All Aboard the Workplace Health Movement
The workplace has a powerful effect on the health of its people. In fact, work itself is one of the major factors that can influence workers' health. With so many Canadians spending a large part of their life at work, the workplace also serves as the natural setting in which to promote health and wellness, to help people achieve their best physical and mental well-being. It is a "full circle" situation: how healthy a person feels affects their job satisfaction and productivity, and in turn, their level of job satisfaction affects their health.
Employers are catching on that happy, healthy workers tend to stay on the job, have fewer absences and feel a sense of loyalty to the company. This translates as an unmistakable benefit in the form of less employee turnover, fewer recruitment and retraining costs, and an overall better bottom line.
Recognizing the importance of healthy workers is the first step. And today's enlightened employers are taking the next step by committing to health promotion in the workplace and getting actively involved.
What exactly does workplace health include? It extends beyond traditional safety issues and even expands on standard definitions of health. Consider it an extension of traditional health and safety programs, which protect workers from workplace hazards. The health movement encompasses a healthy work/life balance, wellness programs, mental and physical fitness, career, financial and family counseling, lifestyle seminars, and more. A workplace health program can take many forms. One organization may focus on flexible work hours and daycare facilities, while another will emphasize fitness and nutrition.
Fortunately there are many websites to help you get up to speed on workplace health and provide guidance on how to get started with your own program. Here are some key sites:
- The Canadian Health Network (CHN), Workplace Health Centre (www.canadian-health-network.ca/) is a national, bilingual web-based health information service from Health Canada and leading health organizations in Canada. Twenty-six different health centers cover topics such as violence prevention, active living, cancer, heart health, mental health, and substance abuse/addictions. The Workplace Health Centre provides access to quality resources on a variety of workplace health promotion and occupational health and safety topics.
- Canada's Healthy Workplace Week web site (www.healthyworkplaceweek.ca) focuses on an annual week in October which promotes a comprehensive approach to workplace health in Canadian organizations. Includes workplace health promotion ideas and activities, information, research and resources, including articles, posters, fact sheets, research reports and web sites from non-profit organizations. In particular, take a look at the Resource Well, and the link on the home page to Case Studies - real-life examples of workplace health initiatives in other companies.
- JobQuality.ca is managed by the Work Network of the Canadian Policy Research Networks. This web site investigates the factors that affect the quality of Canadians' working experience. It features data on the quality of work and includes explanations of their impact on employers, employees, and policy makers.
- Canadian Labour and Business Centre (www.clbc.ca) offers a national forum for dialogue and research on labour market and skills issues, with participants from labour, business, government, and education. Web site includes case studies on issues of workplace health, as well as news updates, and event information.
Creating a workplace health program
Organizations have different dynamics and needs. An older workforce might be more interested in elder care or weight control than in day-care options. A multicultural workforce might prefer to focus on initiatives that promote harmony and improved communication as ways to reduce stress and solve problems.
By getting to know the employees and their needs and preferences, you can tailor-make a workplace health program that's likely to succeed in a big way. The surest way to find out what people want is simply to ask them. Conduct an in-house survey to determine what activities in which your staff has most interest. Do they want a corporate rate for a weight-loss clinic? A lunchtime jogging club? Seminars on stress management? Let them choose from a variety of options the company is willing to offer.
Other ideas might include smoking cessation programs, flexible work hour arrangements, assistance with daycare or elder care, conflict resolution assistance, discount rates at the local recreation centre, or any other health promotion program for the benefit of everyone in the organization.
Health promotion doesn't have to be a costly initiative, and organizations are already reaping rewards from their efforts. Statistics Canada, after implementing a work/life balance program, found that 78% of their own employees reported a satisfactory balance of work and home life and noticed an impressive 91% reduction in the rate of employee turnover.
Hop on-board, and remember - by taking an interest in workplace health you have already taken the first step.
Wood Dusts More Harmful Than Once Believed
People who work around or are regularly exposed to wood dust have long considered it to be a nuisance, but not necessarily a significant health hazard. Recent studies are showing, however, that exposure to certain types of wood dust can be associated with everything from skin disorders (dermatitis) to nasal cancer. Some of the health effects of wood dust exposure are due to chemicals in the wood or chemicals created in the wood by bacteria, fungi, or moulds. The Alberta government has issued a bulletin with the new information, urging woodworkers to get more information, limit exposure and take appropriate safety precautions.
The new research is showing an association between exposure to particular types of wood dust and certain health problems. The potential health effects are varied and dependent on several factors including: frequency and length of exposures, amount and coarseness of the dust, the wood type (tree and softness/hardness of wood) and the type of work being performed. Finer dusts produced by processes such as shaping, sanding, and routing are associated with higher exposure levels.
