Healthy Living in the North

Workplace tragedy is preventable: Steps for Life

This time of year provides us with many opportunities to reflect on the issue of health and safety in the workplace. April 28 is the National Day of Mourning for Persons Killed or Injured in the Workplace and the first week of May is set aside as Occupational Safety & Health Week across North America.

Geneviève Fox is a community member in Prince George who is passionate about this issue and keen to raise awareness of health and safety in the workplace. She firmly believes that every worker should be coming home safe at the end of each day and has become involved in shining a light on this issue in Prince George.

I had the pleasure of asking Geneviève a few questions about workplace health and safety and the Steps for Life event that she is helping to organize in Prince George.

Steps for Life poster

“The only work is safe work; workplace tragedy is preventable.” Join Steps for Life in Prince George on May 1st at Masich Place Stadium.

The Steps for Life event in Prince George on May 1st marks the start of North American Occupational Safety & Health Week. Why will you be walking? Why is health and safety at work important to you?

In February 2015, I contacted Steps for Life to ask them when the walk would be coming to Prince George, a community that has been deeply affected by workplace tragedy. They told me it was not planned to come to Prince George and subsequently asked me if I would like to bring the walk to the community. I said yes, and our event will be happening May 1 at Masich Place Stadium. I think this walk is important because of the impact workplace tragedies have had here. It will also promote awareness of the services Threads of Life offers to those families and individuals in need.

What are some key messages for workplace safety that event participants would like residents of northern B.C. to know?

I cannot speak on behalf of the participants as I imagine each would have their own unique message to share. But if I were to generalize, I would say that for all of us involved there is a core, shared belief that every worker in Canada should be coming home safe at the end of each work day.

April 28 is the National Day of Mourning for Persons Killed or Injured in the Workplace. What does the Day of Mourning mean to you?

The Day of Mourning is a vital day for all Canadians. We take time on that day to remember the unnecessary loss of life due to workplace tragedy. The Day of Mourning is not only a day for us to pay our respects to, and remember, the fallen, but it also serves as a sombre reminder that we must always stay vigilant and diligent with workplace health and safety, continuously improving our policies, procedures, systems, and practices.

Is there anything else you’d like people to know about this important topic?

The only work is safe work; workplace tragedy is preventable. Get involved with health and safety at your workplace and stay informed. Remember that you are an important part of the internal responsibility system.

Vince Terstappen

About Vince Terstappen

Vince Terstappen is a Project Assistant with the health promotions team at Northern Health. He has an undergraduate and graduate degree in the area of community health and is passionate about upstream population health issues. Born and raised in Calgary, Vince lived, studied, and worked in Saskatoon, Victoria, and Vancouver before moving to Vanderhoof in 2012. When not cooking or baking, he enjoys speedskating, gardening, playing soccer, attending local community events, and Skyping with his old community health classmates who are scattered across the world. Vince works with Northern Health program areas to share healthy living stories and tips through the blog and moderates all comments for the Northern Health Matters blog. (Vince no longer works with Northern Health, we wish him all the best.)

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Psychological health and safety in the workplace

Stretch break in an office

Your work environment affects you and you affect your work environment. How do you feel when you start your workday? What about when it ends?

Everyone who has attended school (or who has a child who attends school) can probably think of examples of how the school environment can affect a person’s thoughts, feelings, and actions. A child attending kindergarten for the first time may have tummy aches which stem from anxieties around being in a new environment with new people. An older child or teenager may feel depressed or self-conscious about whether they measure up to their peers, or their ability to keep up with academic pressures. However, did you know that the workplace environment and our relationships within it similarly affect us as adults? October is Canada’s Healthy Workplace Month and it’s a great time to look at our workplaces.

Take a few moments to reflect or journal, and ask yourself the following questions:

  • How do I feel (emotionally/mentally/physically) as I’m about to start my workday? Do I look forward to going to work, or do I dread it?
  • How do I feel when I have finished my workday? (e.g., proud, stressed out, frustrated, energized)
  • What is it about work that makes me feel this way? (e.g., work tasks, co-workers, clients, physical work environment, work shifts or hours, pay, supervisor)
  • Do I notice similar thoughts, feelings, or actions in other people at work?
  • How do I affect my work environment and those around me in positive ways?
  • How do I affect my work environment and those around me in negative ways?
  • In what areas could I use some support? (e.g., conflict resolution skills, physical health, emotional health)
  • What can I do to make work a better place for everyone?

Your work environment affects you

If you are part of a healthy work environment, it probably contributes to your overall well-being. For example, if you enjoy work on a day-to-day basis you likely feel enthusiastic and energized about the work you do and have good relationships with those around you. As a result, when you come home at the end of your workday, you probably have energy to be present with your family/friends/pets, have hobbies and activities outside of work, and exude happiness to those around you.

However, if your work environment is unhealthy, it may be a stressor for you. You may feel tired, frustrated, or burned out and this, in turn, can affect your health and home life in a negative way.

You affect your work environment

You go to work with your own attitudes, patterns of relating to others, home-life stressors, and individual level of wellness. These affect others in the workplace. Return to your earlier reflection and choose one thing you’d like to change or follow up on. Plan one action you can take to move in that direction. Challenge a family member/co-worker/friend to do the same! Talking about mental health and wellness is one of the best ways to promote psychological health and safety in the workplace.

