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Elena works at a hardware store. As she works to set up an end cap display on one of the aisles, she can feel the arthritis in her hands beginning to ache. Her brow furrows in frustration as she rubs her wrists. A colleague she is close with, Hector, comes around the corner pulling a cart full of boxes and notices Elena’s pained expression.
“Hey Elena. How are you doing? You look like you’re in a lot of pain. Is your arthritis bothering you?”
Elena looks around for other workers within earshot. “Sshh Hector! I don’t need the whole store knowing my business.” She continues trying to soothe the pain in her hands. “It really hasn’t been too bad lately, but it does tend to flare up when the weather changes.”
“Why don’t you talk to management?” Hector offers. “I’m sure there are accommodations they can make to help you work more comfortably.”
Elena shakes her head, worried about her job security if she’s perceived to be less productive or a burden.
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, 44% of people in Canada over the age of 20 are living with at least one of the ten most common chronic conditions. A chronic condition is one that limits a person’s daily living activities and requires ongoing medical attention for a year or more. Some examples include osteoarthritis, hypertension, mood disorders, and diabetes.
Workers who are living with chronic conditions often feel reluctant to ask for accommodation from their employers because they fear reprisal if their productivity is perceived to be affected. Some may be reluctant to have their condition become a part of their identity.
New tool offers strategies to reduce pain and discomfort at work
A new tool designed by the Institute for Work and Health helps identify accommodations and solutions that can be used by the worker or brought to the employer, with or without disclosing the condition to the employer. The Job Demands Action Planning Tool (JDAPT) begins with a questionnaire, offered in French and in English, that has users identify job tasks they find challenging. It asks the user to pinpoint the degree of difficulty they have with certain tasks, and whether it changes over time. When the questionnaire is finished, JDAPT provides a list of job task changes the worker can either make themselves or ask for to help accommodate their condition.
The questionnaire focuses on four areas: physical demands, cognitive or “thinking” demands, interpersonal demands, and the working environment. Once workers have answered questions about the demands of their work and how their health is affected, the tool provides them with a customized list of modifications, ranging from simple adjustments they can make on their own to those that involve assistance from employers and coworkers. The results may also help indicate if an accommodation request is appropriate.
Designed to preserve users’ anonymity, the tool does not retain any data once the questionnaire is finished. It provides users with a PDF of their job demands summary and suggested accommodations should they want to discuss them with their manager.
Benefits of accommodating workers
Human rights legislation specifies that employers have a duty to accommodate a worker’s needs in relation to a disability or chronic condition. Doing so also has benefits for the workplace. Accommodating workers so that they can do their job tasks effectively or without pain or discomfort demonstrates a commitment to well-being, can help increase loyalty, and help reduce turnover. It also benefits an organization’s evolving health and safety procedures and protocols to have input from diverse experiences and perspectives.
Creating a safe environment to disclose
It can be difficult to make accommodations if workers don’t feel comfortable coming forward about their health challenges. Reassure all workers that accommodations are available for those who need them. Consider posting resources like JDAPT which can provide anonymous assistance to help workers understand their needs and possible solutions better. If managers and supervisors are open about discussing their own chronic conditions, it may help put workers at ease that their jobs are not in jeopardy if they disclose health challenges.
Disclosing a chronic condition can be stressful for the worker, so when they do come forward, be sure everyone is treated with the empathy they deserve. Don’t press for intimate details or their prognosis. Thank them for confiding in you and reassure them that you are here to help whether you are a supervisor or a co-worker. Ask them what they need to do their job safely and comfortably and listen thoughtfully to their requests. Supervisors and managers can indicate that they will work with human resources to come up with a solution that helps the worker manage their condition and the work they do.
“You know Elena, it might reassure you to know there are other workers here who are also dealing with chronic conditions,” Hector offers. “Maybe you aren’t ready to talk to management yet, and that’s ok. Why don’t you call that number in the break room and get some confidential advice?”
Elena nods, giving it some thought. “Thanks Hector. You know, I think I will talk to our supervisor.”
Tips and Tools
Spills, frayed wires, and broken machine guards are some of the more easily identified hazards you may come across in the workplace. But bacteria, ill-fitting workstations, and stress may be harder to detect. Through a critical examination of the workplace, regular inspections can help identify and control hazards to keep workers safe.
As an essential part of a health and safety program, inspections allow employers to identify existing and potential hazards, assess the risk, recommend corrective actions, and monitor the steps taken to remove hazards or control the risks.
When planning an inspection, it’s important to consider all workplace elements, including personnel, equipment, materials, processes, and the environment.
Here are ten tips for an effective inspection:
Make sure to check the regulatory requirements in your jurisdiction regarding workplace inspections.
