Environmental Health and Safety

The Dirt on Gardening!

May 17, 2016 • Written by

Before I started gardening, I thought it was a nice pastime for sedentary folks.   Was I wrong !!!   8 years ago I moved into a new home & decided that on the May Long weekend I wanted to create a flower garden in a corner patch of my yard.   I’d never embarked on this type of activity before, so basically I winged it.   In a matter of 3 days, I dug up the space & charted out my flower patch; I hauled bricks from the store to the car to create the flower bed; shoveled a truck load of dirt into the garden. I was exhausted and elated at the same time!   My first DIY project was underway.       Then it was onto research of best plants to grow in that area – do I want annual or perennials? Or a combination … hmm, so many choices!   I especially enjoyed digging in the dirt, carefully planting my chosen gems

During the course of that summer, I proudly watched the flowers and plants grow & prosper, I felt a sense of accomplishment and happiness, which continues today as I’ve expanded into vegetables and herb gardens. I like the physical aspects of gardening as well as the stillness that I feel as I prune and pluck the weeds, at one with the earth.   I experienced the other side of the emotional spectrum as well – cursing the weather; disappointment when a prized perennial doesn’t return the next season; seeing my lilies get consumed by bugs seemingly overnight!

Check out this great article that captures all the fantastic health and wellness aspects of gardening – The Dirt on Gardening!

Nancy Cumbers

Essential Oils – Back to Natural

March 14, 2016 • Written by
Photo By Chantel Reles

Photo By Chantel Reles


Essential oils have become an essential part of my life. Their applications are diverse and have a wide variety of benefits. Considering a greater demand on industry for less harsh chemicals and synthetics in personal care products, society is looking at taking a more natural approach.

What is an essential oil? “A natural oil typically obtained by distillation and having the characteristic fragrance of the plant or other source from which it is extracted”, as said directly from Oxford English Dictionary (online, American English ed.). To expand, it is a hydrophobic liquid (repels from water). Whoa science! It is called essential not because it is necessary but because it is from the essence of the plant source. Read More →

Walk like a Penguin to prevent falls on ice

January 6, 2015 • Written by

Did you know that in 2014 we had 8 “Slips and Falls” at RRC?

boy and penguin on iceNot all of those were ice related, but, whether you are at an RRC Campus, or anywhere else, here are a few tips to prevent Slips and Falls on ice.

1. Walk slowly and carefully when you walk across the parking lot to your building
2. Take short, deliberate steps in which the mid-foot strikes the ground first, not the heel
3. Change direction carefully when walking on slippery surfaces
4. Be aware that black ice can look like wet pavement
5. Be cautious of new snow that may be covering icy patches
6. Ensure your footwear has good tread and is appropriate for cold or wet snow
7. Keep your hands free for balance
8. Don’t carry loads where you can’t see where you are walking
9. Watch where you are walking, don’t text and walk at the same time
10. Avoid climbing over snow banks, look for an alternate route to walk
11. Be careful when getting in or out of your vehicle, look for icy patches where you park, face the vehicle, use it for support
12. Use hand rails when available
13. Wipe / shake off snow from your shoes on the mats when you enter the building to avoid getting the floors wet
14. Be aware that stairs and floors may be wet so use caution

Our Grounds staff does a great job in keeping the parking lot and walkways cleared of snow at NDC, but, we live in a difficult climate, and weather conditions do not always make things easy for them. We need to take precautions where ever we go whether at work or somewhere else.

Do not become a statistic this winter. Avoid those Slips and Falls.

If you have any concerns, contact safety@rrc.ca

Are your Personal Appliances Safe?

November 5, 2014 • Written by

coffee makerPersonal appliances such as coffee makers, electric kettles, space heaters, and others are convenient but can also pose a hazard in the workplace.

In order to ensure that these devices are used and placed in a safe manner, a guideline has been developed for RRC staff use. You can read the guideline here.

kettleHere are some questions to help you determine if there are any safety and health hazards associated with personal appliances in your work area.

Can you say YES to all the below?   If not, contact safety@rrc.ca or call 204-632-2596.