In the past few years, there has been increasing recognition that our work environments affect all aspects of our lives and well-being and that healthy, happy employees are more productive and do higher quality work. Canada is the first country in the world to create a standard to guide employers in creating psychologically safe and healthy workplaces. For more information, visit Workplace Strategies for Mental Health.

For personal mental health assessments and tips, check out the Canadian Mental Health Association Mental Health Meter.


A version of this story first appeared in the August 2015 issue of A Healthier You.

 

Courtenay Kelliher

About Courtenay Kelliher

Courtenay grew up in Vanderhoof, and completed her BScN at UNBC in Terrace. After a few years of travelling around Western Canada and living in the sweltering Okanagan, she has happily returned to the north to work as an Advisor with Workplace Health & Safety Strategic Directions. Living in Terrace, Courtenay enjoys spending her spare time on outdoor adventures with her fur children and volunteering with the Canadian Ski Patrol and local fire department. When indoors, she can usually be found destroying her kitchen while cooking up new creations to share with friends and social media, with the hopes of inspiring others to prepare their meals from scratch. Courtenay is passionate about occupational health and safety, and loves that her job allows her to work at keeping employees safe so that they can enjoy their hobbies in their spare time as well.

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Safe and Healthy Workplaces

psychosocial safety at work

Building socially and psychologically safe workplaces supports the mental health of the workforce.

Did you know: The average full-time worker spends approximately one third of their adult life on the job!

What comes to mind when you think about safety at work? Maybe the Workers Compensation Act and the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Regulations spring to mind. These legislated requirements provide an essential foundation for a safe workplace. Exposure to physical hazards in the workplace significantly influences our risk of injury and illness. Building a strong OHS Program and Management System to address hazards and risks in the workplace creates a foundation for a safe and healthy workplace.

Within the growing body of workplace research, there is substantial evidence that the psychosocial impacts of work – that is, the impacts of work on the mental health of workers – are just as important as physical hazards. Recently, the BC government enacted legislation to recognize “significant workplace stressors, which may include bullying and harassment” within the Workers Compensation Act.

Embedding principles of psychosocial safety in the workplace involves going beyond regulatory compliance. Psychosocial safety includes aspects of the workplace (e.g. worker participation and engagement within the organization, social connectedness, respect and civility) and the work itself (e.g. job design, role clarity, recognition, fairness, workload, a sense of purpose and meaningful contribution through work). Building socially and psychologically safe workplaces supports the mental health of the workforce.

Results of a recent large scale study suggest that “reducing risks and hazards and establishing a supportive environment are among the best ways to improve safety.” (Nahrgang, Hofmann, and Morgeson, 2011)

What is a healthy workplace? Graham Lowe (2010) says: “We talk about healthy people as vigorous, flourishing, robust, thriving, resilient, and fit. The same words also describe healthy organizations.”

There are many ways employers can influence workplace health, including:

  • Set and communicate a clear, compelling vision for a healthy workplace.
  • Engage actively and lead by example in efforts to improve health, safety and well-being.
  • Focus on prevention rather than reaction.
  • Establish a fair and just culture.

The workplace is a collective environment, reflecting everyone in it. How we feel when we show up for work influences the workplace environment.  “The fact is, when people don’t feel good, they simply don’t perform at their best” (Hemp, 2004). Our physical and mental health impacts how we carry out our work and how we interact with our co-workers. This is where our personal health practices can really support us in our resilience and ability to cope with the inevitable stresses and strains at work.

So, as we think about investing the next three weeks to think about workplace wellness, we want to ask you a few questions:

  • Can a workplace be healthy if it does not have a strong safety foundation?
  • What do you think contributes to a healthy workplace?
  • How do you care for yourself so you are the best you can be in your personal life and your work life?

Nahrgang, JD, Hofmann, DA, Morgeson, FP. (2011) Safety at Work: A Meta-Analytic Investigation of the Link Between Job Demands, Job Resources, Burn-out, Engagement, and Safety Outcomes. Journal of Applied Psychology Vol  96 (1): 71-94

Hemp, P. (2004). Presenteeism:  At work – but out of it. Harvard Business Review, 82(10), 49-58.

Lowe, G. (2010). Building Healthy and Sustainable Health Care Organizations.  Adapted from Graham Lowe’s book Creating Healthy Organizations: How Vibrant Workplaces Inspire Employees to Achieve Sustainable Success,  published in May 2010 by Rotman/UTP Publishing.

Helen Styles

About Helen Styles

Helen Styles is an Advisor with Workplace Health and Safety, Partnerships in Prevention for Northern Health and Interior Health. She has a keen interest in the linkages between organizational culture and workplace health, safety and wellness. Helen has a Bachelor of Science in Rehabilitation Medicine and worked as a physiotherapist in numerous settings for 16 years before joining Workplace Health and Safety. When not working, Helen enjoys walking Quesnel’s beautiful Riverfront Trail, working out at the gym, swimming, doing volunteer work, and reading.

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