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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

Protecting Your Most Precious Cargo: Work Related Road Safety

A large number of workers drive to and from their job everyday. Also, thousands of workers in British Columbia drive while they are on their job – these workers include not only courier and truck drivers but also construction workers, sales people, and OHS consultants like the Safety Solutions at Work team. We dedicate this December newsletter to promote road safety, just because the cargo is too precious to be damaged!

Statistics

Numerous unexpected factors on the road make driving a potential risk. According to WorkSafeBC statistics, 24 workers were killed each year by occupational motor vehicle crashes on average. For the five years between 2006 and 2010, the cost of claims to WorkSafeBC stemming from car crashes involving workers was almost $42 million.

Safety Solution at Work’s Effort

As a safety consulting company, we believe that managing risks to employees who drive at work requires more than just compliance with traffic rules, which is why Safety Solutions at Work developed and implemented a complete Road Safety Plan. The elements of our Road Safety Plan include:

  • Ergonomic scanning of employee’s vehicles, to make sure that the driver’s position is adjusted to the most comfortable level to avoid distraction.
  • Dealing with fatigue in driving: employees are encouraged to stop at a safe place (such as parking lot or rest area), set the alarm and nap for 10 to 15 minutes. Most importantly, employees are encouraged to get plenty of sleep before commencing to work.
  • Pre-planned journey: setting up appropriate routes, incorporating realistic work schedules, taking  into consideration the road and weather conditions.
  • Controlling the risk factors from vehicles: Winterization of the vehicle, winter tire change and safety kit inside the car.
  • Administrative measures: obtaining of driver’s abstract as part of recruitment process, reviewing of driver’s performance on a regular basis.

Winter Driving Training

On December 23, Safety Solutions at Work did a special training session regarding Winter Driving Technique. The training route is Apex Mountain Road, which is well known as a winter driving challenge with icy and slippery conditions, dense fog and sharp turns.

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  • Trainer: We were pleased to invite Jacob Larson to introduce the physics of driving and conduct a road test to Safety Solutions at Work employees.
  • Trainees: Victoria Baschozk, Phillip Chen, Shannon Haladay
  • Training checklist:
    1. Maintain a safer (i.e. longer) following distance, as it takes longer to stop on a slippery road.
    2. Hazard perception.
    3. Speed control. In winter, it is safer to drive slower than the posted speed limits.
    4. Avoid sudden moves. Break and accelerate slowly. Expect and respond to turns and lane changes well in advance. Avoid sudden steers to prevent spinning.
    5. Cope with skid. In case of skid, remove foot from accelerator, DO NOT use the brake, and turn steer to the direction of where the rear wheel is sliding to.

Useful links

Employers have the responsibility to take all reasonable measures to manage and control the risks associated with driving, and ensure that practical steps have been taken to protect workers from harm in the same way as they would for other hazards in the workplace.

Season’s greetings from Safety Solutions at Work!

SSAW Christmas Photo

Posted on: December 30th, 2013 by Phil Comments

Prevent Bullying and Harassment at Your Workplace

November is a memorial month, to remember those who contributed their lives in the line of duty to fight for peace and freedom. This November also has special meanings for the workforce in the province, as WorkSafeBC approved OHS policies focused on preventing workplace bullying and harassment. The concept of “workplace hazard” keeps evolving, from  the obvious safety hazards, to more subtle chemical/physical exposure. And now it is time to say “NO” to workplace bullying and harassment.

What Constitutes Workplace Bullying and Harassment?

Before discussing the definition of workplace bullying and harassment, I would like to share this workplace video clip with you. Does this account for a workplace bullying and harassment?

According to WorkSafeBC definition, Workplace Bullying and Harassment

  • Include any inappropriate behaviour or comment by a person towards a worker that the person knew or should have known would cause that worker to be humiliated or intimidated.
  • DO NOT include any reasonable action taken by an employer or supervisor relating to the management and direction of workers or the place of employment.

So… if we look at the firing lady, the dismissal decision itself is not workplace bullying and harassment activity. But doing this with mouth full of Chinese food? Probably yes.

Other examples of bullying and harassment include:

  • Vandalizing personal tools/belongings
  • Spreading malicious rumours
  • Targeted isolations

 

What Shall the Workers Do If He/She Is Bullied at Workplace?

As a worker, you should not engage in bullying and harassment activities. However, if you become the target, you should file a complaint of the incident, any witness, and the detailed description of word/activity. If you are diagnosed with any metal disorder as a result of workplace bullying/harassment, it is covered by WorkSafeBC compensation.

What Shall the Employer Do to Prevent Workplace Bullying and Harassment?

  • Living in a non-ideal world, we all know that managers and supervisors undergo stress and pressure of increasing productivity, reducing cost and keeping the whole system work on a daily basis. That is why they impose management actions on the employee, such as changes in workloads, deadlines, transfers, and disciplinary actions. However, managers and supervisors should ensure performance problems are identified and addressed in a constructive, objective way that does not humiliate or intimidate.
  • Employer should develop a written policy statement declaring that workplace bullying and harassment is not acceptable and will not be tolerated. Employers must also make sure workers are made aware of the policy statement.
  • Initiate investigation into filed complaints regarding workplace bullying and harassment.

What Are the Challenges Foreseen?

