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Walk on to a worksite and chances are high that you’ll find electricity powering tools and light fixtures, running overhead in powerlines, or flowing through underground cables. Electricity is so integral to the day-to-day activities of a workplace that it’s easy to forget that this commonplace utility is also a serious workplace hazard.
It takes very little electrical current to seriously injure or even kill a worker. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), direct contact with a circuit that can cause less than one amp of electricity (less than the current through a 100 watt light bulb) to pass through a human body can cause a worker to stop breathing (fibrillation). Direct contact with a live 15-amp circuit, the equivalent to a standard household outlet, can result in death.
In Ontario, from 2008 to 2017, 33 workers died from electrocution (non-intentional death caused by contact with electricity) or by the effects of electrical burns on the job.
Electricity at work
An electrical hazard is a dangerous condition in which a worker could make electrical contact with energized equipment and sustain an injury from shock and/or from an arc flash burn, thermal burn or blast injury.
Electricity seeks the easiest and shortest paths to the ground – when people or objects come too close to, or touch an electrical wire, they can become part of an electrical circuit. The amount of current that flows through the body is determined by the human body resistance and the lesser the body resistance, the higher the current that flows through the body, which increases the risk of a fatal electrical shock or severe burns.
The human body can become a good conductor, conducting electrical current from a live wire to the ground, completing a circuit, if the person comes into contact with a live or energized wire. The voltage of the electricity and the available electrical current in regular businesses and homes has enough power to cause death by electrocution. Even changing a light bulb without unplugging the lamp can be hazardous from coming in contact with the energized or live part of the socket.
Workers at risk
Engineers, electricians, and overhead line workers are at the top of the list of professionals who are exposed to electrical hazards. Everyday tasks that put these workers at risk include electrical installation and repairs, testing of fixtures and equipment and inspection and maintenance activities. Certain worksites are also exposed to more electrical hazards. For instance, some common electrical hazards found at a construction site include working on ladders or scaffolding near overhead conductors or using hoisting equipment near energized overhead power lines. Improperly grounded generators, worn or damaged electrical cords, and cord connected power tools without double insulated casing are also hazardous.
People who indirectly work with electricity, including office workers, painters and equipment operators, are also exposed to electrical hazards.
Injuries from electrical currents
There are four main types of injuries: electrocution (fatal), electric shock, burns, and falls. These injuries can happen in various ways.
Roles and responsibilities
Employers are responsible for protecting workers from electrical hazards. Employers, managers, and supervisors should encourage workers to communicate any questions or concerns they may have about electrical hazards and be familiar with and able to identify electrical hazards to workers at a worksite.
Supervisors must provide information, instruction and supervision to workers to protect their health and safety. This includes ensuring that workers wear any personal protective equipment and devices required by the employer. It is the supervisor’s responsibility to advise workers of any known health or safety dangers and to provide them with any prescribed written instructions about measures and procedures to be taken for their protection.
Tips for workers include:
When someone is injured in an electrical accident, call your local emergency services right away. Keep everyone back at least 10 metres and don’t attempt a rescue unless directed by provincial or local hydro personnel. Touching an injured person who is still in contact with an electrical source could cause a serious or fatal injury.
Tips and Tools
Does your workplace pass the civility test? In a respectful workplace, employees are courteous, caring, and considerate in their interactions with one another, as well as with customers, clients and the public.
For workers, a civil and respectful workplace can translate into greater job satisfaction, greater perceptions of fairness, and a more positive attitude. The organization’s bottom line benefits from improved morale, better teamwork, enhanced supervisor-staff relationships, and reduction in sick leave and turnover. When people are treated with respect, they take a greater interest in personal development, engage in problem solving, and generally enjoy their environment more.
So how do you get there? Here are ten tips to help make respect and civility the standard in your workplace:
Provide training and resources on civil and respectful workplace behaviours such as listening, giving feedback, conflict resolution, anger management, and dealing with difficult customers. It’s also important that staff learn to recognize what constitutes uncivil behaviour and how to address it.