Nova Scotia employers, supervisors and workers can now download the new Nova SAFE mobile app for access to provincial health and safety information and legislation.
Nova SAFE features plain language summaries on a variety of occupational health and safety and technical topics, along with definitions, plus direct links to relevant sections in provincial legislation. It also includes resources to help workplaces achieve compliance with Nova Scotia Acts and Regulations. The app was developed by the Nova Scotia Labour, Skills, and Immigration, Safety Branch, in collaboration with CCOHS.
The app is available from https://www.novasafe.ca/.
CCOHS releases new podcasts each month to help you stay current and informed on workplace health, safety, and well-being in Canada.
New Podcast: Tips to Navigate the Brave New Workplace
Implementing small changes can have a profound effect on employee well-being. Leadership expert Dr. Julian Barling shares the most important factors for creating a productive, healthy, and safe workplace. Dr. Barling will speak more about navigating the brave new workplace at CCOHS Forum, taking place September 26-27 in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Podcast runs: 11:30 Listen to the podcast now.
Encore Podcast: Workplace Refreshers to Prevent Dehydration
No matter the season or type of work, if staff don't drink enough fluids to replace what is lost in the day, they can become dehydrated. Just a small drop can cause a loss of energy, with severe dehydration being a medical emergency. Learn more about keeping workers safe, including tips for recognition and prevention.
Podcast runs 6:08 Listen to the podcast now.
Canada’s Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) has changed as of December 2022. Access updated CCOHS courses and resources so workers and employers have the current information they need to work safely with hazardous products in the workplace.
WHMIS for Workers (online course)
Workers that use or could be exposed to hazardous products need to be educated and trained on WHMIS as part of the knowledge they need to protect themselves and their co-workers from these products. This updated course reflects the amended WHMIS legislation and helps satisfy the education requirements for hazardous products.
Workers will learn to recognize their duties and those of their employer, understand hazard classes and categories, and identify hazard types indicated by pictograms. They’ll also learn to interpret hazard information on WHMIS labels and know how to locate information in a safety data sheet.
The key changes in the December 2022 amendments include:
For most workplaces, the most notable impact will be seen in the changes to the Flammable Gases class, and the new class of Chemicals Under Pressure. Suppliers have until December 14, 2025, to bring their safety data sheets and labels into compliance with the amendments.
More information about the amendments to the Hazardous Products Regulations is available from Health Canada.
View more updated information and resources:
Occupational health and safety laws are always evolving. This month’s highlights include amendments to the Workers’ Compensation Act in British Columbia, Ontario’s Workplace and Insurance Act, and to an Act in Quebec respecting industrial accidents and occupational diseases.
Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations (Canada Labour Code, Part II): SOR/2023-65 repeals and replaces the definition of Act in Section 1.2; replaces Section 1.3 Prescription; and, adds new Part XX Regular Rate of Wages.
Workers' Compensation Act: S.B.C. 2022, c. 37 is partly in force. Section 231.1 (Payment of interest) was added to the Act. Amendments to section 302 (Health professional assistance in specific cases) require the Workers' Compensation Appeal Tribunal to employ an independent health professional to assist or advise concerning a medical condition at issue in an appeal or when assistance or advice is useful for the tribunal to make its decision. As well, during an appeal, the Tribunal must retain a health professional if an employer, worker or dependant of a deceased worker requests it.
Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997: S.O. 2023, c. 2, Sched. 9 amends the definition of “health care practitioner” in subsection 2 (1); repeals and replaces subsection 53 (4) with clauses (4) and (4.1) pertaining to learners or students and apprentices; adds subsection 159 (6.1); amends subsection 162 (4); repeals subsection 166 (1) and replaces with subsections 166 (1), (1.1) and (1.2), and repeals paragraph 1 of subsection 166 (2).
Act respecting industrial accidents and occupational diseases: More portions of S.Q. 2021, c. 27 are now in force which amend ss. 359 to 361, 363, 365 and 433 of the Act regarding contesting decisions of the Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail before the Administrative Labour Tribunal.
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.
If you are a woman enrolled in a post-secondary occupational health and safety program, you may be eligible to apply for the Chad Bradley Scholarship.
The $3,000 award is open to women enrolled in a post-secondary program leading to an occupational health and safety designation from an accredited college or university in Canada. To apply, you will need to submit a 500-800 word essay detailing why you are pursuing an education in occupational health and safety; your motivation and inspiration; what and how you expect to contribute to the field and/or safe work; and other achievements and activities that demonstrate a commitment to and involvement in your community, workplace, or school.
The deadline to apply is August 31, 2023, at 11:59 p.m. EDT and winners will be announced in the fall.
Learn more about Chad Bradley and how to apply for the scholarship online: www.ccohs.ca/scholarships.
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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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