  1. ☐Is the appliance labeled so it clearly identifies the individual and/or department that the appliance belongs to?
  2. Is your appliance:
    • ☐CSA, ETL and/or UL approved
    • ☐in good working order and kept clean
    • ☐used for its intended purpose
    • ☐have any signs of misuse or abuse
  3. Your appliance does not
    • ☐“spark”, or have a burning odour while in use
    • ☐show signs of charring or rust
    • ☐have defects in closing (ie: microwaves)
    • ☐have defects in operation
    • ☐repeatedly trip the breaker
    • ☐have “hot spots” on the cord while the appliance is in operation
  4. Is your appliance:
    • ☐placed directly on a hard, stable surface, with nothing between the surface and appliance
    • ☐placed on a supporting surface large enough to accommodate the size of the appliance
    • ☐plugged directly into a permanent receptacle (not an adapter, extension cord, or power bar)
    • ☐plugged into a receptacle that is not loose
    • ☐equipped with its original cord, free of fraying, tape, or other “modifications”
    • ☐equipped with current safety features, such as automatic shut-offs
    • ☐automatic timer not set
    • ☐equipped with a cord as short as possible (and the cord is not draped across or over other items)
    • ☐cord secured so that it does not pose a trip hazard
    • ☐placed no less than 1 m. from a water source
  5. ☐Heaters need to be placed no less than 1 m. from any combustible items (furniture, wall, drapery, etc.).


toasterThanks for taking the time to read this information! Together we can ensure that our workplace is a safe and healthy place.  If you have any questions or comments, contact us at safety@rrc.ca


Sniffing out the problem

June 5, 2014 • Written by

Did you know that scented products such as hairspray, perfume and deodorant (and there are more) can trigger reactions such as respiratory distress and headaches? These are only some of many health problems scented products can cause. Certain odors, even in the smallest amounts can trigger an attack on some people. Just think what a heavily scented product could do. And just because a product claims to be scent free, it may have masked the scent by the use of an additional chemical.

dog smelling


Ask yourself the following questions:
1) Do you currently wear scented products to work?
2) How often are you bothered by scents at work?
a) Frequently? b) Occasionally? c) Seldom? d) Never?
3) If scents bother you at work, in what way are you bothered?
a) Clothes and/or hair
b) Stinging eyes
c) Coughing
d) Headaches
e) Interferes with work performance
f) Concern for long term health affects
g) Triggers allergies
h) Triggers asthma
4) Would you stop wearing scented products if a family member’s health was affected?
5) Would you be willing to stop wearing scented products to work if you knew it was affecting the health of others around you?

Scented products could be making a co-worker sick and can actually be a health issue that affects their work. If someone can smell your perfume and you are more than an arm’s length away, your scent is too strong.

Red River College is a scent-sensitive workplace and you should limit the use of these products while in our facilities. If you have concerns or are experiencing health symptoms, consider talking to your manager/supervisor or the Health Centre.

To find out what scented products can affect someone and what the side effects are check out this CCOHS site.

Watching Paint Dry… What’s Actually Happening?

May 12, 2014 • Written by

open windowsReducing VOCs in Your House

This third in our series on Volatile organic compounds  (VOCs)  and their effects on our health, provides tips for reducing VOC exposures at home.  This post will list two principles, a few resources and provide examples to help readers achieve healthier homes.

Principles in Healthy Homes Minnesota‘s  fact sheet are:

1. Control the source.  For example,  remove the product, buy (substitute) products that emit low levels of VOCs or as a last resort; seal the surface emitting the VOCs.

2. Ventilate.  Open windows,  use fans and keep temperatures and humidity as low as is comfortable.

This post emphasizes avoiding the unhealthy product or material in the first place. New VOC emitters/ off gassers might be a new sofa, paint job or cupboards. If we decide we need such a product or material though; it is useful to know some of the healthier choices  available.

One option is to purchase floor model items floor model adthat have already emitted most of their VOCs. Another is to use regulations, labeling and Groups like The Canada Green Building Council  (CaGBC)  to inform us.

The CaGBC promotes  LEED.   Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a set of rating systems for the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of green buildings, homes and neighborhoods. One of the seven categories of measurement in LEED systems is Indoor Environmental Quality (which considers VOCs). So if for example, you are considering new kitchen cupboards; perhaps consult the CaGBC or a LEED certified consultant. They may suggest using solid wood instead of plywood or particle board for your cupboard construction. Or, you could consult Manitoba’s new Green Building Directories – An excellent new find!

Canada currently lags behind other countries2 who have stronger VOC regulations; but where Canadian regulations and certifications / labels do exist, they can help us make healthier choices. Paint and carpet are examples.

zero-voc-paintPaint  Broad claims  about environmental impact (e.g. “Green” or “Environmentally Friendly”) might mislead.   VOCs may or may not have been considered in the claim.