Adopt non-discriminatory language and maintain the confidentiality of employees’ personal information in all communications. Ensure that communications are easy to find and accessible to all by prominently displaying on bulletin boards, in employee handbooks, or online.
Basic respect is the foundation of working relationships. A civil workplace is one where everyone’s input is recognized, valued and where our attention is focused on the conversation at hand. This focus means giving people and meetings your undivided attention. Be sure to turn off your cell phone or any other device that may distract you. If you’re going to be late for a meeting, let the organizer know in advance.
Please… Thank you… Excuse me… I’m sorry are words that you can use regularly to establish civility. Express appreciation to co-workers for their help, avoid interrupting others when they are speaking, and apologize with sincerity if you have mistakenly offended someone. These seemingly small gestures all help to contribute to an overall culture of a respectful workplace.
In an uneasy work environment, it is commonplace for co-workers to not even greet each other. Next time you’re passing a colleague in the hallway or seeing them in the lunchroom, acknowledge them by saying “Hello”. Courtesy is infectious and helps build positive morale.
Humour in the workplace can take many forms and not all of them are appropriate nor appreciated by everyone. Before making a joke, pause to consider your audience. Is the joke at someone else’s expense? Might it be embarrassing or demeaning? If the answer is yes to any of these, then don’t share the joke.
Be courteous, friendly – these actions foster a positive working culture. Find out how co-workers would like to be addressed. Avoid giving people nicknames or pet names as that can be seen as belittling and patronizing. Look for opportunities to include others that you may not generally socialize with by acknowledging their birthday, inviting them to lunch, or asking for their input. Everyone wants to be recognized and have a sense of belonging. It can be very rewarding to bridge social barriers to discover new associations.
Give others credit when they do a good job. By being modest and raising others, you can contribute to building a culture of generosity and trust, while allowing others to share in the satisfaction of a job well done.
Promote and reinforce respectful leadership behaviour. Provide managers and supervisors with appropriate training and supports, and ensure that they are available, present, and in contact with workers to be able to recognize and resolve issues.
In addition to demonstrating the type of behaviour we expect from others, it is equally important for employers to address situations that affect civility. Create and enforce guidelines and policies detailing expectations, and consequences for inappropriate behaviour. Allow for constructive problem-solving. Manage conflicts in an effective and timely fashion, and ensure follow-up with all parties involved.
Practicing small, everyday acts of civility, care, and consideration can go a long way to help everyone feel safe, comfortable, and respected at work.
They are taking their aging, ill or disabled loved ones to specialist appointments, making meals, doing laundry, and helping monitor medications. They even assist with very personal tasks like bathing, feeding, and dressing. And they do it all while juggling the demands of a full or part-time job. Known as “carer-employees”, they are the 5.6 million working Canadians providing care and assistance to family or friends living with ongoing conditions, while also working in paid employment.
According to Statistics Canada 2012 data, these caregiving employees represent 35% of the workforce and their responsibilities often aren’t met with workplace support, causing them to miss work days, experience reduced productivity, or leave the workforce entirely. To support these workers and keep them healthy and employed, a new standard has been published: CSA B701-17 Carer-inclusive and accommodating organizations.
“As our population ages, there’s an increase in the expectation for family members to carry this additional, informal caregiving role while continuing to work, usually full-time,” says Dr. Allison Williams, a professor at McMaster University and Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) Chair in Gender, Health and Caregiver Friendly Workplaces. “This is having a significant impact both on employees and on workplaces.”
The standard developed by Williams in partnership with the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) and in consultation with 30 partners across a number of sectors including CCOHS, offers employers solutions, information, and case studies to help them implement policies and programs aimed at creating more carer-inclusive and accommodating workplaces.
