Health and Safety ReportSeptember 2009 - Volume 7, Issue 9

In the News

Domestic Violence - A Workplace Issueprint this article

She was one of the top customer service reps in the company. To her coworkers, Suzanne seemed to have it all - a doting husband, children, a lovely home and a successful career. Every night at the end of her shift, her husband was waiting outside in their car for her, and she was out the door promptly at five. One day her manager approached her just before quitting time and asked to speak with her in his office. She became flustered and asked if it couldn't wait until the next day. He shrugged her off. "It'll only take a few minutes. I won't keep you long."

He was true to his word but when Suzanne opened the door to leave her manager's office, her fuming husband was standing there. He ordered her to go to the car. What Suzanne's colleagues didn't know was that she spent the following two days being insulted, assaulted and locked in her own bedroom, all at the hands of her "devoted" husband.

Suzanne is one of millions who are victims of domestic violence.

What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence (also called battering or intimate partner violence) is a pattern of abusive behaviour used by a person to gain power and control over his or her partner in an intimate relationship. The abusive behaviour can include intimidation, verbal abuse, emotional attacks, threats or use of violence, sexual assault, and homicide. The batterer may also use other means to control his or her victim, such as controlling finances, interfering in the victim's work, isolation, limited or no communication, blaming, apologies, promises to change and gifts.

Victims of domestic violence come from all walks of life, however the majority are women. The SafeWork website reports that in the United States, 1 in 3 women will report being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives. Domestic violence tends to become more severe over time with the highest number of assaults and homicides occurring after victims leave their abusive partners.

So why is domestic violence a workplace issue? When a victim leaves the abusive relationship, the abuser knows that the one place the victim can be found is at work.

Ten signs of domestic violence

If you suspect that one of your employees or colleagues may be in an abusive relationship, look for a pattern of these signs:

  1. Injuries such as bruises, black eyes, or broken bones with no, or unlikely explanations such as blaming the injuries on falls or being clumsy

  2. Absenteeism, lateness, and change in work performance or quality

  3. Anxiety and fear, highly emotional, tearfulness and depression

  4. Sensitivity about home life or any mention of trouble

  5. Inability or unwillingness to travel for work

  6. Unusual attire (e.g. long sleeves in hot weather or wearing sunglasses indoors)

  7. Isolation, unusual quietness, or acting withdrawn

  8. Large number of phone calls, emails, and texts from a current or former partner and reluctance to respond to them

  9. Disruptive visits to work by current or former partner

  10. High achiever; irrational fear of losing his/her job

Impact of domestic violence

Domestic violence doesn't just affect life at home; its impacts are far reaching. In addition to the thousands of working women and men every day who are affected physically and emotionally, it impacts the financial and physical well being of the companies they work for and the communities in which they live. It costs businesses hundreds of millions of dollars every year in lost productivity (through absenteeism, tardiness, and inability to perform duties). And, it increases the threat of violence occurring within the workplace, compromising the safety of organizations.

What employers can do

As an employer, you have the power to keep your employees safe at work. Ultimately, this will also protect your community as well as your company's bottom line. You can start by developing a domestic violence policy. You can also train your managers, supervisors and all employees about proper response steps, and raise awareness about the issue.

Train managers and supervisors to:

  • recognize - be aware of signs of violence for potential victims and abusers

  • respond - appropriately address changes in behaviour that are affecting performance

  • refer - know who to call internally and externally if a situation of domestic violence becomes known

Training should include issues of privacy and confidentiality.

