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Record wildfire seasons in Western Canada. Floods in Central and Eastern Canada. A 30°C forecast in the Northwest Territories sparking Canada’s first heat warning of 2019. Extreme weather events have been dominating the news lately, and that seems unlikely to stop anytime soon. According to a new study, Canada’s Changing Climate Report (CCCR), commissioned by Environment and Climate Change Canada, Canada is warming at roughly twice the rate of the rest of the world, and these warming temperatures will continue to trigger these weather extremes and other effects.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that human activities have caused about 1°C of global warming and is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2050 at its current pace. Since 1948, Canada’s annual average land temperature has warmed by a best estimate of 1.7°C, with higher increases reported for the North, the Prairies and northern British Columbia.
Impacts of climate change on worker health and safety
The effects of warming include more extreme heat, less extreme cold, shorter snow and ice cover seasons, more precipitation, thawing permafrost, and rising sea levels - all of which can directly and indirectly affect workers and their health and safety in many ways.
Extreme temperatures. Hot temperatures will become more frequent and even more intense. Outdoor workers will be vulnerable to these temperatures, and may feel increased irritability, loss of concentration and a decreased ability to do mental tasks or heavy work. Heat exposure can also lead to illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke, which requires immediate medical attention.
Weather events. Extreme events are expected to rise in Canada, and these wildfires, floods and tornadoes put the health and safety of first responders, supporting workers, and the public at direct risk. Smoke from wildfires can affect the air, floodwater can sweep away vehicles in an instant, and high winds can uproot trees and destroy buildings. Disasters can also impact workers’ psychological health from the intensity of stress or trauma.
Air pollution. Both indoor and outdoor air quality can be affected by emissions of pollutants into the atmosphere. For example, as a mixture of air pollutants, smog can be irritating, worsen existing medical conditions, and even lead to premature death.
Vector‐borne diseases and other biological hazards. Vectors such as mosquitoes and ticks survive and reproduce within an optimal climatic range. Unfortunately, these infectious agents typically prefer wetter, more humid, and warmer conditions. The more active and the more numerous the insects are, the more likely workers are to get bitten by a mosquito that is carrying a virus like West Nile, or a black-legged tick carrying Lyme disease. High risk tick areas have spread across British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, usually in forested and overgrown areas.
Chronic diseases. Climate change can worsen the symptoms of people with existing medical conditions, including diabetes, respiratory illnesses, and cardiovascular disease. For instance, a rise in temperature and humidity reduces air quality, affecting those with respiratory conditions. In addition, workers with underlying health conditions could find it more difficult to adapt to risks from exposure to extreme events.
Emerging health and safety risks. Unfortunately, new technologies or work processes designed to address climate change can also lead to new hazards. Nanomaterials, for instance, are used in many ways such as ceramic coatings for solar cells, sunscreen, and lithium-ion batteries on electric cars. With nanotechnology and other emerging risks, the best approach to take is the precautionary principle - taking prudent action in the face of potentially serious risk, without waiting for further scientific research.
What workplaces can do
Climate change is already affecting workers’ health and safety. Depending on how quickly the environment continues to change, challenges are expected to arise and also increase in severity. Workplaces can take a variety of actions now in anticipation of numerous hazards.
On the plus side, climate change has led to the rise of clean technologies that reduce environmental impacts. These technologies include solutions for treating toxins in industrial wastewater, zero-emission electric buses, smart thermostats for workplaces and homes, and energy-efficient tools for capturing carbon dioxide from industrial sources. To prepare workers for these new occupations and new ways of working - as with any job - employers must ensure that workers receive ongoing health and safety training, know their basic rights, and take every precaution to ensure the workplace is safe.
The effects of warming have already and will continue to pose challenges to health and safety, and workplaces can act now to help mitigate risks of climate change.
Tips & Tools
This is the first in a series of Tips and Tools articles on health and safety compliance
Every person employed in Canada has the right to a safe work environment. The Occupational Health and Safety Act, or its jurisdictional equivalent, requires that everyone at or associated with the workplace takes responsibility for their own health and safety and the health and safety of those around them. This includes employers, employees, owners, contractors, sub-contractors, contracting employers, and suppliers.
The three main rights of workers
The Occupational Health and Safety Act in your jurisdiction entitles all workers to three rights:
Right to Know
As a worker, you have the right to be informed by the employer of actual and potential dangers in the workplace as well as known or potential workplace hazards. You are to be provided with the information, instructions, education, training, and supervision necessary to protect your health and safety. This information should be provided before the work begins or when it becomes known.
Areas of information include:
The Right to Participate
This right allows workers to have input on the steps taken by the employer to ensure health and safety.
Workers can provide input on what would make the workplace safe by:
The Right to Refuse
The right to refuse is normally used when the first two rights fail to ensure your health and safety. Exercising this right is serious and should not be done lightly or used as a routine method of solving workplace problems.
However, workers should not be afraid to exercise their right to refuse when they believe that the work will endanger their health or safety, or that of others. The right to refuse process involves several steps:
Watch for more articles on occupational health and safety legislation across Canada in upcoming issues.
From extended work days to periods of intense trauma, to exposure to diseases and violent situations, healthcare and paramedic workers face many issues day in, day out, all within a challenging environment. The Mental Health Commission of Canada partnered with CCOHS to develop two free online assessment tools to specifically address the psychological stressors faced by healthcare and paramedic workers.
Caring for Healthcare Workers
Healthcare workers are 1.5 times more likely to be off work due to illness or disability than people in other sectors. They are also at higher risk of burnout, compassion fatigue, and sleep deprivation - all of which can affect their own psychological health and safety, as well as the safety of patients. Designed for healthcare organizations looking to implement the National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace, the new Caring for Healthcare Workers tool addresses the unique risks and opportunities within the healthcare sector.
Caring for the Paramedic Community
Paramedics are more likely to experience mental disorders than other public safety personnel, who collectively are already four times more likely to be diagnosed with a mental disorder than the general population. Caring for the Paramedic Community helps organizations implement the National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Paramedic Service Organization, released in May 2018. Commissioned by the Paramedic Association of Canada, the standard offers sector-specific guidance for developing and maintaining a psychologically healthy and safe workplace.
Each tool consists of an organizational self-assessment review plus a confidential survey for workers to provide their perspectives on the psychosocial health and safety within their particular workplace. Healthcare and paramedic service organizations can use the results to determine the critical areas of strength and concern for follow-up. Links to resources are also provided to help organizations take action to improve the health and well-being of their workers and develop a culture of psychological safety.
Health and Safety To Go
This month features a new interview podcast: Occupational Disease and Prevention with Valerie Wolfe.
Valerie Wolfe is the Regional Executive Director of Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW), who, in collaboration with CCOHS, has developed and launched, the website Prevent Occupational Disease. In this podcast interview Valerie Wolfe discusses occupational disease and prevention.
The podcast runs 6:02 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
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.
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!
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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.
© 2016, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
Length: 6:02 minutes
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