Due Diligence

Workplace Health and Safety

The workplace is where we spend one third of our lives. Work is intricately woven into every aspect of daily living. And self-preservation in the workplace – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual, can change everything about it for the better.

This requires an effort – adopting a behavioural mindset that safety precautions reward us with the guarantee of a tomorrow.

According to the Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada (AWCBC), this country had close to one thousand workplace fatalities in 2017, up significantly from the previous year. The construction industry remains at the forefront in this regard, for both personal injuries and fatalities.

Employers have a huge role to play in reducing workplace injuries not only in the construction industry, but any industry. The undisputed truth remains that major workplace injuries can be avoided with due diligence and foresight.

Recognizing hazards
The employee has an important role to play in reducing the risk of workplace injuries, or worse. Perhaps most important is the recognition of workplace and job hazards. Recognition is empowerment, enabling an employee to identify potential risks and consequently, enabling control, or better yet, elimination of such risks.

So how is this achieved? Along with recognition, a workplace analysis has to become part of the process. An analysis that brings an assessment of the physical environment, familiarity with the procedures and processes that are part of individual job tasks, and leads to the creation and observation of both a daily checklist of potential hazards that need to be dealt with, and identification of areas for improvement.

Potential workplace hazards come in many forms – falls, slipping and tripping; strains through lifting, pulling or pushing; injuries by unguarded moving equipment; eye or breathing hazards; electrical hazards; and so many others, largely dependent on job tasks.

An active role
It is essential, then, that an employee becomes fully aware of all employer safety procedures and protocols by receiving the appropriate safety training, and hence taking appropriate action, at all times. And if it’s deemed that an assigned task is unsafe, that the worker takes an active role by reporting an issue an injury can occur, rather than after.

There are a number of self-management precautions that an employee can and should adopt to establish a safe and healthy work environment, particularly in the construction industry, which is deemed high-risk, not least for work-related stress and anxiety.

According to the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, mental distress in construction workers is sixteen percent higher than in the general public, largely attributable to the relatively high element of risk and thus workplace injuries and accompanying trauma.

This distress may be the result of the constant pressure and demands of the industry, such as tight deadlines and having to push body and spirit to extremes while managing the constantly shifting complexities of a project, for example.

Corrective action
Such stress, with its oftentimes associated burnout, can rear its ugly head at any time, bringing with it states of fatigue, irritability, insomnia and lack of concentration, which can result in an increased risk of bad judgment and distraction, opening the doors to injury. It’s important to recognize the symptoms of stress at the outset, and take appropriate corrective action.

Corrective solutions are many, and include getting more restful sleep – the amount of which will of course vary between individuals – engaging in regular cardiovascular exercise, mindfulness meditation – a technique which does takes time to master, but has proven results – and helpful therapies such as massage therapy, all of which can provide stress relief benefits.

While at work, it’s also important to take such breaks as scheduling permits, especially in cases of extended working hours, and also learning proper techniques for lifting heavy objects – keeping the weight close to the body and lifting using thigh muscles. Eating a healthy balanced diet, and maintaining a healthy weight, is also essential, as is keeping properly hydrated throughout the day.

Reducing risk
Protective work wear should be worn conscientiously as the job task demands and more importantly, worn correctly. Such protective devices as hard hats, safety goggles, earplugs, hard-toed shoes, and gloves, are provided for a reason. Don’t assume that they’re not required. They are, and are mandated simply because they have prevented untold injuries since they were introduced. And certainly, alcohol consumption and drug use should never be part of a working day.

Research indicates that those who smoke, even occasionally, are more at risk for injury. We’re all aware of the damage smoking can do to our lungs, but it’s also been associated with weakened bones leading to possible fractures, loss of muscle mass and strength and nerve disorders. Deciding to quit smoking will help reduce, possibly eliminate, all of these associated conditions that can lead to injury.

Familiarity breeds safety
Become familiar with your workplace exit doors in times of any emergency. Participate in fire safety training which will enable the recognition of fire hazards and their possible prevention. Although everyone is at risk during a fire, some may be at greater risk depending on where they work on a job site or their unfamiliarity with a building.

It’s also essential that an employee not only monitors his or her own behaviour, but the behaviour of co-workers. Recklessness, taking shortcuts, having a ‘know it all’ attitude can have adverse effects for not only careless workers but those who have to share the workplace with them.

Remain conscientious and responsible at all times – think about the consequences of actions and try to set a good example for coworkers. Be an active participant by encouraging the recognition of safe work practices through behavioural changes and by adhering to the health and safety policies and practices that are part of a company’s culture.

What’s important to bear in mind is that one is not just an employee, but shares a symbiotic relationship with the employer, so thoughtless behaviour and irresponsible actions will reflect poorly on a company which is striving for good perceptions.

Safety for all
Don’t be afraid to voice concerns about any safety hazards, or unacceptable behaviour from co-workers. As a member of a team it’s an obligation to not only monitor your own welfare, but the welfare of all.

Also, know your rights. Every employee is entitled to fair treatment in their places of employment – the right to be free of discrimination based on age, gender, race or ethnicity, for example.

In conclusion, every employee has the right to know that their places of employment are healthy and safe. Yes, employers are legally obligated to fulfill that need, but as an employee, there are obligations that you too must observe. By encouraging behavioural change for the better and regulating our own health and safety, we not only benefit ourselves and those around us, but become a valued asset to any employer.

Building the Next Generation

As thousands of experienced workers retire across North America every day, it is small wonder many industries are concerned about the future. It has been a decade since the oldest members of the baby boom generation started leaving their jobs, removing from the workplace decades of experience and skills that are tough to replace. The situation is so dire that, when younger workers are not available or knowledgeable enough to take over, retired staffers are often called back to work on a part-time basis.

November 19, 2019, 5:37 PM EST