Health and Safety Report
Volume 5, Issue 2 - February 2007

In the News

Having a Life - While Keeping our Jobsprint this article

One in six Canadian workers report that they work at high speed "all of the time," says a recent study. One in four Canadians works 50 hours per week or more. As work takes up a bigger and bigger chunk of our lives, it's becoming more difficult to pay attention to other important matters - namely our families, our downtime, and our general well-being.

There are several reasons for the recent buzz about "work/life balance". Since the mid-60s, Canada has seen fundamental shifts in its economy, in society, and in families. In particular, the labour market has seen more women in the workplace, more two-income families, more single-parent families, an aging population, changing immigration patterns, and a greater number of non-standard work arrangements.

Workers are juggling more responsibilities and working longer hours than ever before. It's not uncommon for someone to put in frequent paid or unpaid overtime at work, while trying to also fulfill the roles of parenting and/or caring for an aging parent. Today, 70 percent of women with children under the age of six are in the labour force, compared to only 25 percent in 1965. That results in many more families in which both parents spend long hours at a job before coming home to their second job, that of running a young family with equally pressing needs.
Not surprisingly, when work and family conflict, stress is the number one side effect. A study sponsored by the Government of Canada reveals that the number of employed Canadians reporting high job stress (tensions and pressures resulting from job requirements and duties) doubled during the 1990s from 13% to 27%.

As workers have been pulled in different directions, many employers have made efforts to ease the pressure by offering alternative work arrangements. By being flexible and giving employees options such as part-time work, job sharing, flexible hours or the choice to work from home, many have succeeded in reducing employee stress and the feeling of being overloaded.

More can be done, however. According to a report by the Public Health Agency of Canada, many employers need to find ways of reducing employee workloads, particularly that of managers and professionals, in all sectors. They should rely less on overtime, and recognize and reward workers who do put in extra hours. Employees should have the option of refusing overtime, without fear of penalty. Employers must make it clear that they don't expect workers to choose between their families and their career advancement.

If you're considering implementing a program that officially addresses work/life balance for your employees, tailor the program to suit your organization's needs and corporate culture. Involve employees in the process and consult them frequently.

Setting up a work/life program can bring significant changes in the workplace, but these changes are becoming necessary in the new, ever-changing workplace. Besides, having a corporate culture that fosters a healthy work-life balance brings many rewards, including more trusting relationships between employees and the employer, a more enjoyable work environment, and happier workers who feel encouraged, supported and rewarded for their hard work.

More information

OSH Answers from CCOHS offers guidance on how to set up a work/life balance program in a workplace.

Creating a Family-Friendly Workplace (Culture Change) from HRSDC

CCOHS' Advancing Healthy Workplaces website lists additional resources on work life balance

Hazard Alerts

High Heights and Higher Voltageprint this article

Serious or fatal injuries don't always happen to inexperienced workers or in unfamiliar work settings. In two recent events, danger struck workers who, for the most part, knew what they were doing.

An electrician at a surface coal mine was troubleshooting a dragline trailing cable (which powers the dragline). A dragline bucket system consists of a large bucket which is suspended from a boom (a large truss-like structure) with wire ropes. In surface mining for example, the bucket is positioned above the material to be excavated. The bucket is then lowered and the bucket is dragged along the surface of the material.Most mining draglines are not fuel powered like most other mining equipment. Their power consumption is so great that they have a direct connection to the high-voltage grid.

The man, who had 21 years experience, was working at an electrical junction box that supplied power to the dragline when he contacted two energized phase conductors. He had disconnected and locked out incoming power to the junction box.

When an onboard diesel powered generator was started, it back fed 480 volts through on-board transformers connected to the dragline's trailing cable and energized the phase conductors to 23,000 volts. The electrician sustained fatal injuries.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has released a list of best practices for preventing such tragic incidents:

  • If you are an electrician - even an experienced one - never assume you understand a circuit. Thoroughly research each circuit you'll be working with. When performing any electrical work, always wear proper safety equipment.

