Accidents on job sites and work-related deaths are a major problem in Canada. The official numbers from the Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada say 1000 people die every year on-the-job.
But industry studies suggest this number is actually much higher—close to 10x higher than those official reports claim (because not all incidents get reported to a compensation board).
Every year on April 28th, Canada observes a national day of mourning for workplace tragedies. This day serves to remind us of the pain and suffering caused by jobsite injuries and deaths—to families, loved ones, and entire communities.
It’s also a stark reminder that many of these accidents are preventable.
Effective occupational health and safety programs are designed to minimize, or completely eliminate, unsafe working environments. This field is growing fast in Canada, in response to rising numbers of work-related injuries and fatalities each year.
Can health and safety policies truly lower rates of accidents, and prevent deaths in the workplace?
Yes. Here’s how skilled health and safety officers really do save lives.
1. Enforcing workplace health and safety laws
Historically, Canada has been a leader in workplace health and safety laws. Saskatchewan passed North America's very first Occupational Health Act back in 1971—closely followed by Manitoba's own Workplace Safety and Health Act in 1976.
But the high numbers of work-related accidents and deaths we see every year don’t reflect this history of legislation. And that’s because not all employers/employees understand and follow the law.
From offices to hospitals to schools to factories—managers are supposed to uphold specific rules designed to protect workers’ physical and psychological wellbeing. But who holds them accountable to those regulations? Who ensure employees understand and follow health and safety protocols?
Enter the occupational health and safety officer. They are the enforcers. They do safety audits and inspections. They ensure management is following the law—and can impose fines and penalties for non-compliant organizations.
A health and safety officer can even get a business shut down if the workplace is unsafe. Regular safety audits are essential for identifying high-risk workplaces, enforcing compliance, and preventing injuries and deaths.
2. Developing Emergency Procedures
What happens if there’s a hazardous chemical spill, environmental breach, explosion or fire in the workplace—and employees haven’t been trained on how to respond?
Not all accidents can be foreseen and mitigated. However, a skilled health and safety officer can develop emergency procedures that save lives when unexpected incidents occur.
They are trained to analyze and identify potential threats, and train managers/employees on how to handle emergency situations.There is no doubt, that in moments of crisis, having a clear set of steps in place can mean the difference between life and death.
3. Occupational Health and safety training for employees & managers
Many people simply don’t recognize the wide range of potential hazards in their own workplaces. They’re accustomed to a certain process or system, and can’t see existing threats to their health and safety.
In other cases, people are simply reluctant to change—to learn and implement safer ways of getting things done. Common examples include:
- neglecting to use proper safety gear
- unsafe chemical handling
- neglecting to lockout/tagout equipment
- unsafe tool usage
- poor workstation ergonomics
- working at heights without safety precautions
- unhygienic environments
- clutter and fall hazards in the workplace
- repetitive stress injuries
- workplace harassment
Both managers and employees need training on how current practices are putting workers at risk—and new ways to do things better. This is a major part of what occupational health and safety officers do.
They assess workplaces for risk, develop customized health and safety programs, and deliver that training to people (at all levels) within the organization.
Learning and implementing safer work practices is essential to preventing injuries and deaths.
4. Investigating injuries and accidents
What happens after a serious accident or death has occurred in the workplace? This is when the health and safety officer steps in to investigate what went wrong, hold authorities responsible, and put measures in place to prevent repeat incidents.
These may include overseeing compensation and disability claims, or initiating a fine or closure.
The goal is always to prevent harm and mitigate risk. However, when things go wrong, lessons can be learned to avoid additional injuries and loss of life. And companies must be held accountable for not following worker safety laws.
Andrew Pugachev, a health and safety professional and training provider, says few people fully understand the terrible consequences of serious workplace accidents.
“Many people don't realize the huge impact a single severe injury and/or death has on an organization. There's the human cost to that employee, their family and co-workers. A family can lose income, and benefit coverage for the children and spouse. The company's reputation will be tarnished, customers lost, revenue gone . . . and likely fines and higher insurance costs/deductibles. There’s a terrible ripple effect.”
5. Continuous improvement for accident prevention
Companies don’t achieve an optimal health and safety plan overnight. Nor does a health and safety officer implement a strategy—and then just walk away. These things must evolve and improve over time, responding to changing worker needs and policies.
In other words, health and safety is all about continuous improvement (C.I.). It’s a constant process of reviewing, implementing, analyzing, and enhancing measures that save lives.
This is how injuries and deaths are prevented...by continuously analyzing the potential for risk, and creating new and improved ways to protect workers. It’s a circular process that includes many steps and stages, including:
- Assessing risk and identifying hazards
- Developing safe work practices
- Developing OHS tools and management systems
- Documenting the OHS Program
- Delivering training to employees, management or safety committees
- Creating tools to evaluate and improve the health and safety program
- Analyzing the results of evaluations
- Implementing recommended changes
- Planning for further development or implementation of the OHS Program
When these steps are followed, lives are saved. But there’s still a long way to go. In many cases, both managers and employees are reluctant to change. It can be difficult for the health and safety officer to get a consensus—and get people on board with new training and workplace procedures.
This is one the biggest challenges facing OHS professionals today. And it’s a key focus of occupational health and safety training.
Pugachev says communication and consensus-building are the most important skills students learn in his Health and Safety Officer diploma program.
“Health and safety officers must be able to connect with the workers and get their input on what needs changing.
If you don't communicate well, and get workers (and management) to "buy in", they'll feel like the safety programs are being shoved down their throats! Obviously, you won't get positive results.
So, along with all the theory and technical skills, our students learn how to get things done. They understand how to get a consensus, and motivate people to get on board with good safety programs in the workplace.”
Learn more about becoming an Occupational Health and Safety Officer
Are you passionate about improving workplace safety, and want to play a key role in reducing work-related injuries and deaths in your community? You could be a good fit for a career in OHS.
Herzing College offers Occupational Health and Safety Officer programs at several campuses, including Winnipeg, Toronto, and Ottawa. This diploma program is approved by the Board of Canadian Registered Safety Professionals. Online training options are available.
Graduates are immediately eligible to apply for the Canadian Registered Safety Technician (CRST) Certification. After gaining 4 years of related work experience, graduates can apply for the Canadian Registered Safety Professional (CRSP) Certification. Both designations are widely respected across Canada.
See this interview with instructor, Andrew Pugachev, to find out what to expect in class. Or, click below to browse the program for yourself. See a detailed course list, chat live with an Admissions Advisor, and request free information by email. We’re here to help!