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

Green Jobs in Quebec: Definition and Assessment of Potential Chemical and Biological Risks to Workers’ Health


Jobs related to the greening of the economy are on the rise. In 2010, there were estimated to be more than 155,000 of these so-called “green jobs” in Québec and 682,000 across Canada. These figures clearly depend on how the terms “ecology” and “environment” are defined, but are indicative of the magnitude of this growth sector. Many new technologies are being developed and it is imperative to assess potential risks to worker health.

The purpose of this research is to provide an overview of green jobs in Québec and assess the potential health risk for workers exposed to chemicals and biological agents. More specifically, the objective is to: 1) define the Québec “green industry”; 2) identify “green jobs”; 3) determine which chemicals and biological substances workers may be exposed to; 4) qualitatively assess the potential risk to worker health. A number of tools had to be adapted or created in pursuit of these objectives. Green jobs were primarily identified based on data taken from the Québec Sustainable Development Act. The North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) and the National Occupational Classification (NOC) formed the basis for identifying green job titles in Québec. The worker risk assessment mainly relies on the control banding model, a qualitative risk management method designed to ensure the safety of workers exposed to products for which little information is available. A hazard level or band (toxicity) is assigned to substances by comparing them to similar products with known hazards, and workstation exposure to these substances is also semi-quantitatively measured (exposure band). Most models are based on four or five broad hazard bands and an equivalent number of exposure bands, representing 16 to 25 possible situations.

The overall process identified some 400 “green” job titles matching the proposed definition and the criteria used. These jobs are grouped into 63 different occupations which have been assessed for potential chemical or biological risk, 21 of which are high risk and, consequently, a high priority for occupational health and safety research. More specifically, the findings highlight the risk associated with waste management, a growing industry to which more and more activities can be connected, including energy production, farming or raw material recovery. Sorting centres are springing up everywhere, treatment of industrial effluents is gaining importance and landfill certificates of approval are not being issued as readily as in the past.

Although the term “green jobs” is fashionable and consistent with the idea of sustainable development, information on the subject is scarce. This study, the first of its kind in Québec, can serve as a basis for determining future research priorities in the area of green jobs. Moreover, hygienists can profitably use the developed method for prevention or worker protection purposes, with an approach that they can enrich with more precise or quantitative data.

Additional Information

Category: Research Report
Research Project: 2012-0030
Online since: June 25, 2015
Format: Text