Keeping Pace With the Changing Workplace
Ask people where they work, or who they work for, and you may be surprised by their answers. More and more will say they work for themselves, out of the house, "on contract", or that they have a few part-time jobs. The landscape of Canada's workplaces and workforce is changing and along with it - the notion of what used to be the typical job - full-time, full year, and permanent. Statistics Canada reports that more than 27% of the Canadian workforce holds temporary jobs or is self-employed. An increasing number of people are working part-time. Others do temporary work on a term or contract, casual or seasonal basis, or work through a temporary employment agency. Also, the number of self-employed individuals, contractors and small businesses is on the rise, as is the number of workers juggling two or more jobs.
There has been a shift from manufacturing to service jobs. The workforce has become more diverse, now including more workers over the age of 50, more female workers (many of them working mothers), and more new immigrants than in past years. What does all of this mean for the health and well-being of these workers?
These types of non-traditional work situations are sometimes referred to as "precarious" or contingent. While they may offer flexibility and other benefits to workers and employers, these employment scenarios often lack the stability of traditional jobs and present other challenges such as longer or shorter hours and/or sporadic periods of employment for the worker and gaps in worker protection. Ongoing research shows that precarious employment may affect workers' health, safety and well-being. Canada's occupational health and safety system has largely been based on traditional employment, and one has to ask if the system has kept pace with the changing times.
Adverse health effects
Studies indicate that precarious or non-traditional work arrangements may cause an increase in injury rates, exposure to hazards, stress, work-life imbalance and other mental health effects. Evidence is growing that it's more difficult to monitor and enforce workplace health and safety legislation, ensure safe work practices or provide a safe work environment to part-time, temporary or at-home workers. It's more difficult to identify risks and communication tends to be more infrequent. Training and supervision also present challenges.
Researchers, employers and workers alike are looking for answers to questions such as: Will older workers survive intense work schedules even if jobs are more flexible? How can small businesses rehabilitate injured workers? How can employers best adapt their HR practices and health and safety programs? How do we address gaps in protection, accountability and responsibility for health and safety?
Exploring the answers - together
People are very concerned with how the health and safety of workers are impacted by the changes they are facing today. Unions and community groups are exploring ways to collaborate with government and business in an effort to adapt the workplace to the changing work landscape. This may ultimately result in revised occupational health and safety and workers' compensation laws and integrated labour standards.
The issue of precarious work is just one of many that will be addressed at Forum '07, a national event hosted by CCOHS to discuss emerging occupational health and safety issues. Subject experts, workers, employers and governments will have an opportunity to share their knowledge and experience around this issue and hopefully stimulate creative solutions to help ensure people can be safe and healthy at work.
Statistics Canada - Aging, health and work
Statistics Canada - Pros and cons of working at home
HR Council for the Voluntary/Non-profit Sector - Non-standard employment relationships
Breathing and Brackets
Each year a number of workers are injured when carpenter bracket scaffolds fail on construction sites. The Minnesota Occupational Safety and Health Division (OSHA) has issued a hazard alert to help make the public, construction workers and employers aware of the proper way to install and use these brackets to prevent the scaffolds from collapsing.
Carpenter bracket scaffolds become a hazard when the intended load on any section is exceeded. They are designed to hold only two employees and 75 pounds (34 kilograms) of tools and materials for every eight feet (2.4 metres) of bracket, at any one time.
Other hazards include:
- Using nails to attach brackets to the wall, rather than the required bolts;
- Using homemade brackets that have not been rated by a qualified engineer;
- Attaching the scaffold only through the wall sheathing and not through or around a wall stud; and
- Having the scaffold installed by someone other than a competent person.
Carpenter bracket accidents can be controlled or eliminated. One key method is to attach the scaffold to the structural wall with the bolts going all the way through the stud and sheathing. OSHA recommends a bolt size of at least 5/8 inches (1.6 centimetres) in diameter. Another alternative is to attach the scaffold with J-bolts going through the sheathing and around the stud.
Follow manufacturers' recommendations. Manufacturers commonly supply a diagonal brace extending from the top bracket, near where the planking rests, back to the wall. The function of the brace, which can usually be secured with a nail, is to stabilize the bracket. Refer to the manufacturer's instructions for the size of the nail that may be used.
Bracket spacing must not exceed eight feet on centers, and the platform must be at least 18 inches (45.7 centimetres) wide and fully decked. Any carpenter bracket scaffold platform that is 10 feet (3.1 metres) or more above the ground or floor must be equipped with a guardrail, or all occupants must use personal fall arrest systems. No more than two people should be on a scaffold section at any one time. Workers should be provided with a means of access, such as a secured ladder.