Start a program in your workplace to address domestic violence:

  • Make prevention of and response to domestic violence part of your workplace violence prevention program.
  • Create awareness by talking about domestic violence with your employees. Communicate that your workplace is a safe environment for them to reach out for help with domestic violence.
  • Provide employees with information on how to recognize the signs of a troublesome or abusive relationship so they know when to seek assistance for themselves or for co-workers.
  • Make information on counseling and support resources available both inside and outside the organization.
  • Create a work environment in which employees know that they will not be penalized for seeking help for themselves, their families, or co-workers, through the human resources department and the employee assistance program (EAP) if you have one.
  • Educate employees regarding security procedures available to keep themselves and others safe in the workplace, including where and how to report a potential threat and how to avoid unintentionally giving the abuser access to the victim.
  • Make workplace changes, if necessary and possible, to help ensure the safety of victims. For example,

    • screen phone calls, change the employee's work phone number, and/or install caller ID on the employee's work phone;

    • remove the employee's name and phone number from automated phone messages or directories;

    • don't give out any employee's personal information to others;

    • ensure the employee knows the specifics of your workplace policy and how to report any incident or threat;

    • rework the employee's work assignment or schedule.

  • Develop an effective workplace response to domestic violence that includes an organizational safety plan as well as working with victims to develop individualized workplace safety plans.

Domestic violence is a workplace issue. In April 2009 Ontario tabled Bill 168, an act to amend the Occupational Health and Safety Act. The proposed bill specifically addressed the issue of domestic violence in the workplace by requiring Ontario employers to "take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances" to protect workers from domestic violence that would likely cause physical injury to workers in the workplace. This obligation on the employer arises only if the employer is - or should be - aware of the situation. What constitutes "domestic violence" is not defined. The new legislation is expected to be passed in the Fall 2009.

Hazard Alert

Lead in the Workplaceprint this article

Last year, some childhood lead poisonings in Maine came from an unusual source. Parents got lead dust on their clothes at work and then carried it into their cars, inadvertently exposing their children.

Workers can be exposed to lead in the workplace by inhaling fumes and dusts, or by accidentally ingesting it from lead-contaminated hands, food, drinks, cosmetics, tobacco products, and clothing. As in the case of the family in Maine, workers can take lead home on their clothes, skin, hair, tools, and in their vehicles, potentially exposing their families to harmful health effects. In an updated health and safety bulletin, Work Safe Alberta offers guidance on lead in the workplace and how to protect workers and their families from lead exposure.

Lead exposure

Until the 1980s, the main sources of lead exposure for Canadians were lead paint and emissions from cars using leaded gasoline (which stopped in Canada in 1990, except for some specific types of vehicles).

Today lead is used in many of the following products:

  • batteries

  • lead shielding for x-rays

  • crystal

  • ceramics and pottery glazes

  • stained glass

  • lead solder - used in water pipes in older homes, electronics, radiator shops

  • cosmetics - many of the pigments and other substances used in cosmetics contain lead

  • pesticides (lead arsenate)

  • ammunition

  • lead weights and tools

  • electroplating

  • glass in computer monitors

Occupations with lead exposure risks include:

  • Cable splicing

  • Construction

  • Manufacturing of ammunition, ceramics, electrical components, pottery and lead batteries

  • Stained glass

  • Mining

  • Painting

  • Radiator repair

  • Recovery of gold and silver

  • Repair and reclamation of lead batteries

  • Smelting

  • Welding

Health effects

The most common ways that workers are exposed to lead are inhalation of airborne lead dust or fumes and accidental ingestion. Workers ingest lead by touching the face and handling cigarettes or food when their hands are contaminated with lead. About 5 to 15 percent of the lead an adult ingests is absorbed into their body. Lead is not normally absorbed through the skin unless there is a break in the skin such as a cut or scrape.

Symptoms of acute lead poisoning include headache, excessive tiredness, nausea, abdominal cramps, and joint pain. Other effects such as a metallic taste in the mouth, vomiting and constipation or bloody diarrhea can also occur. Harmful effects due to short-term exposure to inorganic lead compounds are rarely seen any more because of strict controls used in workplaces where lead exposure might occur.

However, lead accumulates in the body where it can be stored for decades and released back into the blood long after the original exposure. Inorganic lead compounds are well known to cause significant health effects following long-term (chronic) exposure, including effects on the:

  • Reproductive system (causing effects on fertility and developmental effects in children)

  • Nervous system

  • Digestive system

  • Cardiovascular and blood system

  • Kidneys

In addition, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has determined that lead and inorganic forms of lead are "probably carcinogenic to humans".

