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Cubicles, commuting, colleagues: just some of the typical features of the traditional office environment. But by taking advantage of technological advances, small businesses, start-ups, freelancers and teleworkers are changing the image of where work is being performed. Home offices and cafes have established themselves as popular non-traditional work settings, but now there's a third option that's entered the picture: coworking spaces. Learn more about this innovative and collaborative concept, and how to keep these spaces healthy and safe.
What is coworking?
You try working from home, but the distractions make it hard to maintain focus on the task at hand. So you take your laptop to the local coffee shop but after a few visits, you're maxed out on caffeine and feeling achy and cramped from sitting at a tiny café table for hours on end. For a growing number of workers, coworking is the ideal alternative.
A coworking facility has all the features of a regular office, such as work desks, conference rooms, kitchen area, photocopiers and WiFi, but instead of housing a single company or organization, multiple workers from different businesses share the space and resources. This arrangement often results in reduced operating costs and provides workers with the opportunity to network, collaborate and socialize with their fellow coworkers.
Coworking is suitable for individuals who work for themselves or largely on their own as part of an organization, but don't want to be physically isolated or work alone. Membership options are usually flexible, with drop-in and monthly or annual membership plans. The first space opened in San Francisco in 2005, and the concept has become a global movement with over 2500 spaces worldwide. In Canada, there are now more than 80 coworking spaces that could potentially accommodate hundreds of workers on any given day.
Health and safety considerations
Many coworking spaces make concerted efforts to not resemble a traditional office. It's not unusual to come across comfortable furniture, lounges, fountains, or even a rooftop garden. However, safe workplace practices still need to be made a priority, for the health and well-being of the coworkers using the spaces.
Canadian employers, regardless of where their workers are located, are obligated under the Occupational Health and Safety Act to keep their workers safe. However, many coworkers are self-employed. It is therefore recommended that coworking spaces implement a health and safety program that applies to the whole space, keeping in mind that they must ensure their facility complies with the rules and regulations in their jurisdiction that pertain to minimum health, safety, housing and maintenance standards. As part of their orientation to the space, all new coworking members should be given an overview of health and safety procedures and guidelines.
Here are just some examples of the range of health and safety considerations for coworking spaces. Other considerations include slips, trips and falls, electrical safety, lighting, noise and more.
Avoid pains and strains
Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are a group of common, painful injuries and ailments that can affect the muscles, nerves and tendons mostly in the back, legs, shoulders, neck, wrists, hands and joints. Common symptoms include pain, joint stiffness, muscle weakness, redness, swelling, numbness and tingling. These injuries can be caused by work involving repetitive motion, forceful movements, and fixed or awkward body postures that are held for long periods of time. For coworkers whose jobs involve a lot of time spent on their computers, some possible causes of MSDs are:
Coworking spaces can assist by:
Be sensitive to scents
Scents are found in many products that we use every day including soaps, detergents, household cleaners and personal care products. For workers with scent sensitivities, however, the fragrance may come with unpleasant health effects. This situation can create a challenge in coworking spaces where people interact, share resources, and welcome visitors. Some workplaces promote the arm's length rule: that no scent should be detectable at more than an arm's length from the individual. Others are going one step further and adopting a scent-free policy for their workplace.
Workplace violence and personal security
Wherever people interact there is always the potential for an act of violence, and a coworking space is no exception. Facilities are usually open 24 hours a day, leaving plenty of time for coworkers to be potentially working alone, or at high risk times of day (late at night and early morning). Violent behaviours can include everything from physical acts of violence to malicious gossip. Create a definition of workplace violence that is specific to your space. When developing a violence prevention policy or program, consider the physical layout of the workplace and the use of signs, locks, lighting, access cards, and surveillance tools. Review the hours of operation and staffing levels, and setup check-in and check-out procedures.
Prepare for an emergency
Like any other organization, a coworking space needs to be ready for an emergency. There are several key areas to focus on in order to be prepared for the unexpected:
Check whether any coworking members have medical or first aid training, and always ensure that a person qualified to deal with a medical emergency is always on site or readily accessible. One way to increase your space's ability to deal with an emergency is to offer CPR and first aid training and half-yearly refresher training to coworking staff, plus the rest of the coworking community.
The spaces we occupy can influence the way we think, how well we work, and our overall health and well-being. For a growing number of Canadians the advantages of a collaborative and connected coworking space are winning over the traditional office. It's important for coworking spaces to foster this sense of community by looking after the safety and wellbeing of the coworkers that contribute to it.
Tips and Tools
In Canada, being able to work outside during the summer months is a welcomed opportunity for many workers to enjoy the warmer temperatures, spend more time outdoors, and to work closer to nature. However, working outside can bring an increased risk of exposure to the growing health threat posed by Lyme disease.