The Alberta Health and Safety Bulletin provides detailed charts on the types of woods used in Alberta industries, and detailed information on the specific health effects associated with various types of wood dust exposures. Some of the health effects included in the Alberta bulletin are described below. However it is advised that you read the Alberta bulletin for a comprehensive review of the health effects of certain wood dust exposures and the conditions under which they may develop. Exposure to certain types of wood dust can affect the respiratory system, decreasing lung capacity or causing allergic reactions in the lungs: hypersensitivity pneumonitis (inflammation of the walls of the air sacs and small airways) and occupational asthma.
Decreased lung capacity occurs when particles or chemicals from the dust irritate the lung tissue and the airways narrow, reducing the volume of air inhaled into the lungs. Studies of workers processing softwood for at least three years showed that sawmill workers exposed to dusts from Douglas fir, western hemlock, spruce, balsam, and alpine fir had reduced lung function (Demers et al, 1997, Hessel et al, 1995). While it usually takes a long time to see a reduction in lung capacity, the damage can be permanent.
Hypersensitivity pneumonitis appears to be triggered when small wood particles penetrate deeply into the lungs, and cause an allergic response. The initial effects of inhaling these wood dust particles can develop within hours or after several days following exposure, and are often confused with flu or cold symptoms. With repeated exposure over a long period of time, permanent damage to the lungs may result.
Occupational diseases known as maple bark strippers’ disease, sequoiosis, wood trimmers’ disease and wood-pulp workers’ disease are classified as hypersensitivity pneumonitis. Particles that are known or suspected to cause this condition include moulds, bacteria and fine dust from some tropical hardwoods.
Asthma involves a narrowing of the airways, resulting in breathlessness. The western red cedar is one of the most common woods that contribute to wood-dust related asthma, with an estimated five percent of forest industry workers in British Columbia exposed to cedar dust, allergic to it (BC Research, 1985).
Contact or irritant dermatitis (red, dry, itchy skin) is another health risk associated with exposure to the chemicals found in some types of wood dust. With repeated exposures, some workers can become sensitized to some types of wood dust and develop allergic dermatitis.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified wood dust as carcinogenic to humans, based on observations of nasal cancer in workers exposed to wood dust. The highest risks appear to be to those workers exposed to hardwood dusts, most commonly beech and oak. Many of the studies looked at workers exposed during the 1940s and 1950s (since cancer can take more than 20 years to develop) and most of the exposure levels were higher than those seen today.
To control the degree of exposure, all woodworkers should have access to respiratory protection and appropriately designed ventilation systems. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in the U.S. has developed guidelines for local ventilation systems for several types of wood working equipment, such as horizontal belt sanders, shapers, automated routers, large diameter disc sanders, orbital hand sanders, and table saws. This information is available from the NIOSH website.
Workers exposed to wood dust need to learn about and understand the potential health effects and take precautions to reduce their exposure.
Help for Heroes
Firefighters' jobs, by their very nature, are laden with hazards. These professional and volunteer workers respond to fire alarms, accidents, building collapses and natural disasters. They rescue victims from these dangerous situations, control fires, administer first aid, and provide safety education to the public. While firefighters fulfill their task of protecting and saving people from danger, they often endanger their own lives.
An average of 105 firefighters in the United States and 14 in Canada die in the line of duty each year. Work-related deaths among firefighters are due to asphyxiation, burns, drowning, motor traffic collisions and other traumas such as structural collapse or a fireworks explosion.
To mark the occasion of "Fire Safety Month" this October, we are highlighting the firefighting profession to stress how firefighters, like all other workers, have a right to make it home safely when the workday is done.
Occupational health and safety practices apply to everyone. Even in an inherently dangerous job like that of a firefighter, there are ways to prevent injury, illness or death. And the simplest solutions can often prevent the gravest dangers.
- Wearing PPE is an important way to prevent heat and cold stress and exposure to toxic substances. Some studies suggest that firefighters may be at increased risk of occupational diseases from exposure to chemical and biological substances encountered in a fire situation. Firefighters receive WHMIS training to become familiar with the various chemicals they might encounter on the job.
- Staying physically fit and training in ergonomics will help firefighters reduce the likelihood of physical injury due to repetitive tasks, awkward postures and overexertion from lifting, reaching or carrying. A job's physical demands are even greater when a person is wearing heavy equipment, such as a self-contained breathing apparatus and other personal protective equipment and apparel. Working under these conditions requires skill and special training.
- Training in the safe use of ladders can prevent potentially serious falls.
- Universal health precautions such as hand-washing and wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) are important for preventing exposure to infections, blood borne pathogens and diseases such as AIDS, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Firefighters are often exposed to blood when rescuing fire or accident victims and need protection.