In a very different industry, bakery workers in B.C. are routinely exposed to another potentially serious hazard.
Flour dust poses a respiratory hazard that can sometimes take up to 30 years to show symptoms in workers. Flour dust also contains allergens that expose workers who weigh or pour flour, or who operate dough mixers. One of the most potent allergens in flour is alpha-amylase, a naturally occurring enzyme in wheat flour that's used to break up large starch molecules and speeds up the activity of yeast.
Asthma is the main risk to workers' health from being exposed to flour dust. Once a worker becomes sensitized to the allergen, even a small amount can trigger an asthma attack with life-threatening symptoms such as wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing and/or coughing. In British Columbia, the eight-hour occupational exposure limit (OEL) for flour dust is 0.5 milligrams per cubic metre of air. Although the OEL will protect from long-term respiratory disease, it is unlikely that it will prevent occupational asthma as even very low levels to the allergic component can provoke an asthma attack.
WorkSafe BC suggests that local exhaust ventilation is the most preferred method to reduce worker exposure to flour dust.
WorkSafe BC also recommends these work practices to reduce worker exposure to flour dust:
- Handle flour products carefully to minimize the spread of dust (e.g., take care when loading ingredients into mixers).
- Immediately clean up any flour spills.
- Do not dry sweep flour dust. Use HEPA vacuums for cleaning up spills.
- Do not use compressed air for cleaning.
- Minimize the use of dusting flour. Use dredgers or sprinklers to spread flour rather than dusting by hand.
- Start up mixers at slow speed until wet and dry ingredients are mixed.
- Minimize the spread of airborne dust when disposing of empty flour bags (roll up bags from the bottom, rather than flattening and folding them).
- Wear proper respiratory protection (e.g., an N95 single-use respirator) when performing short-term, dusty tasks.
Tendon Tendencies: How To Reduce Painful Disorders
Just as a well-oiled machine functions better than a rusty one, our bodies need smooth, healthy tendons to move freely and without friction. Tendons are bands of strong, smooth fibres that attach muscles to bones to enable the joints to move easily.
Some conditions in the workplace put workers at risk of developing tendon disorders. If you have pain in areas over a tendon or it is tender to the touch, swollen, or red and you feel the movement is restricted, you may have tendinitis or tenosynovitis.
Tendinitis describes a condition in which the tendons become swollen. Doing tasks that are repetitive or for a long period of time, or that involve awkward or stationary postures, vibration, and localized mechanical stress, can tear tendons fibres apart like the way a rope becomes frayed. Tendons that are injured can become thickened, bumpy and irregular over time and if they are not given the time and rest needed to heal, can become permanently weakened.
This disorder is common in the shoulder, especially among workers doing jobs that involve awkward postures such as overhead work, arm elevation, and specific postures that include bending and elevating the arm.
Jobs that require repeated or forceful movements of the fingers, wrist and forearm can cause tendonitis of the elbow, also known as "tennis elbow". Tendinitis of the elbow is often associated with simultaneous rotation of the forearm and bending of the wrist, stressful gripping of objects with inward or outward movement of the forearm, or jerky, throwing motions - as is often seen in tennis players but can also occur in the workplace. Tendinitis of the hand and wrist is often linked to assembly line work, meat processing, manufacturing, knitting, typing, and piano playing.
Tenosynovitis is an inflammation of the tendon sheath. The sheath produces a fluid that keeps the tendon lubricated. However, prolonged activities, forceful exertion, awkward and static posture, vibration, and localized mechanical stress can cause the lubrication system to not work properly. The sheath either fails to produce enough fluid or produces fluid with poor lubricating qualities. This creates friction between the tendon and its sheath and results in inflammation, swelling and other problems.
Tenosynovitis occurs in the palm side of the wrist and hand, and in the back of the hand and wrist.
Treatment of tendon disorders
Tendon disorders rarely require surgery. Treatment usually consists of staying away from activities that cause or aggravate the disorders, or pain relief through non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, ice or heat, friction massage, stretching and strengthening exercises, transcutaneous (through the skin) electrical nerve stimulation or ultrasound. However, some of these methods have yet to be fully evaluated.
Treatment can only be effective if the workplace gets involved to ensure that the activities that caused or aggravated the disorder in the worker are avoided. This participation is essential to help prevent the condition from persisting or recurring.
