OHS Canada Magazine

Ontario urged to cut OEL for diesel particulate in mining by 95 per cent


November 22, 2022
By OHS Canada

Health & Safety Diesel Particulate Mining OELs ontario Sudbury usw

Photo: Mishainik/Adobe Stock

The United Steelworkers (USW) is urging the Ontario government to lower the occupational exposure limit (OEL) for diesel particulate in mining by 95 per cent.

USW Local 6500 is partnering with Laurentian University’s Centre for Research in Occupational Safety and Health and the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW) to make the case for the reduction.

Diesel is a known human carcinogen, as such keeping exposure to a minimum is important, the union said.

Highest OEL limit in Canada

Ontario has the highest OEL for diesel particulate in Canada, at 400µg/m3.

“Ontario mine workers are being exposed to harmful levels of diesel particulate,” the union said in a press release. “The USW Diesel Particulate Project is advocating for the Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training, and Skills Development to change the Mine OEL to 20µg/m3, which is the level recommended by both Carcinogen Exposure Canada (CAREX) and the Occupational Cancer Research Centre.”

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Lagging internationally

Ontario lags behind the United States, Europe, and Australia in lowering its Occupational Exposure Limit, even though countries and provinces measure diesel particulate levels in different ways, the union said.

“Occupational disease and fatalities are under-recognized,” said Nick Larochelle, president of USW Local 6500. “We know that diesel particulate can cause lung cancer and we know that miners have higher rates of lung cancer compared to other workers. The Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development needs to act to lower the OEL for diesel in mining to prevent these work-related fatalities.”

Janice Martell, lead advocate for the McIntyre Power Project, strongly encouraged everyone to embrace the push for reducing the OEL.

“Based on the current occupational exposure limit, mine workers can be exposed to 20 times more diesel particulate than the scientifically recommended level,”
said Martell. ”

Something in the air

Diesel exhaust is made up of gas and particles. The particles are essentially the ‘soot’ of the exhaust. Diesel particles are small enough to enter the lungs during breathing and the smallest particles are able to get into the deepest parts of the lungs and can then enter the rest of the body, the union said.

USW described the symptoms as follows: “Within hours to days, exposure to high levels of diesel particulate can cause headaches; dizziness; irritation of eyes, nose, and throat; wet cough and phlegm; running nose and allergy symptoms; and asthma attack.”

Exposure “can or may cause cancer, cardiovascular disease (CVD), idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)/emphysema, onset of asthma or worsening of asthma and worsening of diabetic comorbidities,” it said.

USW Local 6500 has been representing hourly mine and mining plant workers in the Sudbury area for 60 years. Its membership includes mroe than 2,500 active members and nearly 6,600 pensioners.

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