Work Safe Alberta's health and safety bulletin provides greater detail on the health effects as well as information on managing lead in the workplace, exposure levels, monitoring methods, and preventive measures.

Partner News

Feel Great About Life print this article

Canada's Healthy Workplace Month - October 5 to November 1

Healthy mind, healthy body, healthy work - feeling great about life. That's the theme of this year's Canada's Healthy Workplace Month (CHWM) - four weeks set aside to celebrate and promote healthy workplaces.
From October 5 to November 1, we are all encouraged to take action and participate in activities to improve the health of our minds, bodies, and workplaces.

To get started, visit the Healthy Workplace Month website for a list of suggested activities that you can do on your own or in groups, and even come up with some ideas of your own. Each week, organizations will be challenged to participate in activities based on the weekly themes:

  • Week 1 - Feeling Great at Work

  • Week 2 - Feeling Great with Family and Friends

  • Week 3 - Feeling Great at Play

  • Week 4 - Feeling Great about Giving Back

Plus, register your organization and keep track of the activities completed by your workplace. CHWM will announce winners for each week, and your team could win!

CHWM is presented by Great-West Life and managed by the National Quality Institute in collaboration with the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.

To learn more about and sign up for the workplace challenges, and participate in friendly competition against others across Canada, visit the Healthy Workplace Month website at

CCOHS is celebrating with free webinars

In celebration of Canada's Healthy Workplace Month, CCOHS is offering free webinars to help you plan for the pandemic and show you how to use social media tools to promote health and safety in your workplace.

Planning for the Pandemic is available on demand as a recorded presentation. Jan Chappel, CCOHS Sr. Technical Specialist in Occupational Health and Safety, discusses how organizations and individuals can plan and prepare for the pandemic flu outbreak and offers tips for staying healthy.

Promoting Health and Safety Through Social Media will be presented on October 14 at 1:00 PM EDT. Krista Travers, CCOHS Marketing Communications Officer will discuss the basics of social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook, and how they can be used to help promote health and safety in your workplace.

The CCOHS website has more information about the webinars and how to sign up.


Learning and Listeningprint this article

Learn the basics of fire safety

CCOHS' new ecourse Fire Safety: The Basics covers the causes of workplace fires, prevention practices and guidelines for evacuation, and the correct use of fire extinguishers for different classes of fires. You will also find tips on first-aid procedures for common fire-related injuries. The course is recommended for supervisors, facilities staff and workplace fire safety team members as well as anyone who needs to know the basics of fire safety in the workplace.
Learn more about the course and how to register.

Listen up: Chemical exposure and hearing loss in the workplace

Exposure to noise in the workplace can permanently damage our hearing. But for some occupations and industries, other factors such as variations in exposure, age, gender, race, and general health, can negatively affect a worker's hearing. Studies have been conducted to try to understand why the occurrence and degree of noise-induced hearing loss can vary so much within and among various groups.

CCOHS is presenting a webinar with Dr. Thais Morata of NIOSH about the effects of chemical agents, the interaction between these agents and noise, and strategies for preventing work-related hearing loss.

Listen up: Chemical Exposure & Hearing Loss in the Workplace is a live event.

Date: October 28, 2009

Time: 1:00 PM EDT

Cost: $69

This webinar is recommended for managers, occupational health doctors and nurses, industrial hygienists, audiologists and health and safety professionals.

Health and safety podcasts

Health and Safety to Go!, CCOHS' new podcast series offers "bite" sized episodes on a variety of workplace health, safety and wellness issues. They run from 3 to 10 minutes long, and best of all, they're free.

This month's podcast, Prevent the Spread, shares nine simple tips to help prevent the spread of infections - especially during the cold and flu season.

Download the free CCOHS health and safety podcasts to your computer or your MP3 player and listen at your own convenience.

See the complete listing of CCOHS podcasts.

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