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Put An End To The Unsafe Workplace

Pic with Trevor Linden

Running a small business is never easy! As a small business owner, I am aware of the challenges of managing service delivery, marketing, sales and finances. A company owner wears many hats. My company helps businesses manage a very important legal obligation- workplace safety. The laws governing Occupational Health and Safety are complex and can be overwhelming. My team of experts helps companies understand workplace legislation and find practical solutions for their safety program.

Recently employers have been given a new challenge from WorkSafe BC: Address the issue of mental health in the workplace.  Since the implementation of the new workplace legislation that came into effect on November 1st, 2013, employers across this province are required by law to eliminate bullying and harassment in the workplace.

Workplace Bullying and Harassment is defined as “any inappropriate conduct or comment by a person towards a worker that the person knew or reasonably ought to have known would cause that worker to be humiliated or intimidated, but excludes any reasonable action taken by an employer or supervisor relating to the management and direction of workers or the place of employment. This includes behaviour from the public or a client to a worker. 

As the company owner, I have a legal obligation to do everything reasonable to protect my workers from conduct or comments that can be considered intimidating or humiliating.  Recently, my employee was on a sales call in a local store.  The intent of the sales call was to educate the store manager about the new legislation on Workplace Bullying and Harassment and to offer our professional services to develop a training program for his workplace.  The manager grabbed my employee by the shoulders and spoke to her in an intimidating way.  There is no question that his conduct and words were intended to intimidate.

The irony of the situation slapped me in the face.  Here we are trying to educate business owners about Workplace Harassment and Bullying and my employee is the one who is attacked.  As a result, I took the step to develop even more procedures for my sales team who work alone and engage extensively with the public.

Harassment and bullying has long been the topic of conversation in schools, but as a society we have been silent on this issue in the workplace.  Harassment and Bullying are critical risk factors for mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety.  At the recent MAKE IT SAFE!  Conference in Vancouver, BC held by the food and manufacturing industry occupational safety association, hundreds of delegates gathered to tackle this issue.  Trevor Linden, founder of Club 16, spoke about the need for companies to demonstrate leadership.

Trevor Linden told us: “Leaders create a culture.”   Great companies are taking leadership to eliminate toxic work environments.  Successful business leaders understand that a healthy and happy workplace is a profitable workplace.  I have been fortunate to work with great industry leaders such as the Jim Pattison Group.  These companies are creating a culture of respect in the workplace.

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In my recent conversations with the WorkSafeBC prevention officers in charge of Workplace Harassment and Bullying, many employers are still unaware of the new legislation. WSBC is already receiving numerous reports of Bullying and Harassment cases.  Often in these cases the reporting procedures were unclear for the workforce and the employer did not complete an effective investigation into the complaint. Workplace Bullying and Harassment is very similar to other safety related issues.  An employer has the opportunity to eliminate problems before they happen.

Now is the time for business owners to take action! If an employer can think through the possible situations that can lead to Workplace Harassment and Bullying, there is a greater chance that the employer can eliminate any conflict before it begins. If an employer can take the time to draft clear procedures in the event of a complaint, the easier time the employer will have addressing the complaint. A critical component is to fully understand and think through the investigation process. What would the employer need to document? How can the investigation get to the root cause of the problem?

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I work with numerous companies to help them put together programs for Workplace Harassment and Bullying. My clients have the attitude that they want to take initiative to foster a respectful workplace. Happy workers are effective workers. A toxic work environment will poison relationships with customers and clients and choke productivity. The leaders in the business community are embracing this legislation to create workplaces where people are happy to go to work.

 

Posted on: January 31st, 2014 by Victoria Comments

Occupational Health among Mill Workers: Risk, Exposure and Prevention

Did you know that mill workers are exposed to life threatening hazards which are invisible killers?

Did you know that most of the catastrophic accidents that we have seen in mills are actually preventable?

These are the questions I came up with while reading WorkSafeBC’s incident investigation report regarding the Burn Lake’s Babine sawmill explosion, which killed 2 workers and injured another 20. Wood dust (accumulated into high levels and dispersed into a “cloud” suspended in the air), ignition sources, and oxygen in the air constituted the necessary components of the fire triangle, which directly lead to the catastrophe.