Prevention is key
The prevention of tendon disorders should include identifying and reducing the risk factors. Work practices and equipment should be designed to reduce repetitive movements, awkward postures and the amount of time a worker must spend in one position without moving. Jobs should also be designed to lessen the need for significant force to be used and encourage rest breaks to be taken.
Prevention efforts should also include training and education that is organized, consistent and ongoing. Everyone at work, including workers, managers, health and safety representatives, has a role to play and must get actively involved.
Read the full OSH Answers on tendon disorders
European Union Trying to "Lighten the Load" for Workers
The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work lists musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) as the most common work-related health problem in Europe. MSDs are a group of painful disorders that include problems such as low back pain, joint injuries and a variety of repetitive strain injuries. Millions of workers across the European Union are affected with 25% of workers complaining of backache and 23% reporting muscle pains.
To tackle MSDs and improve ergonomic conditions in workplaces, the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work launched a summer-long campaign called Lighten the Load. The campaign officially kicked off June 4th in Brussels with a variety of events across Europe and will wrap up in the European Week of Safety and Health at Work that runs October 22 to 26, 2007.
People develop MSDs mainly by lifting, bending and twisting frequently, from heavy physical work and being exposed to whole-body vibration. Almost all work requires some use of the arms and hands so it is not surprising that most MSDs affect the hands, wrists, elbows, neck, and shoulders. Likewise, people who use their legs in their work can be at risk for MSD of the legs, hips, ankles, and feet. Back problems can also develop from performing repetitive tasks.
Painful or tiring positions, working at very high speeds and to tight deadlines and the increasing use of machinery and computers can result in work-related MSDs and stress. MSDs are the biggest causes of work absenteeism in practically all of Europe, and the European Union is pushing for prevention strategies and programmes to be implemented to combat these health issues.
The Lighten the Load campaign promotes employers, employees and government to work together and take specific actions to tackle MSDs effectively. They suggest that the 'whole load on the body' must be addressed, which includes all the stresses and strains, environmental factors such as cold working conditions, and the actual physical load being carried. Employers need to have and implement a plan that enables employees with MSDs to receive effective treatment and therapy for their injuries and safely return to work.
Learn more about the European campaign on musculoskeletal disorders
Preventing Workplace Violence: It's Everyone's Fight
You and your three co-workers share a small office space. You notice that one of them is frequently interrupted by telephone calls from her boyfriend. And often she doesn't feel like answering. She seems uncomfortable. Then your phone starts ringing. It's the boyfriend, and he's raising his voice. "Let me talk to Jessica now…"
Be prepared when it comes to workplace violence - of any kind. Domestic violence, and its spillover into a work environment, is just one of the new situations addressed in the 3rd edition of CCOHS' Violence in the Workplace Prevention Guide. Learn to recognize all potential forms of violence, and what you can do to develop an effective workplace violence prevention program.
Every workplace - no matter the size, industry, or setting - is susceptible to violence. Many people see violence as a physical assault, such as hitting, shoving, or pushing. However workplace violence can consist of persistent mistreatment, sometimes by an employee in a position of authority, that makes the victim feel humiliated, demoralized, less valued, or incapable of doing their job. Signs of bullying and mobbing - excessive criticism, rude language, and taking credit for another worker's successes - are strong indicators of workplace violence, and are covered in this updated edition.
Published by CCOHS, this essential pocked-sized handbook is packed full of practical advice, all written in clear, easy to understand language. Now in its 10th year of publication, the guide has been extensively reviewed and updated to ensure the information is current. Revisions to the guide reflect updated legislation and include new tips and preventive advice on:
- Domestic violence and its spillover into the workplace
- Bullying, mobbing and harassment
- Working from home
- Managing order during a job action.
The guide also offers advice on the best way to respond to an incident of workplace violence, and how to keep a bad situation from getting worse. The 180-page guide is designed to assist workplaces in fulfilling their workplace violence prevention strategies effectively and according to the applicable legislation. Recommended for anyone who wants to learn about workplace violence and its prevention, the handbook is especially useful to individuals involved in the development and implementation of workplace violence prevention programs.
"Using the advice provided on the topics in the guide, we believe that any organization, no matter how unique, or for that matter any individual, will be able to develop preventive practices tailored to their specific situations," said Jessie Callaghan, one of the guide's authors.
The bottom line: No matter what work you do or what industry you belong to, workplace violence is a real issue and should be everyone's concern.
Learn more about workplace violence from OSH Answers.
Looking for education? CCOHS offers three e-courses on the prevention of workplace violence.
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.
© 2009, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety