Home Month and Year June 2023 It’s All about People!

It’s All about People!

Physical and mental workplace health matters.


Despite the practical necessity for workplace health and safety rules and guidelines to be detailed, complex, sometimes convoluted but comprehensive and strict, they are also a vital business priority.

Because, ultimately, effective workplace health and safety is all about – people!

In all businesses, whether employees work at desks and computer screens – and particularly in industry, manufacturing, contracting and construction and many other workplaces which specifically involve physical functions – health and safety continues to be a crucial priority.

“Workplace health and safety is critical for businesses, because it protects the business’ most valuable asset – its people!” says Riane Marrs, occupational health and safety specialist with Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS). “When people spend so much of their time in the workplace, it is important to keep them healthy, safe and thriving.

“It is also important to not just focus on the physical aspects of health and safety. In addition to the risk of injury and illness, health and safety issues can have a serious impact on the psychological health and safety of employees.

“There are psychological impacts of unsafe working conditions that can lead to decreased morale, productivity and absenteeism. There are also considerations if an incident does occur, how it affects others in the organization. Addressing and resolving health and safety issues before an incident occurs is critical,” she points out.

“Employers, workers and health and safety committees or representatives working collaboratively to address health and safety issues can help increase morale and make employees feel valued.”

They key is having a strong health and safety program that engages everyone in the organization. It has been documented by survey after survey. “When health and safety are part of the overall culture of an organization, the company is building a solid safety culture based on trust.”

The Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) program at the University of Calgary Continuing Education is a comprehensive, 800-hour laddered program consisting of OHS Fundamentals, OHS Advanced and an OHS Diploma. The program offers competencies regulated by the International Network of Safety & Health Professional Organisations (INSHPO).

According to Denise Howitt, senior manager of EHS Systems and Compliance of UCalgary’s OHS program, “Employees are by far the most significant asset of any workplace. When they feel safe and secure, they can focus on delivering their best, and it leads to better performance and a lower risk of incidents, injuries and illnesses.

“Safety also pays off by fostering a culture of continuous improvement, where employees are empowered to speak up and suggest ways to make workplaces even safer and more productive.”

The contemporary workplace trending shows that, in addition to looking after the physical and mental health of employees, strategic and effective workplace health and safety programs are also important for the business of business.

It is undisputed that workplace health and safety programs positively impact the business’ bottom line.

“Workplace health and safety programs reduce operational costs, boosts retention, maximizes productivity and morale, attracts top talent, and it also enhances a company’s reputation as a responsible and caring employer,” she emphasizes.

Although employee mental health has become widely accepted as a much too common workplace health and safety issue, physical risks and injuries do continue getting much of the stereotypical workplace health and safety attention.

According to Alexander Shevalier, president of the Calgary and District Labour Council, “Workplace health and safety remain critical, because every year, about 1,000 people are killed on the job. Additionally hundreds of thousands are injured.

“The unconditionally key priority is that everyone should go home safe and healthy. But business also pays a price. A big price. Workplace injuries cost the economy an estimated $29.4 billion, with more than $20 billion being in direct health costs.”

Occupation health and safety stats and regulations now embrace the incidence of mental health in the workplace. OHS surveys underscore that employers now recognize the importance of managing psychological health and safety in relation to business success. Not addressing psychological health and safety in the workplace is a significant cost to the Canadian economy.

The stats are undisputable and warn that some impacts of workplace mental health problems and mental illnesses are:

  • approximately 30 per cent of short and long-term disability claims
  • among the top causes of disability claims by over 80 per cent of Canadian employers
  • the leading cause of disability, absence and presenteeism

“First and foremost, everyone should feel safe when coming to work,” says the dynamic Janyce Rideout, human resources business partner with Salopek & Associates, the Calgary-based and award-winning team of business and human resource consultants specializing in strategy, human resources and board governance. “This includes both physical safety and psychological safety. And physical safety at work has been linked to worker’s mental well being.”

Chris Butler is a knowledgeable and experienced Salopek & Associates health and safety professional, with 20+ years of providing expertise to sectors such as education, healthcare, telecommunications, oil and gas, and municipalities. “Common characteristics of a psychologically healthy and safe workplace include supportive managers and coworkers.

“Also a culture that values the individual’s well-being, skilled people-leadership, respectful working relationships, support for employees’ personal growth and development, and the resources needed to manage workloads. It is also important to have employee involvement in decisions, as well as recognition for contributions.

“Most importantly, a key to mental health in today’s workplace is employees having the flexibility needed to achieve a work-life balance,” Butler adds.

“Last year, a report from Alberta Occupational Health & Safety (OHS) tracked that those that feel mentally and physically safe at work have been found to be more productive, have higher morale and job satisfaction, decreased turnover, interpersonal conflict, WCB claims, legal risk, sick leave and LTD,” Rideout points out.

Although Alberta’s OHS rules and guidelines are pro-active, focused and itemized, many consultants, analysts and labor leaders continue to beat the drums about provincial enforcement and business compliance.

Alberta safety inspectors have the latitude to hand out tickets on-the-spot, with fines ranging from $100 to $500 for common violations such as failing to wear fall prevention gear or keeping a worksite free from slip hazards. The province continues to aggressively ramp-up updated and focused attention on workplace health and safety, and upgraded Alberta OHS Legislation and changes were implemented this March.

“Challenges employers often face when dealing with workplace health and safety are questions around understanding how to be compliant with legislation,” Rideout adds. “Including what compliance is required from businesses of various sizes. Creating an OHS Safety Program, establishing an OHS Committee and creating Employee Engagement and buy-in with OHS.”

In many cases, compliance is proportionate to awareness. “Many organizations are not aware that they meet the threshold, based on number of employees, for requiring a health and safety program, as well as a joint Health and Safety Committee or Health and Safety Representative,” she says. “From an HR perspective, we often see non-compliance for the Workplace Harassment and Violence Prevention policies and processes, including training.”

UCalgary’s Denise Howitt cites Todd Conklin, a world renown expert in the field of workplace safety and human and organizational performance. “Conklin has dedicated his career to improving health and safety in high-risk industries,” she notes. “And he consistently emphasizes the role of organizational factors in creating and preventing accidents.

“He defines safety as not the absence of events, but the presence of defenses.”