If we take a step back and think of any workplace, how confident are we in saying that “our company is a pretty safe place to work”?

Have we eliminated all of the potential hazards such as fire triangles, explosions and chemical exposure?

Sawmill Workers’ Exposures to Occupational Hazards

  • Wood dust:  Short-term exposure to wood dust could be irritating to the skin, respiratory tract and eyes. Wood dust is also proven to be associated with decreased lung function and asthma.
  • Spores, fungi, microbes and endotoxin: These microorganisms and bio-chemicals are irritants to the nose, throat and eyes. They might lead to COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) and aggravation of pre-existing conditions such as asthma.
  • Wood preservatives: Certain chemicals used for wood preserving are classified as carcinogens by IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) and ACGIH (American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienist), which means that they have the potential to cause cancer. Examples of such chemicals are pentachlorophenol (a.k.a. PCP), creosotes. Some of the chemicals are corrosive to skin, eyes and respiratory tract, such as phenol.
  • Heavy metals: Sawmill workers in the maintenance department can be exposed to heavy metal from their welding, grinding and knife-sharpening activities. Some sorts of heavy metal can decrease lung function, while others may cause cancer.
  • Evaporated chemicals in pulp cooking: Examples of such chemicals are ammonia, hydrogen sulphide, sulphur dioxide and methyl mercaptan. Health concerns over such chemicals are short-term acute toxicity (i.e. IDLH, Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health).

An Example of Elevated Risk

Safety Solutions at Work’s occupational hygienist,  Phillip Chen, completed a detailed epidemiology study which associated COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) with endotoxin exposure among sawmill workers. Endotoxin is produced by bacteria grown on wood.  

In the wood processing industry, endotoxin is released along with wood dust when certain tasks are performed, such as cutting, sawing and trimming, and then can be inhaled by sawmill workers. After adjusting for confounder such as age, race, smoking and lagging time (20 years), based on the Poisson regression model, the risk of COPD among highest exposed group doubled that of the reference group (Relative Risk 2.09, 95% CI 0.9 – 4.83).

Currently ACGIH, U.S. OSHA and WorkSafeBC is not regulating endotoxin. Phil is hoping that the disease model he built can serve as a piece of evidence in setting up exposure limits for endotoxin to protect the respiratory health of sawmill workers.

Seeking a Solution from Safety Solutions at Work’s

Based on WorkSafeBC’s incident investigation report, the tragic accident of the Babine sawmill in Burns Lake was preventable by eliminating any element of the fire triangle. If the wood dust is not accumulated into high concentration, or if the wood dust is not dispersed in a way to be explosive, then we won’t have to pay the lesson at the cost of two workers’ lives. Similarly, for the chemical and biological exposures which could lead to occupational diseases, as an employer, you can demonstrate your due diligence by starting an occupational hygiene survey to evaluate the potential hazard level. Here is  Safety Solutions at Work can help you:

  • As an OHS consulting company, Safety Solution at Work aims at promoting overall health and safety in different industries. We believe that risk assessment should be the foundation of risk management.
  • The MSc. thesis research project of our occupational hygienist Phillip Chen was focused on the respiratory health among sawmill workers in BC, as part of the UBC Sawmill Study. He is passionate about protecting workers from the negative heath effects of heavy metal and endotoxin exposure. He is dedicated to conducting occupational hygiene risk assessments in mills across this province.
  • If a company is not sure of the chemical hazards your workers encounter, we can work with you on a hazardous material inventory for your plant.  Air testing is the very first step in creating a safe and healthy work environment, and we can work with you to achieve it!
  • We can also assess other risks in the mills, such as noise, vibration and explosive dust.

You are the voice of safety in your workplace.  If you have concerns about hazards, it is your responsibility to speak up.  Let your supervisors, safety committee members, management representatives and shop stewards know about your concerns.  Speaking up is the first step to take action.

Posted on: January 23rd, 2014 by Phil Comments

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