TTC update on subway air quality

May 4, 2017

From John O’Grady, TTC Chief Safety Officer

The following additional information is provided as an update to the Safety Notice #2 - Health Canada Study – issued on Thursday, April 28, 2017.
On April 26, 2017, there were two work refusals by one TTC Subway Operator and one maintenance employee.  They felt that they should be permitted to wear respirators while working in the subway system.  Following an investigation which included reviewing the Health Canada study and other TTC studies, the Ontario Ministry of Labour (MOL) ruled "not likely to endanger" for one of the Subway Operators.  The decision is specific to the Subway Operator’s concerns regarding the Health Canada study and their individual circumstances.

Following this decision, concerns have been raised that employees no longer have the right to refuse unsafe work in the subway system - this is not the case.  TTC fully supports your three main worker rights - to know, participate, and refuse work you feel is unsafe without reprisal.  
Although not asked to rule on the overall air quality in the tunnel, the MOL Occupational Hygienists noted that within the Health Canada Study the levels of both non-specific dust and measured metals (including iron and manganese), extrapolated for 8 hour exposures, would be well below (less than 10 percent) of their respective occupational exposure limits.

Some employees continue to request respirators for general work in the subway.  The TTC has a formal respiratory protection program, which conforms to the CSA standard.  It requires a quantitative exposure assessment of any tasks that we suspect of exposing workers to respiratory hazards. Comparison is made to known occupational exposure limits adopted into regulation by government agencies such as the Ontario Ministry of Labour.  There is no occupational standard for PM 2.5.   
The Health Canada Study information is consistent with existing TTC exposure data at the current occupational exposure limits and the TTC believes that exposures are similarly correlated throughout the subway tunnels.   Interpretation of the Ministry's findings in conjunction with other TTC studies gives the TTC confidence that the conditions within the subway do not warrant employees wearing respirators. 

TTC is proactively exploring means to reduce exposures for both passengers and workers.  This will involve improved ventilation in trains and active removal of dust and other detritus at track level.  Planning is already underway to repeat the Subway Air Quality Study starting this summer.  Occupational exposure assessments will be completed on a risk basis for subway workers in consultation with the applicable TTC Joint Health and Safety Committees.  

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