  • Unlike safety issues or chemical exposure which are quantifiable, it is fairly difficult to draw a cut-off line to define bullying and harassment.
  • We are proud of the cultural diversity of BC, which are reflected in the workplace. Sometimes, cross-cultural misunderstanding can lead to conflict, which can escalate to bullying and harassment.
  • Workplace bullying and harassment might come from multiple sources, such as customers, client, sub-contractors. It requires teamwork between the management, HR, and OHS professional to develop the prevention program.
  • Cyber-bullying (a potential path of bullying and harassment if you mistakenly add your supervisor & coworkers as Facebook/Twitter friends…)

 

Posted on: November 15th, 2013 by Phil Comments

Protect the Hidden Victims of Workplace Hazards

This September is the 12th anniversary for the 911 attack. It is truly a tragedy for us to remember and commemorate; however, from an occupational health perspective, the tragic story is still going on, as the list of hidden victims keeps expanding.

With the collapse of the World Trade Center, building material such as asbestos and fiber glass were pulverized and spread all over the area. Firefighters, policemen, communication workers, and janitorial workers involved with the clean-up process are exposed to contaminants which are potential carcinogens or may cause permanent lung dysfunction.

However, it was not a long time ago since these occupational hazards were realized by the media and public health authorities, and the recognition and compensation remains to be an issue, which is demonstrated in the video below.

The Hidden Victim of 9/11 (Youtube)

This case reflects the dilemma faced by OHS professionals: On the one hand, the issue of workplace safety has been realized widely, and continuous effort has been put to eliminate them.

On the other hand, occupational diseases, as a result of the chemical, physical and biological exposure at workplaces remains to be unsolved: It is estimated by International Labour Organization (ILO) that almost 80% of fatalities at workplaces are caused by occupational disease. In Canada, many provinces have made great progress in reducing the number of workplace injuries. However, the overall number of work-related deaths remains unchanged. The reason is that deaths caused by work-related disease have increased steadily over the past two decades.

Why is occupational disease not getting the deserved attention in spite of the catastrophic outcomes?

First reason is that compared with occupational injuries, whose cause could be identified by accident investigation following certain procedures, the identification of occupational disease is much more complex. Of course we can indicate some chemicals as being “toxic”, but the definition of “toxic” is so broad that it hardly makes any sense in associating the certain disease with exposure. Take occupational cancer as an example, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) evaluated the carcinogenicity of around 900 chemicals; however, consider the numerous chemicals that exist at workplaces, those evaluated are just the iceberg above surface. 

The second reason for the lack of awareness is that occupational diseases seldom develop on a single day. Take occupational cancer for example: cancer is a chronic disease, the latent period between exposure and disease occurrence could be decades. This is a huge barrier when linking disease with exposure.

With so many gaps remaining to be filled, preventative approaches have been made to protect workers from the emerging risk of occupational risk: provincial regulations have set up exposure limits for the chemical, physical and biological hazards, and for those with potential to induce cancer and other permanent damage, it is the employer’s responsibility to keep the exposure level “As Low As Reasonably Achievable” (i.e. ALARA).

As part of the due diligence for employers, initiating an air testing is the fundamental step to prevent the occupational disease!

Posted on: September 16th, 2013 by Phil Comments

Why don`t we care? Reasons why people don`t protect themselves on the job

DeskToday I celebrated a moment of great self-care for my workplace – I spent my first workday at my new stand- up desk!  Recent studies have shown that sitting for extended periods of time is harmful.  The inactivity and the unnatural body posture caused by sitting for long periods of time negatively impact all body types.  Even normally healthy people will suffer ill health from sitting extensively.

So I built a desk where I work standing up!  I added to my new creation a “wellness mat” that I stand on to ease any tension in my legs.  I feel cared for and energized.

What I discovered in this process is how long I was willing to suffer with back pain and knee pain before I took action.  I care a lot for my body and invest in gym memberships, yoga passes, healthy food and meditation classes.  I enjoy being healthy, fit and well…..yet I was willing to sacrifice my well being for my work.  My work ethic overruled my health ethic.

Recently, my loved one, Jacob, came home with cracked, red and irritated hands.  He is a metal fabricator and had spent his day working with grease and then a harsh industrial paint.  His hands were covered in paint and grime.  The irritation on his hands was extremely painful.  I asked him if his employer provided him with gloves to protect himself from the irritating chemicals.  Yes, his workplace had protective gloves.  He knew where to find them, but they were across the shop from his workstation.  He was engrossed in his task.  Here is how he describes his thoughts:

I get so focused on my task that I don’t want to stop.  I just want to keep focused.  Stopping to find protective gloves would have interrupted my thought process and work flow.  I just wanted to get the work done

Interestingly enough, after greasing the deadline anchor that he was working on, Jacob needed to clean up the mess on his hands.  He used some degreaser that was in the shop.  The degreaser began to irritate his hands and caused what looked like skin ulcers.  Alarmed he needed to hunt down his supervisor and first aid attendant to find the MSDS on the product.  Yes, the degreaser can cause dermititis and skin ulcers in people who have sensitivities.  The combination of the degreaser, the soap and the handcleaner that he used to try to remove the grease may have also caused a chemical reaction.

Then Jacob went on to paint the deadline anchor.  The thick industrial paint got on his arms and hands.  It coated his hands in a thick crust.  An hour of scotch brite scouring pads at home finally got off the paint.

Mission before Man!

Maybe it is not for lack of caring  that workers do not care for themselves.  Quite often it is the case that they care too much.

Across the land, in every workplace, we have hard working Canadians who are working themselves to injury or literally to death.

Just get the job done!

If only we could care enough to stop this cycle.  Jacob made another interesting comment to me:

Sometimes I see other workers doing things that I know aren’t safe.  For example, I see young guys positioning themselves in the path of danger.  If a clamp holding a heavy piece failed, they could be crushed.

Experience can help us teach others.  Send a message to fellow workers to take measures to care for themselves and to work safely.  We can work as a team and all go home healthy and safe at the end of the day.

That is a sign of caring.

 

Posted on: February 19th, 2013 by Victoria Comments

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