These guidelines recommend ways for employers to support carer-employees, from offering more flexible work arrangements like job sharing and the ability to work from home, to modifying employee assistance plans and benefits packages, as well as providing counseling services and options for paid or unpaid leave.
“We need to ensure that supervisors and managers at all levels, as well as co-workers, understand that this is a workplace issue, not just a private issue, and that it’s the responsibility of workplaces to support carer-employees as they try to balance multiple demands.”
It’s an issue that, according to Williams, will only grow over time, with both employees and workplaces increasingly feeling the impact. “Employers really need to play a role here,” she says. “There’s a lot of potential for the workplace to accommodate and assist carer-employees through policy innovation that supports their workers in managing this critical, and growing work-life balance issue."
The Carer-inclusive and accommodating organizations Standard (B-701-17), and associated Implementation Guide/Handbook is for sale on the CSA website.
This month’s featured podcasts include Accommodating Scent Sensitivities in the Workplace and an encore presentation of Recognizing Radon.
Feature Podcast: Accommodating Scent Sensitivities in the Workplace
Help your co-workers to breathe easy by maintaining a fragrance-free workplace. This podcast discusses the issues of scents sensitivities in the workplace and provides information on how fragrances can impact the health of your co-workers.
The podcast runs 4:13 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
Encore Podcast: Recognizing Radon
Radon is a colourless, odourless, tasteless gas released when uranium, found naturally in rocks and soil, decays. It is also classified as a known carcinogen and a leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. In Canada, radon can be found in new and older homes, public buildings and underground worksites. In this podcast, Dr. Cheryl Peters, Postdoctoral Fellow at Carleton University and Occupational Exposures Lead Scientist at CAREX Canada discusses radon, where it’s found, the impact it can have on our health and how we can limit our exposure to it.
The podcast runs for 8:22 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!
The world of work is experiencing rapid, constant change, bringing with it new and emerging health and safety challenges. Get a head start on taking action by attending Forum 2019: The Changing World of Work. World-renowned futurist Nikolas Badminton will set the stage with a keynote on artificial intelligence and how the world of work may change over the next 5, 10, 15 years and beyond.
You’ll then dive deeper into technologies and their undeniable impact, and gain a greater understanding of how the evolving workforce affects and is affected by our overall culture. You’ll learn about the new workplace, in which accommodation, diversity and inclusivity are not just nice-to-haves, but a must for any organization. You’ll be inspired by courageous stories of leadership, motivation, teamwork and trust.
Over two days, you will meet and engage with leaders, influencers and change makers from across Canada and with very different perspectives. You will explore and understand how the changing workforce, the changing workplace, and the changing nature of work have already impacted us and the way we work, and discuss ideas and solutions on how we can all keep pace, keep well, and keep safe.
Inspiring Expert Speakers Include:
About the Forum
CCOHS Forum 2019 will take place on March 5 - 6, 2019, in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Register by November 30 to save $100. Discounts are also available for CCOHS Members and full-time students.
Learn more about Forum and register
CCOHS is looking for industrious, committed students in occupational health and safety programs to apply for their 2019 Dick Martin Scholarship Award. The annual, national scholarship is open to all students enrolled in an occupational health and safety course or program at an accredited Canadian college or university, leading to an occupational health and safety certificate, diploma or degree.
Two scholarships worth $3000 each will be awarded to one winning university student and one winning college student. A $500 award will also be provided to each of the winning students’ academic institutions.
To apply for the scholarship, post-secondary students are invited to submit a 1000 -1200 word essay on one of two topics related to occupational health and safety. Essays will be judged on the intellectual content, the practical and theoretical value and the presentation and style.
For application rules, criteria, tips and other guidelines visit www.ccohs.ca/scholarship.
If you’re not a student, but know one, why not share this with them?
Applications are open until 11:59 p.m. EST, January 31, 2019 and the winners will be announced during North American Occupational Health and Safety Week in May 2019.
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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.
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