- "Working-alone" procedures - especially those that ensure that no one works alone - give firefighters the assurance that a co-worker will always be on-hand in case of danger.
- Working a reasonable shift schedule and getting plenty of rest are necessary for firefighters to be strong, quick and alert in the face of danger.
- After a particularly traumatic event, some find it helpful to conduct debriefing sessions to address the emotional stress that firefighters experience on the job.
These and other safe work practices and precautions can save lives. We need and appreciate firefighters, and in honour of Fire Safety Month we remind them and their employers that just as firefighters protect the public, they must be protected as well.
Canada on the Move
If you're ever wondering what steps are being taken to advance research in the area of fitness and the prevention of obesity, the answer is "yours." A bold new initiative is taking your steps and adding them to a national tally, which the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and its Institute of Nutrition, Metabolism and Diabetes (INMD) are using to measure the effectiveness of pedometers as a fitness motivator.
This unique research project is not asking you to donate money. It's asking you to donate your steps. Canadians are encouraged to log onto the Canada on the Move website, register with the program, and regularly report their walking steps with or without the use of a pedometer.
A pedometer, or step counter, is a simple device that can be clipped onto a waistband or belt so the movement associated with each step is counted. As of early October 2004, Canadians had already "donated" more than 466,588,737 steps! If there's success in numbers, this is a project that promises to succeed in leaps and bounds.
Under a strategic funding initiative announced in 2002, INMD has set aside over $3 million annually to fund research projects aimed at the growing epidemic of obesity in Canada. The Institute takes the view that obesity can only be addressed if health research programs encompass all aspects of obesity and healthy body weight, including social, economic and environmental factors that contribute to its growing incidence.
Recent studies show that between 1981 and 1996, the numbers of Canadians who would be classed as either overweight or obese increased from 48 to 57 percent among men and from 30 to 35 percent among women. Medical practitioners and researchers use the Body Mass Index (BMI) to classify weight. A BMI between 20 and 25 is considered a healthy body weight. A BMI of 25 to 29 is considered overweight, and a BMI of 30 or more puts a person in the obese category.
For many people, walking is one of the easiest ways to be more physically active. It has been shown that moderate forms of exercise, such as brisk walking for 30 to 60 minutes a day, can have significant physical and mental health benefits. Walking is affordable, safe for most people and can be easily worked into people's daily life. Canadians are being asked to provide information about their participation in physical activity that will be used to understand more about what would help make a more active Canada.
The federal government is optimistic that Canada on the Move will ultimately increase the public's understanding the issue of obesity and how to treat or prevent it. CIHR and INMD are committed to sharing the research findings with the public and with health care practitioners.
The more people who track their walking, running or blading steps and donate them to the site, the more researchers will learn about who uses pedometers, physical activity levels, weight control and what motivates people to stick with a healthy lifestyle. So sign up and get moving!
Workplace Health Database an Information Treasure Trove
Public health professionals, occupational health nurses, managers, or anyone involved with designing and implementing health programs now have a rich bibliographical resource at their disposal. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) recently made a new comprehensive database - a virtual treasure trove of workplace health resources - available on CCOHS' Web Information Service.
The Workplace Health Promotion Resources database was developed out of a research project undertaken by The Health Communication Unit (THCU) at the Centre for Health Promotion, University of Toronto.
The Health Communication Unit (THCU) at the Centre for Health Promotion is one of 22 members of the Ontario Health Promotion Resource System (OHPRS) funded by Health Promotion & Wellness, Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care to increase the capability of health promotion practitioners to effectively promote health in Ontario communities.
From 2001-2003 THCU was directed to work toward increasing the capacity of health promotion practitioners working in comprehensive workplace health promotion. Through the THCU's Workplace Health Promotion project, an extensive bibliography was compiled with almost 900 references to documents and websites relating to workplace health, including workplace health programs, evaluations, comprehensive literature reviews, and materials suitable for distribution to employees in the workplace.
CCOHS made the Workplace Health Promotion Resources database available on the CCOHS website free of charge to provide access for a wider audience to this unique collection of workplace health materials. With workplace health becoming an increasingly important issue this database will be of interest to those interested in the theoretical and applied aspects of workplace health promotion. It may be of particular interest to public health professionals, occupational health nurses, managers, and individuals involved with program design and implementation.
There is a link to the search box for the Workplace Health Promotion Resources database on the CCOHS Web Information Service (WIS) home page under Additional Resources, Specialized Databases.
The Health and Safety Report, a free monthly newsletter produced by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), provides information, advice, and resources that help support a safe and healthy work environment and the total well being of workers.
© 2013, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety