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Please note: this article discusses a worker’s return to job duties following a mental or physical injury. Workplaces looking for guidance on re-opening their businesses during COVID-19 can refer to CCOHS’ Infectious Disease Outbreaks/Pandemics website.
After witnessing a catastrophic injury to his good friend at work, Mac has been suffering from flashbacks, guilt, and difficulties concentrating. His doctor has diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder and Mac fears that an eventual return to the same job, or even to a different position, will not be possible.
Whether an employee returns to work from a mental or physical injury, the guiding principles are similar. Their return to work plan - a written action plan to keep the worker working or returning them to work as soon as medically possible - should focus on their abilities and not on the injury, illness, or causes. It is important that the employer, the injured worker, and other involved parties work together so that the worker can get back to performing suitable work.
The worker may also have concerns about stigma, judgement or what their colleagues may think or assume will happen. The plan should also discuss and outline what information will be shared and changed, and how that is to be done.
Preventing illnesses and injuries is a shared responsibility among everyone in the workplace, and when an employee experiences illness, injury, or poor mental health. this collective accountability remains. At any given time in Canada, 8% to 12% of the workforce is off work due to injury and receiving workers’ compensation, long-term disability or weekly indemnity benefits.
Both the employer and the employee benefit from a timely and safe return to work. The employee is active, engaged, and retains valuable job skills. Continued income and pension/employment insurance eligibility help to ease financial stress. Employers retain experienced workers, get a boost in employee morale, and reduce their hiring, training, and workers’ compensation costs.
Elements of a return to work program
An organization’s return to work program should include a policy statement approved by senior management, and by senior union or worker representatives if applicable. This statement outlines the scope, principles, and intent of the return to work program.
The program should be developed by a joint labour-management committee, if applicable. This committee includes employees from all areas of the organization, human resources, management representatives from all sectors, and union representation. Ensure that the program outlines the responsibilities of everyone involved and treats all injured workers in a fair and consistent manner. The program should focus on action, rehabilitation, and efforts to return the worker to their pre-injury position, or a position that is comparable in function and income. Make sure the program describes how workers who return with permanent disabilities will be accommodated, with clear transition steps.
All staff need to understand the program and know how to access this information. It can be included as part of your health and safety or human resources manual. Review it annually and check for any legislative changes that may apply.
Get involved right from the beginning
Returning to work too early can increase the risk of injury to the worker. However, the longer the employee is away from work, the less likely they are to return to their job. Studies have shown that in the case of an illness or injury, early intervention is critical. Make early and considerate contact with the injured worker and discuss next steps. Show your concern, be understanding when addressing their issues, and reassure them that you will be working together on their return to work plan.
What’s in a return to work plan
An injured worker will need to have an individual return to work plan. The plan should be progressive and include goals, timelines, and clearly defined responsibilities. Allow for revisions as necessary.
Focus on safe, meaningful, and productive duties while balancing the needs of both the workplace and the injured worker. Review the jobs at your workplace and assess the risks. When evaluating jobs, your worker's current abilities and their health care professional’s advice will highlight which particular risks you need to control. Review the job tasks for the new position and compare them to the medical advice from your worker's health care professional. Make sure that they are a good match for their abilities and limitations.
Document the offer of suitable work, listing details of what duties or tasks are available for the worker to do, as well as outline the assistance that will be provided to them. Include milestone dates, times, tasks, and expectations. Involve the injured worker throughout this planning process.
Communicate with the team that the worker will be returning so that any retraining can be planned and just as importantly, the worker can be welcomed back. Do not tolerate gossip and other uncivil behaviours that can lead to stigma and an unsupportive environment.
When the employee returns to duty following their injury, go over any changes to procedures, the department, or the organization. Check in to see how the worker is doing, and if any further accommodations are needed. Review their return to work plan within the first two weeks to make sure that progress is being made and that a gradual increase to full duties can be achieved.
In Mac’s case, he and his employer agreed to a modified work arrangement in a different production facility. He gradually worked up to full-time hours while his medical appointments were accommodated.
Tips and Tools
Whether you’re working at a construction site, in a commercial kitchen, or on a warehouse floor, you could find yourself at risk of slipping or tripping. You may be surprised to learn that most falls don't happen from roofs, ladders, or any other heights. In fact, around 66% of falls happen on the same level, caused by slips and trips. Considering that in 2018, there were 51,880 lost time claims related to workplace falls in Canada (representing almost 20% of all lost time claims), workplaces need to be vigilant for slip and trip hazards, regardless of industry. There is always a risk, from an oily floor to poor lighting to ice and other weather hazards.
Slips and trips happen when there is some unexpected change in the contact between the feet and the ground or floor. The number of hazards can increase seasonally with the weather such as the occurrence of frost, wet leaves, ice, and shortened daylight hours in autumn and winter. There are four factors that should be addressed in preventing falls from slips and trips: 1) good housekeeping; 2) quality of walking surfaces (flooring); 3) proper footwear; and 4) pace of walking.