Lyme borreliosis or "Lyme disease" is a tick-borne illness caused by the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria. This bacterium is hosted primarily by small rodents, and is passed to humans by the bite of an infected blacklegged tick. Ticks cannot fly - they hang onto small bushes or tall grasses and are usually found close to the ground. They wait for an animal or person to pass near them and when they make contact, the ticks attach themselves to the skin to feed. High risk areas in Canada include southern British Columbia, southeastern and south-central Manitoba, southern and eastern Ontario, southern Quebec, southern New Brunswick, and parts of Nova Scotia, usually in forested and overgrown areas. Your risk of a tick bite is highest in the spring and summer months. However, these insects can be active throughout much of the year.
Signs and symptoms
Because the ticks are small, their bites are usually painless, and you may not know you've been bitten. With Lyme disease on the rise, it's important to be on the lookout for ticks and to know the signs and symptoms of the disease.
The symptoms and severity of Lyme disease can vary from person to person. A circular rash, often referred to as a "bull's eye" rash because it will have rings spreading from the bite site, may appear three days to a month after infection. The appearance of this rash is a sure sign of a tick bite. If you have this rash or any other symptoms of Lyme disease, you should see a doctor and explain that you have been in an area where you may have been exposed to ticks.
Others symptoms include:
Starting a new job can be exciting, but it can also carry the risk of being injured, especially for new and young workers. This group is more likely to be injured during the first month of employment than at any other time. As part of ongoing efforts to address this issue, the Ontario Ministry of Labour is focussing on the safety of new and young workers during a four-month enforcement blitz across the province.
Since May, Ministry of Labour inspectors have been checking to see that employers are in compliance with Ontario's Occupational Health and Safety Act with a special focus on the safety of new and young workers. Inspectors will be checking that these workers meet minimum age requirements, are being instructed, trained and supervised on the job, and that they are following required safety measures and procedures to prevent injuries.
Inspectors are focusing on industrial sector workplaces where many new and young workers are employed, including the service, manufacturing, transportation, logging, landscaping, arborists, hotel and motel industries. Health care inspectors are focussing their efforts on community care services and residences.
Young workers are those aged 14 to 24. New workers are those who have been on the job for less than six months, or have been assigned to a new job. These new workers include young workers plus those older than 25 years.
More information and resources
Backgrounder: New and Young Worker Safety Focus of Blitz, Ontario Ministry of Labour
WorkSmartOntario website, Ontario Ministry of Labour
Young Workers Zone, CCOHS
Help Your New Workers Stay Safe, free webinar, CCOHS
Orientation on Health and Safety for New Workers e-course, CCOHS
This month's Health and Safety To Go! podcasts share timely information about lifejackets and personal flotation devices, and feature an encore on lightning safety.
Feature Podcast: Stay Afloat with Lifejackets and Personal Flotation Devices
According to the Canadian Red Cross, wearing a lifejacket could eliminate up to 90% of all boating-related drownings. CCOHS discusses the difference between lifejackets and personal flotation devices, and how to use them safely.
The podcast runs 6:07 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
Encore Podcast: Lightning Safety
CCOHS discusses how to stay safe while working outdoors during a lightning storm.
The podcast runs 5:17 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
CCOHS produces free monthly podcasts on a wide variety of topics designed to keep you current with information, tips, and insights into the health, safety, and well-being of working Canadians. You can download the audio segment to your computer or MP3 player and listen to it at your own convenience... or on the go!
Better yet, subscribe to the series on iTunes and don't miss a single episode.
Workplace Health & Safety Matters
Workplace Health and Safety Matters is the blog of Steve Horvath, President and CEO of the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. In a recent blog post, Steve shared his thoughts on various initiatives focused on young worker health and safety.
We have seen a decline in workplace injury rates among 15 - 19 years old across Canada, which I believe is due, in part, to efforts to incorporate young worker awareness and education programs into the regular education curriculum.
The last few weeks have underscored some of our efforts in developing our youth to be future leaders in health and safety. First, on behalf of our Council of Governors, CCOHS has awarded its 12th annual Dick Martin Scholarship, a national award to recognize students enrolled in a Canadian occupational health and safety degree or diploma program, and to encourage their pursuit of a career in workplace health and safety. Congratulations to this year's deserving winners: Jodie Chadbourn (Ontario) and Kathy Lee (Saskatchewan), who each received $3000. Their academic institutions, the University of New Brunswick and the Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology, also each received $500.
In addition, CCOHS continues to support the annual "It's Your Job" youth video contest. All Canadian secondary school students begin their competition through provincial and territorial contests administered by their respective ministries and departments of labour. They are challenged to use their creativity to develop an original video that can be used in social media to communicate with their peers about working safely on the job. The winners in each jurisdiction then compete at a national level contest.
Congratulations to this year's national winners:
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We welcome your feedback and story ideas.
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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.
© 2023, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety