Reflections on the Continuing Evolution of Workplace Health & Safety…
Contribution by Larry Masotti, MA, CRSP, Strategic Relationships Advisor, Workplace Safety & Prevention Services
Traditionally or historically, Canadian workplaces have focused primarily on safety hazards and risks. Unfortunately, the acute or immediate challenges received focus, while the chronic or cumulative hazards and risks received minimal or cursory attention. This left the area of health subservient or dominated by the focus on safety. Clearly, today, we as progressive OH&S professionals not only consider physical health, but now openly embrace the tenets of psychological health as well.
Similarly, we are currently evolving in our understanding of workplace health and safety to encompass not only historical hazards (such as falls from heights, pinch point hazards, slips and falls...) but the broader view that integrates emotional well-being, physical health, mental health, employee engagement and workplace culture. While the treatment of mental illness remains within the domain of a healthcare professional, a OH&S professional understands the importance of personal connection through a respectful relationship where listening is paramount. This span of knowledge reinforces the continuing need to learn how to learn as well as how to unlearn substandard concepts or practices.
We have also seen the dichotomy or contrast between presenteeism and total worker involvement. These two comparatives lead us to better understanding of successful recruitment and the criticality of retention. Inasmuch that many workplace disciplines are interdependent, clearly the domain of human resources is a primary connection. The concepts of on-boarding, orientation, supervisory oversight, mentoring and other sustainable activities lead to a successful strategy in recruitment. This groundwork of safety, quality, production and efficiency leads to the retention of an engaged employee.
Given that we currently have as many as five different generations and diverse working populations in many Canadian workplaces, the role of a Canadian health & safety professional has numerous responsibilities and opportunities.
Beyond the mandate of regulatory or legislative compliance, and management system conformance, the OH&S professional is often the key driver within an organization, regardless of size, to build and support the workplace culture.
As a management of change proponent, the OH&S professional helps navigate the various challenges that arise within our respective markets. Whether local, national or global, most organizations are dealing with market forces that demand resilience in the face of change. Change begins with an organization's people - Health and safety of people remains an organizational imperative.
Given that the OH&S professional is constantly resolving issues through problem solving, risk assessment, audit protocols, safety observations and job hazard analyses, it is likely that experiential learning is occurring on a perpetual basis. The nature of the profession has always required a strong penchant for lifelong learning. The constancy of change, coupled with the uncertainty of economic volatility, supply chain disruption and labour market challenges place the OH&S professional squarely as a much-needed liaison amongst all levels of employees. Whether serving as a communication channel, a teacher, trainer, mentor or a reciprocating learner, the OH&S professional is often a centre of influence.
While inclusion, diversity, equity, accessibility and decolonization certainly present challenges in current workplaces, they often provide many opportunities for leadership on the part of today’s OH&S professional. Whether embracing cultural differences, navigating difficult conversations or simply learning about one another and ultimately leading by example, this remains within the OH&S professional’s mandate.
Although the concept of telecommuting or home office-based employment did not originate with the Covid-19 pandemic, it undoubtedly dramatically enhanced its relevance for most workplaces in Canada. The inherent hazards of working from home became more pronounced as many found themselves in this situation. Regardless of hazard category, OH&S professionals have now educated their organizational colleagues on ergonomic hazards, biological hazards, physical hazards, chemical hazards and psychosocial hazards. The realities of musculoskeletal disorders, pandemic respiratory protection, slips, falls and social isolation have become commonplace and better understood by all workers.
Given that the pandemic has raised the awareness of societal, workplace and personal health and safety, the OH&S professional now has a heightened responsibility to bring the health and safety discussion to senior leadership. In doing so, the OH&S professional must be conversant in traditional health and safety matters in tandem with an increased financial acumen and an awareness of the importance of sustainability. Although the pandemic has raised the importance of a local presence, the global realities will not likely subside. Similarly, the understanding of numeracy, metrics and analytics as they relate to lagging indicators and the predictive qualities of leading indicators are important. An ability to distill quantitative measurement with an understanding of the qualitative anecdotal survey type of information is critical in informing and influencing senior leadership decision-making.
Lastly, we are reminded that regardless of whatever system, metrics or plan we put in place, it is the discipline, vigilance and sustainability that ultimately leads to success.