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Canada’s labour shortage may have become critical during the COVID-19 pandemic, but analysts have been predicting a shortage since well before physical distancing became a part of our everyday behaviours.
According to a recent survey by Statistics Canada, the unemployment-to-job vacancy ratio is at an all-time low, despite the relaxation of public health restrictions and most sectors operating in a post-pandemic recovery mode. Let’s look at what’s behind the shortage and the potential impacts on workplace safety.
Where are the workers?
During the pandemic there were related layoffs, work stoppages and challenging working conditions that led many workers to re-evaluate their careers. Post-pandemic, an aging population, the “Great Resignation” (the name given to the large population of workers who left the workforce or switched positions during the pandemic), and wage gaps are a few of the factors contributing to the staffing issues faced by different sectors in the Canadian economy.
A recent employment report from Statistics Canada shows that the unemployment rate across all age groups has decreased. However, it also reveals that there are fewer workers over 55 either working or looking for work.
This is just part of the overall picture. You may have heard about the “reservation wage,” the lowest wage rate at which a worker would be willing to accept for a particular type of job. The increased number of job vacancies may be linked to when the minimum hourly wage at which job seekers are willing to accept a position doesn’t match the wage offered. We can see this as contributing to the higher-than-normal level of job vacancies in certain sectors, particularly in retail trade and accommodation and food services. In sectors where the offered wage is above the reservation wage, such as in health care and social assistance, other factors may be at play to explain the labour shortage such as an aging population and burnout.
Sectors most affected by the pandemic are now those that are experiencing the most growth and are driving up demand for workers. Oil and mining, construction, and professional, scientific, and technical services are all experiencing cost of labour increases due to labour shortages.
Impacts on workplace health and safety
An influx of new and inexperienced workers may affect training schedules and requirements. Employers should review their processes to make sure they provide adequate time and space for new staff to learn the needed skills to perform their jobs safely. In understaffed workplaces, employees may be working at a faster than normal rate, which could lead to more incidents. The resulting increase in worker injuries and absenteeism may further decrease staffing levels. Therefore, with fewer staff, it can be more challenging to improve and monitor safety practices and ensure that workers are safe when performing their jobs.
Worker mental health can be affected, leading to employee burnout, because of these potentially unmanageable workloads, increased work hours, and the inability to maintain an acceptable work-life balance.
Creating the environment
Recruiting qualified workers can be difficult and in the current tight labour market filling open positions can take longer than before. To attract and retain workers, employers need to provide workplaces that put a priority on health and safety, and also on the individual’s well-being. Under occupational health and safety legislation, employers have responsibilities that include taking every reasonable precaution to ensure the workplace is safe and to train employees about any potential hazards.
Beyond increased wages and good working conditions, candidates are also placing importance on work-life balance. In a post-pandemic work environment, workplaces need to review their workplace health and safety program to go beyond minimum legislative requirements, and factor in ways to increase engagement, promote positive well-being, protect individual mental health and foster civility, respect, and inclusion. Workplaces can also evaluate their hiring practices to ensure that they are more inclusive and have a broader reach. Otherwise, candidates will look elsewhere to ensure that their total health, safety, and well-being are a priority. In short, an organization must foster a culture of safety where employees and supervisors all understand that both physical and psychological safety is a priority regardless of how understaffed they are.
Tips and Tools
Falls are common causes of serious work-related injuries and deaths. Fall protection planning can help eliminate the hazards and control the risks associated with working near openings or at heights.
If a hazard assessment identifies a risk of injury due to a fall from heights, a workplace is typically required to implement a fall protection plan that is specific to the site and job. It can cover a wide range of elements including considerations for performing the work safer or from ground level, the use of fall protection equipment, and the assembling, maintaining, inspecting, using, and dismantling of equipment such as ladders, scaffolds, or platforms used for working at heights. Fall protection plans also need to include worker training requirements and emergency response procedures.
When selecting the safest method of work, employers must consider the hierarchy of controls, a step-by-step approach to eliminate or reduce hazards. The hierarchy ranks controls from the most effective level of protection to the least effective. Make sure that control measures do not create new hazards, and always evaluate your controls after they have been implemented to confirm they are working effectively.
As the most effective method of control, elimination should be considered first. Elimination is the process of removing the hazard from the workplace so that the hazard is no longer present.
Ways of eliminating work at heights
Information on the other levels of controls for working at heights – substitution, engineering controls, administrative controls, and personal protective equipment – is covered in this fact sheet.
Always consult the legislation that applies in your situation, and with your jurisdiction for complete information.
The World Health Organization has released a new publication with recommendations to support workplace mental health and enable people living with mental health conditions to participate at work.
The WHO guidelines on mental health at work are intended to promote mental health, prevent mental health conditions, and enable people living with mental health conditions to participate and thrive at work. The evidence-based recommendations cover organizational interventions, manager and worker training, individual interventions, return to work, and gaining employment.
CCOHS releases new podcasts each month to help you stay current and informed on workplace health, safety, and well-being in Canada.
New Podcast: Carer-Friendly Workplaces
The number of workers in Canada who are also caregivers is on the rise. Nora Spinks, internationally recognized work-family consultant and researcher, shares how to create supportive work environments.
Podcast runs 17:57. Listen to the podcast now.
Encore Podcast: Keeping Workers Safe from Radon
Radon exposure is a leading cause of lung cancer among workers in Canada. Dr. Cheryl Peters of CAREX Canada discusses the testing process, a common misconception people have, and how employers can keep workers safe from radon.
Podcast runs 6:03. Listen to the podcast now.
Occupational health and safety laws are always evolving. This month’s highlights include changes to the Quebec Occupational Health and Safety Act, Newfoundland’s Occupational Health and Safety Act, and revisions to the Personal Protective Equipment Basics Code of Practice in Northwest Territories.
Act respecting industrial accidents and occupational diseases: A large portion of S.Q. 2021, c. 27 has come into force which makes numerous changes throughout the Act including significant amendments respecting rehabilitation, recreational equipment, capacity, return to work, job search support services, temporary assignment of work, functions and powers of the commission and others. S.Q. 2020, c. 11 has also come into force, amending s. 169 language respecting curators and mandataries.
Regulation respecting occupational health and safety (Act respecting occupational health and safety): Sections 1 and 3 of O.C. 644-2022 amend the regulation to replace the s. 1 definition of “respirable asbestos fibre” and to amend the characteristics in Schedule I of all forms of asbestos.
Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, 2012 (Occupational Health and Safety Act): N.L.R. 43/22 makes extensive revisions throughout to remove and replace gendered language.
The Personal Protective Equipment Basics Code of Practice made under the Safety Act (R.S.N.W.T. 1988, c. S-1), made effective June 1, 2015, was revised and confirmed August 30, 2022.
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.
Cold weather conditions are here. Help workers stay safe when the temperature drops with resources from CCOHS.
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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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