fibers and was used in many buildings from the 1950s to the 1990s. Learn more.

Electric shock:   Many people who work in construction do not realize the high potential for electric shock injuries. Always use extreme caution when working around electricity. Learn more.

Eye injury:  More than 2,000 eye injuries happen every year in Saskatchewan. Protecting your eyes from flying particles, chemicals or objects is an important way to avoid injuries. Make sure you have the proper safety glasses or goggles suitable for the job you are doing. Learn more.

The drug fentanyl and its equivalents are a possible hazard to a number of responders who might come in contact with the opioids in the course of their work.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) indicates that responders are most likely to come across illegally-manufactured fentanyl in powder, tablet and liquid form through:

  • Inhalation
  • Mucous membrane contact
  • Ingestion
  • Skin exposure such as needlestick.

Any of those exposure routes can possibly quickly result in life-threatening respiratory depression.

While brief skin contact with fentanyl or its equivalents aren’t expected to result in toxic effects if visible contamination is rapidly removed, skin contact with large volumes of highly concentrated powder over an extended period of time is a potential exposure route.

NIOSH identifies four job categories where responders may come in contact with fentanyl and its equivalents:

  • Pre-Hospital Patient Care 

Emergency medical services (EMS) providers, including first responders, fire department and private companies, may attend to persons with suspected fentanyl overdose. Drugs may be on or near the individual.

  • Law Enforcement

Officers might encounter fentanyl during day-to-day activities including traffic stops, responding to fentanyl overdose calls and detaining and searching individuals.

  • Investigation and Evidence Handling

Anyone in law enforcement who conducts fentanyl investigations are at risk of potentially encountering fentanyl. This may include executing search warrants and collecting, transporting and storing evidence.

Evidence collection might aerosolize fentanyl powder. Anyone handling evidence in the chain of custody may come in contact with fentanyl unless procedures are in place to prevent exposures.

  • Special Operations and Decontamination

Workers performing special operations who are expected to come into contact with a large amount of fentanyl are potentially at risk.This includes hazardous material incident response teams responding to a spill or release and law enforcement officers executing search warrants on opioid distribution sites or other tactical operations. These activities may also aerosolize fentanyl.

  • Working dogs

Working dogs, particularly police K-9s executing detection activities are also potentially at risk of exposure to fentanyl and its equivalents. If dogs are exposed, residual powder may remain on the dog’s body. Working dogs should be removed from an area with suspected or known fentanyl.

What can you do to protect yourself against fentanyl and its equivalents?

NIOSH identifies a number of standard safe operating procedures. When you first arrive on scene, analyze the situation, assess the risks for hazards and determine if fentanyl or other drugs are expected to be present. If so:

  • Do not eat, drink, smoke or use the bathroom while working in an area with suspected or known fentanyl.
  • Do not touch your eyes, mouth and nose after touching any surface that might be contaminated with fentanyl.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water immediately after a potential exposure and after leaving a scene with suspected or known fentanyl. Do not use hand sanitizers or bleach solutions.
  • Do not perform tasks or operations that might aerosolize fentanyl unless you are appropriately trained with higher levels of personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • Do not perform field testing of fentanyl or its equivalents unless you are appropriately trained and have developed an incident-specific plan to perform field testing in the appropriate PPE.

The following table from NIOSH provides PPE recommendations for protection against fentanyl and its equivalents:

 Source: https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/fentanyl/risk.html

For more information on preventing occupational fentanyl exposure to emergency responders, visit the NIOSH website.

Firefighter Cancer: The Saskatchewan Workers’ Compensation Board commissioned a pilot program with the Firefighter Cancer Consultants after seeing a significant increase in firefighter occupational cancer diagnoses and deaths. The purpose of the pilot program was to gain a better understanding of the current firefighter cancer preventive landscape throughout the providence. Learn more.

Flagging:  Highway workers are at a high risk of being injured or even killed while flagging. This is due in large part to the high speed of motorists and can become especially dangerous in high traffic areas where there’s a greater risk of aggressive drivers. Learn more.

Hantavirus:  Hantavirus disease is a rare but potentially fatal infection that is spread by deer mice and other rodents. People get infected when they inhale airborne particles contaminated by the saliva or excretions of infected rodents. Learn more.

Hearing loss: Working in loud environments over long periods of time can result in hearing loss. The most effective way to prevent hearing loss is to prevent or eliminate noise at the source. Learn more.

Heat exhaustion:  Heat exhaustion can develop quickly when you work in hot, humid weather. Your body overheats and raises your core body temperature from 37° to 40° Celsius or 98.6° to 104° Fahrenheit. Learn more.

Humidex: Humidex is a term to measure how hot we feel. Weather forecasters use the humidex to describe when heat and humidity combine at uncomfortable or dangerous levels. Learn more.

Hydrogen sulfide (H2S) gas:  Hydrogen sulfide (also referred to as sour gas, acid gas, stink damp, rotten egg gas or sulphureted hydrogen) is a highly toxic, colourless gas with the characteristic foul odor of rotten eggs. The gas can be very pungent at first, but quickly deadens the sense of smell which can cause victims to be unaware of its presence until it’s too late. Learn more.

Hypothermia: Hypothermia isn’t just feeling cold. Hypothermia happens when the body’s temperature drops below 35o Celsius (95o Fahrenheit) because the body loses more heat than it can keep. Learn more.

Night work: Working at night poses a serious safety risk for highway & construction workers. Those who work at night are at a higher risk for injury. Learn more.

Radon gas: In confined spaces, such as basements and underground mines, radon can accumulate to high levels and become a health hazard. Prolonged exposure to high levels of radon can increase the risk of developing lung cancer. Learn more.

Sunburn: You develop a sunburn when your skin is overexposed to UV rays.  The amount of time it takes to become overexposed varies widely between people. Learn more.

Toxins in heavy construction: Some people may be surprised to learn that highway workers are at an increased risk for health hazards due to their profession. Highway construction workers can be exposed to a variety of toxic substances that can enter the body through breathing, swallowing and/or absorption through the skin. Learn more.

Cold weather: When the temperature drops below -25 C (-15 F), outdoor workers are at risk of losing body heat. Workers need to dress appropriately for the weather conditions and work duration, as well as take regular warm-up breaks. Learn more.