Manufactures now sell paints promising low VOC emissions such as Benjamin Moore’s Natura “green promise” paint3 or Home Depot’s “Zero VOCs” paints. These claims reflect mandatory VOC concentration limits that are currently phasing in. For more on that; check Environment Canada’s recently published regulatory information about architectural coatings and look for the information sheet on VOC concentration limits for paints (on that same page).


CCI logo_labelCarpet  In Canada, the Canadian Carpet Institute uses an American  program and suggests, “…specify low-emitting products, including CCI Green Label approved carpet, when selecting household products and furnishings.”  … and:

Ventilation for 48 to 72 hours after carpet installation “adds to good air quality” even if the carpet is LEED recognized. 5


Eco Labels: For a reference on meanings of labels and claims; The Queen of Green gives us the Eco Label Guide!    Highly relevant!

Disposing of old paint and solvent. The City of Winnipeg   says I can take it to: Miller Environmental Corporation;  1803 Hekla Avenue; Phone: 204-925-9600.

More examples of how to reduce VOC levels in your home, can be found by revisiting  the Minnesota Department of Health article used in our first post of this series.


This third post in our series about VOCs in our homes, demonstrated ways to reduce VOCs at home. Many countries have implemented regulatory controls and we in Canada are seeing them phasing in now. While this post looked at VOC source reduction in bigger home maintenance projects; our next and final post will suggest easy, healthier substitutions for everyday home cleaning and personal care products.


  1. Healthy Homes Minnesota
  2. Conference Board of Canada
  3. Benjamin Moore
  4. Home Depot
  5. Canadian Carpet Institute & Canadian Carpet Institute
  6. Earlier posts in this series on VOCs: Do I Have VOCs in my Home? & Indoor Air, VOCs and our Health.

Where is your comfort zone?

May 5, 2014 • Written by

Health Services is happy to say we have added a great newsletter to our website that includes health and safety for work, home and school. It is called the ComfortZone. It can be downloaded and has the latest Canadian information for health, safety and wellness.

This month has an interesting article on using liquid nitrogen since it has become so popular in the cooking field when before it was only used in labs. Yes I watch food network and see the icecream made with it and that fog looks so neat-but there are safety factors to consider when using this chemical.

If you are on a wellness or health and safety committee it has current safe work information as well.

Visit our site and check it out. A new one will be added each month.


Watching Paint Dry … What Actually Happening?

April 8, 2014 • Written by

Indoor air, VOCs and our Health voc-sensory-2

Welcome back.  Our first post in this series about VOCs provided a glance at what VOCs are and where they come from. (VOCs are organic compounds / chemicals that easily become vapors or gases.) This second post will relate VOCs to our health.

VOCs in the outdoor air influence our quality of life (e.g., smog affects our breathing and exercise tolerance) and also negatively impact plant growth, including crops.   Though related;  indoor and outdoor VOCs are usually discussed separately.  This series focuses on indoor VOCs.  Indoor VOC concentrations are much greater than outdoor concentrations and in some cases, they behave differently (chemically).  Concentrations are estimated, on average, to be two to five times outdoor concentrations; but up to 1000 times outdoor concentrations when something such as painting or stripping paint is occurring. (Have no fear. Again, healthier home solutions will be the subject of future posts.)

Some VOCs change our cells! (…Can that be healthy?)     conjunctivitisThe Environmental Protection Agency1 (EPA)  says indoor VOCs can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination, nausea; damage to liver, kidney, and central leukemiadnervous system. Some … can cause cancer in animals; some are suspected or known to cause cancer such as leukemia, in humans. Other signs or symptoms include allergic skin reaction, difficulty breathing, declines in serum cholinesterase levels, nausea, vomiting, nosebleeds, fatigue and dizziness. Formaldehyde and volatile dyspnea childorganic compounds (VOCs) are risk factors for asthma and wheezing.  We also know children are more likely than adults to experience toxicities. The Children’s Environmental Health Centre at Mount Sinai (Toronto) has produced a fact sheet about VOCs.