  • Before performing electrical work on draglines, shovels, etc., lock out and tag auxiliary (alternative) power sources with YOUR lock. Auxiliary power sources are often located on or near these types of machines.

  • Install a failsafe mechanical interlock system to prevent the auxiliary and normal power sources from being connected to the same circuit at the same time. Before doing high voltage electrical work, always connect each phase conductor to the system ground.

  • No one but a qualified electrician should enter an electrical vault, motor control centre or other electrical enclosure, except under the direct supervision of a qualified electrician.

While safe work practices are critical in an electrical environment, they're equally important when working on a snowy 10-foot roof.

When two workers on the roof of a mobile home tied themselves off for safety, they didn't have proper harnesses. Instead, they simply tied ropes to their waists. The ropes unfortunately didn't reach the ladder, so when it was time to descend from the snow-covered, 5/12 pitch roof, both men untied their ropes and slid toward the ladder. One of them was not able to stop and slid over the edge. When he hit the frozen ground, he was seriously injured.

WorkSafe BC, which used this example in a hazard alert, recommends a fall protection system for anyone working 3 metres (10 feet) or higher. The most practical option for a sloped mobile home roof is a personal fall protection system that includes a full-body harness and a lifeline attached to an adequate anchor. On a doublewide mobile home, the anchor could be installed at the split, accessible by ladder.

Workers on roofs should be aware of safe ways to get on and off the roof. They must use appropriate fall protection and be trained in how to use it.

Workers should also be made aware what the hazards are and take the necessary precautions to protect themselves.

Read the full alerts:

Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA)

WorkSafe BC

OSH Answers

Just A Bump - or a Ganglion Cyst?print this article

For workers who discover an unsightly bump on their hand or wrist and find out from their doctor that it is a "ganglion cyst," the bad news is that it's ugly, has an ugly name, may cause some pain or discomfort, and may or may not go away. If there can be any good news - it is that these masses or cysts are not cancer.

Ganglion cysts are most commonly seen on the wrist (usually on the back side) and fingers, but can also develop around joints on the shoulder, elbow, knee, hip, ankle and foot. The causes may be job-related, such as highly repetitive movements at work, or are sometimes associated with osteoarthritis or an injury to the joints or tendons. These cysts form when tissues surrounding the joints become swollen with fluid. They sometimes get bigger when the tissue is irritated and often can disappear spontaneously.

Some ganglions are painless. Others may have tenderness and pain associated with them that restricts the person's range of movement. In some cases, ganglions cause pain after acute or repetitive trauma. The pain can be a continuous aching, and is made worse by joint motion.

Doctors can usually diagnose a ganglion by physically examining it, but some might confirm the diagnosis with an x-ray or other medical test.

Ganglions don't always require treatment. It's often enough to rest or splint the affected joint, though doctors can remove the contents of the cyst with a needle, through aspiration. In severe cases where the ganglion interferes with function, causes numbness or tingling in the hand or fingers, or continue to reoccur, a doctor might recommend that it be removed surgically.

To prevent a ganglion cyst from developing or redeveloping and reduce the risk of further injury,
workers may need a change in their work routine. In consultation with their supervisor, they might consider a slower pace of work, taking more frequent rest breaks, reducing repetition and force, improving their posture, and improving the workstation through ergonomically designed tools and equipment.

Further reading:

About Ganglion Cysts, OSH Answers

Ganglion Cysts, American Society for Surgery of the Hand

Partner News

February 28th - A Day To Reflect on Repetitive Strain Injuriesprint this article

The 8th International RSI Awareness Day will not happen on its official date of February 29th. On non-leap years, such as this year, it's observed on the 28th. February 29th was cleverly chosen as the ideal time for employers and employees around the world to focus attention on repetitive strain injuries because it's the only "non-repetitive" day of the year.

