OH&S challenges in the workplace

Kathleen Collins

OH&S Challenges in the WorkplaceI recently hosted a webinar on the Fundamentals of Job Hazard Assessments and after following up with some of the viewers from across North America, I came across a common theme regarding the difficulty of getting OH&S buy-in at the senior management and leadership levels.  After listening to the attendees’ comments and concerns, I started to reflect on all the barriers and challenges I have faced throughout my career as an OH&S professional and began to feel slightly frustrated.

It has now dawned on me that many of my fellow OH&S peers share the same challenges in conducting assessments and getting these processes / practices implemented into their organizational cultures.  With 1.5 million short-term and long-term disability claims submitted to the WSIB between 1990 and 2001 (StatsCan), I strongly believe that company cultures need to shift their perception of OH&S in the workplace in order for this number to drop.  Being in this industry for over 10 years, it is surprising to me that we continue to face many of the same challenges that we were experiencing 10 years ago.  Unfortunately, this is a common theme for OH&S in the workplace and although OH&S practices in business have greatly evolved, I still feel that we have an uphill battle ahead of us when it comes to getting buy-in within our organizations and ultimately reducing the number of claims here in Canada.

OH&S Implementation Continues to be an Uphill BattleI do believe that organizations have started their trail blazing journey towards OH&S promotion however, we are not yet near an adequate level of promotion.  Let me explain by using an example drawn from my experiences: when amongst fellow OH&S peers, the current and continuous theme of conversation is, “How did you leverage your OH&S idea to your leadership team?” Now, you’re probably wondering “Why is that so bad?”, well, the reality is that after 10 years of working in OH&S, it’s quite unfortunate that we still have to leverage basic principles and concepts (employee safety) in order to get buy-in, or consideration for buy-in.  For those readers who haven’t yet been exposed to the challenge of implementing OH&S in your workplace, it’s important to understand that at times, implementing OH&S can feel like asking a collective group to quit smoking cold turkey – there’s going to be some push-back.  In order to create that change to break the old habit, a significant amount of action must go into harvesting that change but if you’re successful the benefits can be great.  Just like quitting smoking, implementing OH&S for your business will ultimately bring your business more money and your employees will be healthier for it.

Another recent and not-so-hilarious experience (just to show you what is now probably one of my favourite experiences), was when I walked past a construction site earlier this week and noticed a construction worker working at heights.   He was texting on his smart phone, wearing his harness but he was not attached to the wonderful fall arrest system provided by his employer.  I should also mention at this point that approximately 13% of Deaths are a result of falls (Stats Can Injuries, by Kathryn Wilkins & Evelyn Parks), which is confusing to me as an OH&S professional and being someone who has common sense, as to how this worker was not complying with Health and Safety standards?

It’s situations like the conversations I have with my OH&S peers and the construction worker’s lack of desire to secure himself in his fall arrest system, which draw me to the conclusion that OH&S is not at the level that it could and should be at here in Canada.

A Future Hope for OH&S in Canada?I think about the construction worker’s ability to text and inability to attach himself to the fall arrest system, paired with what I have learned from those attending the webinar and my OH&S peers and I am drawing the conclusion that we are sadly a society that is still reacting to health and safety.  In our society, we have more knowledge, technology and communication channels than ever before and I hope to see more organizations and employees adopt health and safety management systems. For the sake of the safety of our employees, I hope to one day see a movement towards change for the growth of Health and Safety Promotion.

About the Author, Kathleen Collins Kathleen has over 10 years of experience in developing and implementing environmental, health and safety systems and related training programs. She has worked with both Federal and Provincial legislation in Canada and the U.S.. Currently, she is working with the following industries: industrial, logistics, construction, medical, service and clerical/administration and education. Kathleen enjoys engaging her clients and managers to develop and strengthen OHS in their businesses.


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