Multiple Chemical Sensitivities

Processes involved in the development of sensitivities are not understood; but there is increasing agreement that some people become dyspnea‘sensitized’ to some chemicals including some VOCs. These changes in our bodies can involve the immune system and once they occur; future exposures to the particular chemicals will trigger allergic or sensitivity reactions.  It is important therefore to reduce exposures to VOCs both to prevent illness but also to reduce symptoms for those where illness has developed.

For more information on “Multiple Chemical Sensitivities”;  Oregon Public Health, the government of Australia and the government of
Massachusetts provide excellent fact sheets.


Wow… VOCs can cause people to feel acute symptoms like headache and can also cause cell or organ damage that might even – in time – cause cancer! That paint I stored has got to go…but what should I do with it? I’ll find out and let you know in the next post.

This second post in our series about VOCs in the home has pointed to the kinds of health effects people face as a consequence of VOC exposure. Our next post will give practical suggestions on reducing VOC exposure at home.


  1. The Environmental Protection Agency1 (EPA)  

From Health Services



Watching Paint Dry…What’s Actually Happening?

February 27, 2014 • Written by

home in handsThinking of sprucing up the house this spring? If so, this series might be for you. It relates home maintenance and personal care products to health. It focuses on Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) that come from these products, and affect air in our homes. The series outlines:

  • What VOCs are & where they come from,
  • How VOCs affect health,
  • Ways to reduce our exposure to VOCs at home.

What are VOC’s?
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids. VOCs include a variety of chemicals, some of which … have short – and long-term adverse health effects.


Health Canada says:

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are a large and diverse family of chemicals that contain carbon and hydrogen. They can be emitted into indoor air from a variety of sources including cigarette smoke, household products like air fresheners, furnishings and building materials such as paint, varnish and glues. They are also found in gasoline and other fuels and can enter the home through vehicle exhaust or vapours from stored fuel coming from attached garages or traffic outside.

 They affect air quality. Outdoors, VOCs contribute to the smog and greenhouse gas loads and that is why many countries first began to regulate them.

Sources of Indoor VOCs

There are thousands of VOCs; some natural; others are man-made. They do not always have a smell.  The Minnesota Department of Health lists common VOCs encountered in our homes:  Acetone, Benzene, Ethylene glycol, Formaldehyde, Methylene chloride, Perchloroethylene, Toluene, Xylene, 1,3-butadiene.The same excellent article shows us more specific kinds of VOC sources under headings like: building materials, home and personal care products. 

Sources of VOCs
Sources of VOCs

Sources of VOCs



In my house; the worst offender might be the old paints and solvents I stored in the basement – The cans are not likely air tight.

To focus on an example, we can look at methylene chloride, found in paint strippers. California recently focused an awareness campaign on it. Using graphic reports, it describes actual and tragic health/illness events where the compound was in use. The campaign also lists safer product options and the personal protective equipment specific to each type of paint stripper.

This post has outlined what VOCs are and where they come from.  It provides a link to allow the reader an expanded view of an example VOC. Our next post will return to VOCs in general and outline more of their concerning health effects.  Tune in yet again to see some easy, often inexpensive, healthier home and personal care options.


  1. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  2. Health Canada.
  3. Friends of the Rouge Watershed   
  4. Minnesota Department of Health
  5. Sources of VOCs

From Health Services

Holiday visiting -Safety refresher when entertaining little visitors

December 17, 2013 • Written by

Parents may be used to having their homes toddler proofed, however, with the festive season many go out visiting and we could use a short refresher on keeping our little visitors safe. Here are a few tips from Parachute who have great injury prevention tips and reminders.

  • At the start of get-togethers, agree on who is going to watch the kids and for how long. Otherwise, family and friends may believe someone is watching the young ones, when no one is doing so.
  • Toddlers are curious and active so it’s natural for them to want to explore a decorated tree and its ornaments. It’s safest to have your tree out of reach (e.g., a tabletop tree) or in a room with a safety gate so the child can see but not touch it. Even for preschool children, it’s best to have soft, unbreakable decorations, such as those made of felt.
  • Candles are one of the most common causes of household fires. If you must use candles, place them in sturdy holders that won’t tip, away from flammable materials and well out of the reach of children. Always extinguish candles before leaving the room.
  • Keep purses and bags away from toddlers reach as they may hold HearthGate_Fireplacedangerous items, such as medicines or a lighter.
  • Gas fireplaces can burn little hands when the glass barrier is touched. Safety gates can keep your child at a safe distance. Consider not using the fireplace when young children are around.

From Health Services

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