RSIs, also known as work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs), are painful disorders in the tendons, muscles, nerves and joints in the neck, upper and lower back, chest, shoulders or arms. As their different names suggest, these disorders can be caused by frequent and repetitive activities at work, or activities that require awkward postures. A pace of work that doesn't allow breaks between movements can also contribute to RSIs, as can vibration or working in heat or cold. RSIs most often result from a combination of these factors.

The word "repetitive" is key to understanding RSIs. Movements that might normally be completely harmless, such as bending or clenching the hands, gripping a piece of paper, or twisting to flick a switch, can cause injuries when performed too frequently or too fast over a period of time.

Hazards are best eliminated at the source. Repetitive work can be eliminated through job design. Certain tasks can be mechanized. Workers can rotate between two or several jobs, to engage different muscle groups rather than always straining the same ones. A change in job design might not be enough, however. Workstations, too, must be ergonomically designed to fit the worker.

When it's not possible to eliminate the repetitive nature of a job, a well-designed workstation can help, along with ergonomic tools and equipment that save a lot of muscular effort in awkward positions. It's also possible to rethink some of the worker's tasks, arranging the worksite in a way that reduces unnecessary motion of the neck, shoulders and upper limbs, for example. What works and what feels right will often depend on the individual.

Because RSIs develop slowly, workers should be trained to understand what causes these injuries and how best to prevent them. Workers need to know how to adjust workstations to fit their tasks and individual needs. Besides providing ergonomics training, employers should also encourage employees to take short, frequent rest breaks to allow their muscles to relax, and to consciously control muscle tension throughout the work shift.

Although RSIs can be prevented, they can be difficult to treat when left for too long. Knowledge and the right work conditions are a worker's best defence against these injuries. Give it some extra thought on International RSI Awareness Day, February 28th, 2007.

Resources from CCOHS

CCOHS' OSH Answers on WMSD

CCOHS' Office Ergonomics pocket guide


New E-Courses Focus on Confined Spaces and Contractor Safety print this article

The latest additions to the ever-growing series of e-courses from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) cover the topics of confined spaces and contractor safety.

Confined spaces such as shafts, tanks or pipes can be risky places to work. These spaces are awkward for a worker to move around in and are often dark and fraught with airborne hazards. Because of these conditions, which are sometimes unpredictable and can change rapidly, working in a confined space requires safety training and a well-planned confined space program.

CCOHS offers two separate e-courses on confined spaces. The first, Confined Spaces: The Basics is designed for workers or outside contractors who perform work in confined spaces, and for their supervisors, managers and health and safety committees. This course contains three modules that show participants how to identify and control the hazards in confined spaces, and gives step-by-step recommendations on how to work safely in a confined space.

While this e-course is not a substitute for hands-on training - workplace-specific training on site is necessary for workers to put theory into practice - it provides a good introduction to confined space safety issues.

Confined Space Management is the second e-course, which builds on the information from the "Basics" course. This second course is intended for anyone responsible for establishing or managing a confined space program, and for managers, supervisors and others with control over the work in confined spaces. Confined Space Management outlines legal duties and responsibilities and explains how to establish and manage a confined space program in the workplace, in accordance with health and safety law. The course also addresses important considerations for emergency preparedness.

Another new CCOHS e-course, Contractor Health and Safety, outlines essential health and safety considerations for any organization that contract aspects of their business. This e-course provides information and advice to help all parties - owners, employers and contractors - to include health and safety in the contracting process from start to finish. Contractor Health and Safety takes approximately one hour to complete.

All CCOHS courses are reviewed by expert representatives of labour, business and government to ensure the content is unbiased and balanced. Subject specialists from CCOHS are accessible to e-course participants who want to ask specific questions as they learn. Each e-course includes quizzes, a final exam and a certificate of completion.

To learn more about CCOHS e-courses or to register, visit

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