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WSN names top health risks in forestry, pulp and paper

December 15, 2023  By Workplace Safety North

Dr. Paul Demers is director of the Occupational Cancer Research Centre. Photo supplied.

Workplace Safety North (WSN), in partnership with the Occupational Cancer Research Centre (OCRC), has launched three new posters showing the top occupational disease risks in the forestry, mining, and pulp and paper sectors.

Occupational diseases are health problems that can affect workers because of the type of work they do. An occupational illness happens when someone gets sick from being exposed to things like chemicals or germs at work, which can affect the body’s normal functions and make the worker less healthy.

There were 40,185 allowed occupational disease claims in 2022, according to the Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB). Occupational illness claims totalled $82.5 million in 2022 according to the WSIB. However, claims data may not show the complete picture. WSN and OCRC explored the top occupational disease risks in three different industries: mining, forestry, and pulp and paper.

“These risks are based on data from the Occupational Disease Surveillance System, which monitors disease outcomes among over two million workers in Ontario,” says Paul Demers, OCRC director. “Each sector’s rankings are based on an increased risk of disease compared to other workers in the disease surveillance system.


Health data come from many sources, including the Ontario Cancer Registry, Ontario Health Insurance Plan, and hospital records from 1964 to 2020. This information is vital for both workers and employers to ensure a safe workplace.

“Not all diseases have been studied in Ontario’s occupational disease surveillance system,” notes Demers. “For example, based on WSIB approved claims, noise-induced hearing loss is a leading occupational disease in the forestry, mining, and pulp and paper industries, but has not been studied in our surveillance system. Top-ranked diseases may change over time as the ODSS data and prevention controls continue to evolve.”

Forestry sector

In the forestry sector, workers face unique health risks related to outdoor work and specific industry processes. Here are the top occupational disease risks in the forestry, logging, and wood industries:

1. Carpal tunnel syndrome: Workers in forestry may experience hand numbness and weakness due to repetitive tasks.
2. Laryngeal cancer: Forestry workers are at higher risk for developing this cancer.
3. Asthma: Workers in wooden box and pallet operations may develop asthma due to exposure to wood dust and other allergens.
4. Oral cancer
5. Acute myocardial infarction: Workers in this sector have a higher risk of heart attacks.
6. Lung cancer: Exposure to pollutants including diesel engine exhaust from trucks and heavy equipment can contribute to lung cancer.
7. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): Exposure to wood dust and other pollutants can contribute to breathing difficulties.
8. Raynaud’s syndrome: Reduced blood flow to hands or feet, often caused by vibrating equipment and exposure to cold temperature, can affect workers in wood industries.
Noise-induced hearing loss is also a top disease based on approved WSIB claims.

Pulp and paper sector

In the pulp and paper sector, specific risks are associated with the materials and processes involved. Here are the top occupational disease risks for pulp and paper mills, paper box and bag manufacturers, and miscellaneous paper converters:

1. Asbestosis: This lung disease is caused by inhaling asbestos fibers, which may be present in pulp and paper mills due to historic use of asbestos.
2. Carpal tunnel syndrome: Pulp and paper workers may experience carpal tunnel syndrome due to repetitive tasks.
3. Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis: This lung disease may affect workers in pulp and paper mills due to breathing in dusts and fibres.
4. COPD: Exposure to various dusts, fibres, vapours and fumes can increase the risk of COPD.
5. Acute myocardial infarction: Workers in the pulp and paper sector are at higher risk of heart attacks.
6. Raynaud’s syndrome: Workers in paper box and bag manufacturing may experience reduced blood flow to hands or feet due to vibrating equipment and exposure to cold temperatures.
7. Colorectal cancer
Noise-induced hearing loss is also a top disease based on approved WSIB claims.

Protecting workers’ health

It’s crucial to protect workers in these industries from occupational disease risks. Employers, managers, supervisors, and workers all share responsibility for occupational health and safety through the internal responsibility system. This system ensures everyone is aware of risks, follows safety procedures, and promotes a safer workplace.

Certified members of a joint health and safety committee (JHSC) and health and safety representatives (HSR) are important for finding and lessening dangers. To become certified for JHSC, they need training in three parts: general part one, sector-specific part two, and a refresher course every three years.

“Understanding and addressing occupational disease risks is crucial in safeguarding the health of workers in the mining, forestry, and paper and converting industries,” says Demers. “By implementing health and safety measures, conducting regular training, and promoting a culture of awareness, we can create safer workplaces for all employees.”

In October, the government of Ontario announced the creation of Canada’s first-ever Occupational Exposure Registry, an exposure data system to track harmful exposure levels, help diagnose workplace diseases faster, improve worker compensation, and reduce costs to the healthcare system. The Occupational Cancer Research Centre is working with the Ontario Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development to establish this new exposure data system for Ontario.


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