This is the first and the most important factor in preventing falls due to slips and trips. Be sure to:
Changing or modifying walking surfaces to provide sure footing is an important step in preventing slips and trips. Recoating or replacing floors, installing mats, pressure-sensitive abrasive strips or abrasive-filled paint-on coating, and metal or synthetic decking can further improve safety and reduce the risk of falling. Also, resilient, non-slippery flooring prevents or reduces foot fatigue and can help prevent slips.
In workplaces where floors may be oily or wet or where workers spend a lot of time outdoors, selecting proper footwear is essential to preventing fall accidents. Since there is no anti-slip footwear ideal for every condition, it is recommended that you consult with manufacturers for the available options best suited to your needs. Wearing footwear that fits properly increases your comfort and prevents fatigue which, in turn, improves your safety.
What workers can do
Safety is everybody's business. It is the employers' responsibility to provide a safe work environment for all employees, but there are steps you can take to reduce the risk of falling at work.
You can reduce the risk of slipping on wet flooring by:
You can reduce the risk of tripping by:
Many workplaces are going through unprecedented times. Protecting your team’s mental health has never been more important.
Whether you have used Guarding Minds at Work or the resource is new to you, there is a lot to check out in the updated 2020 version. You will find free assessment tools, suggested strategies, and planning worksheets, all available in English and French.
At the heart of Guarding Minds is an online survey that helps you assess psychological health and safety in your workplace. The tool provides you with a snapshot of current perceptions of employees that you can use to identify and address concerns.
Employers can impact the psychological health and safety of workers – both positively and negatively. Guarding Minds can help you improve in specific areas of concern, such as supporting employees to be successful at their jobs; effective communication and how it can improve morale; and work relationships and interactions.
Improvements to the 2020 version include:
Originally launched in 2009, Guarding Minds was the first free resource to assess psychological health and safety in workplaces. Guarding Minds was commissioned by Canada Life, developed by researchers through Simon Fraser University, and is hosted and supported by CCOHS.
Learn more about Guarding Minds at Work.
Build your own custom guidance kit to operate safety during a pandemic.
CCOHS has launched a customizable tool kit resource to help workplaces operate safely and prevent the spread of infection. Anchored by the COVID-19 Workplace Health and Safety Guide, the online hub provides access to over 40 free resources. The guide and tips sheets can be downloaded individually or bundled with infographics, posters, and other resources to create a customized tool kit.
You can find the tool kit here.
When workplace incidents happen, they must be investigated properly and by the right individuals. As incidents have the potential to result in injury, illness, and fatalities, it is important for the investigators to identify the root cause so future incidents can be prevented. Key areas to explore include the task, material, environment, personnel, and management. By taking a deeper look into these areas, investigators can find out the facts, and create and implement a plan for corrective action.
Share this infographic on how to conduct an incident investigation in the workplace, including who should do the investigation, and how to conduct, conclude and communicate findings. See the fact sheet on incident investigation for additional information and resources.
Occupational health and safety laws are always evolving. This month, we highlight amendments to the Canada Labour Code relating to COVID-19 and to Northwest Territories Occupational health and Safety Regulations.
Two recent amendments are in force amending the Canada Labour Code (Part III). S.C. 2020, c. 5, s. 36 repeals section 168.1 Leave - entitlement without certificate. S.C. 2020, c. 5, various sections came into force replacing subsections 187.1(1) and (3) and repealing (3.1); replacing subsection 187.2(1); replacing subsection 206.1(2.1), (2.4) and (4) and repealing (4.1); replacing subsections 207.2(1) and (3) and repealing (3.1); adding subsection 239(1.1); repealing Division XIII.01 Leave Related to COVID-19; and, replacing subsection 246.1(1)(a).
Section 33.1 Leave Related to COVID-19 is repealed and replaced in the Canada Labour Standards Regulations, under the Canada Labour Code (SOR/2020-191).
The Northwest Territories Occupational Health and Safety Regulations have been amended by R-013-2020 which makes extensive amendments, particularly to the French version, related to terminology and definitions. Schedules K, L, M, N, P, T, U, V, and Y are replaced and S, and X are amended.
For more information regarding recent regulatory changes CCOHS offers a paid subscription service, Canadian enviroOSH Legislation plus Standards, that provides a collection of all the health, safety and environmental legislation you need in one location.
Every year, in November, grade nine students across Canada are offered the opportunity to go to work with a parent, relative, or friend as part of Take Our Kids to Work. This program from The Learning Partnership gives young people a chance to job shadow their parent or another adult at work for a day, to get an up-close glimpse of work life. In addition, the entire community of parents, teachers and employers has an opportunity to get involved in the career development of these students.
This year, Take Our Kids to Work takes place on Wednesday, November 4 and The Learning Partnership is taking the day online. In support of this move, they have posted lesson plans, activities, and other resources to help workplaces build an exciting day of learning. In addition, CCOHS encourages workplaces to focus on the importance of safety on the job. Here are a few ideas to help include health and safety as part of the day:
Visit The Learning Partnership website to access resources and learn more about the Take Our Kids to Work program.
CCOHS’ Young Workers Zone offers health and safety resources for young workers, parents, employers and teachers.
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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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