IRSST - Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail

Chemical and Biological Hazard Prevention

Prévention des risques chimiques et biologiques

Every year, many Québec workers in a wide variety of work environments develop occupational diseases as a result of exposure to chemical substances or biological agents. This situation could often be prevented through better knowledge of the contaminants involved, worker exposure, and the related health risks.

The goal of the Chemical and Biological Hazard Prevention (CBHP) field is to help prevent occupational diseases and adverse health effects, and to improve and maintain the health and well-being of workers exposed to chemical substances and biological agents. The preferred approaches are innovation, generating new knowledge, conducting critical assessments, and using existing knowledge.

Research efforts, often interdisciplinary in nature, focus on primary prevention and designing adapted tools for use in enterprises, particularly by aligning with the needs identified by the CNESST, its partners, and Québec workplaces. By extension, knowledge translation and information dissemination are also advocated.

Research orientations

The research activities conducted under the CPHP field revolve around the three following orientations:

  • Development of strategies and methods for assessing exposure and estimating health risks, using toxicological and epidemiological approaches, among others
  • Development and validation of technologies and tools designed to reduce and control exposure
  • Development of methods for sampling and analyzing chemical substances and biological agents

Research program

The Chemical and Biological Hazard Prevention (CBHP) research program is the result of in-depth reflection by members of the CBHP team, in conjunction with the Scientific Divisionand and the workplace partners, in line with the 2018-­2022 five-year scientific and technical production plan, as well as the IRSST’s work of the past few years. Its aim is to find increasingly pertinent ways of addressing workplace needs. Ten thematic programs are given priority:

Occupational asthma and obstructive diseases of the respiratory system constituted one of the priority research themes in the 2013-2017 five-year plan. For the 2018-2022 period, this theme will be incorporated into a broader research program with two components: one on sensitizing agents and respiratory irritants and the other on sensitizing agents and skin irritants.

The aims of this thematic program fall mainly under industrial hygiene, with efforts focused on documenting, assessing, and monitoring exposure. In particular, this involves evaluating various work environments where mineral particles are present, taking respiratory protection and the effectiveness of containment measures into account.

The long-term aim of this thematic program is to help prevent hazards associated with occupational exposure to carcinogens. The priority orientations are to better characterize exposure to carcinogens, control exposure to diesel exhaust, and assess the carcinogenic hazards present in green jobs, while exploring methods that take account of multi-exposures.

The aims of this thematic program are to consolidate and advance knowledge pertaining to the characterization of occupational exposure by using approaches such as taking measurements in the workplace or modelling and estimating exposure for purposes of predictive and risk analysis. The studies conducted concern sampling strategies, primarily with regard to inhalation and dermal exposure, as well as data interpretation, metrics and making better use of existing data for epidemiological, monitoring, and surveillance purposes.

The aim of this thematic program is threefold: to develop state-of-the-art techniques for improving identification of microorganisms and their by-products, diversify sampling strategies, and evaluate the effects and early signs of effects on worker health. Additional efforts will target problems related to pathogenic and infectious agents.

The thematic program on nanoparticles will focus on metrics and the characterization of nanoparticles and ultrafine particles, analyzing their aerodynamic behaviour, and studying means of controlling exposure.

The aims of this thematic program are to identify the agricultural workers at greatest risk of exposure to chemical and biological contaminants, assess their exposure, and estimate the potential health risks they face.

The aim of this thematic program is to improve the effectiveness of respiratory protection practices by investigating chemical resistance, protective factors, and constraints associated with wearing respiratory protective devices (RPDs).

Three sectors have been deemed priority in this thematic program: waste management, energy, and green substitute products. The ultimate aim is to ensure that workers’ occupational health and safety is safeguarded at all times, while factoring in efforts to reduce the environmental footprint of today’s lifestyle.

The aims of this thematic program are to develop and validate methods for assessing the effectiveness of systems designed to control exposure to chemical and biological contaminants, both through general and local exhaust ventilation systems and optimization of industrial processes. The program also studies filtration and the aeraulic parameters of pollutant emission and dispersion.

Concrete results

Intervention Tool

Computer-based tool for analyzing risks of confined-space work

Based on a literature review and risk management standards used in machine safety, the computer-based tool CLOSE is intended for individuals qualified in risk management during confined-space interventions.
It takes into account the main potential dangers in seven categories (atmospheric, chemical, biological, falls, mechanical, physical, and ergonomic), as well as the standards and regulatory context applicable in Québec.


Awareness-raising Document

Pesticides – Safe practices and personal protective equipment

A fact sheet was produced for agricultural workers and anyone interested in better understanding the information found on pesticide labels and in protecting themselves better.

The main regulatory aspects are described and a few simple rules given on how to protect oneself adequately from exposure through inhalation and the skin. It lists the criteria that must be taken into account when choosing a mask, gloves, or a protective coverall, depending on the severity of the risk, and provides links to other useful sources of information and regulatory organizations.



Montréal Symposium on Occupational Carcinogens

Further to the research project on the human and economic burden of occupational cancers in Canada, the IRSST organized a symposium convening 85 stakeholders. The main aims were to raise awareness, foster discussion on the use of research results, and mobilize various actors. Workshop discussions pointed to prevention priorities for asbestos, silica, diesel engine exhaust, and welding fumes.

Forum cancérogènes

Technical Document

Risks associated with bacterial and enzymatic preparations used for degreasing and cleaning -- Safe use of biological degreasing stations

This fact sheet describes how biological degreasing stations work (used in place of solvents) and identifies the possible health effects of bacterial preparations and the prevention methods to be implemented. It comes with a small poster to be displayed near degreasing stations in full view of the workers.


Computer-based Tool

Control banding method for selecting respiratory protection against bioaerosols

The aim of this support tool is to explain a control banding method developed by researchers at the IRSST and the Université de Montréal, in collaboration with a committee of experts, ultimately to facilitate the selection of respiratory protection against bioaerosols. The tool, which presents a six-step selection process, is posted on the Web for free use.

protection respiratoire contre les bioaérosols
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