Chapter 5: Workplace Safety
When you have questions about workplace safety, ask! Know that you can and should ask questions. You should always know who questions should be directed to. It is okay to ask questions, even if it feels uncomfortable. Your safety is more important than any embarrassment that you may feel.
Your workplace may have a formal process that you will need to understand. If you have safety concerns, it is your responsibility report any hazards immediately to the appropriate person.
Sometimes, you might not be sure what questions to ask. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- What are the safety rules here?
- How will I know if I am following the rules correctly?
- Who do I talk to about safety at work?
- How do I report a concern?
Where to Find Information about Workplace Safety
It is important for you to know where and how to find information concerning workplace safety. For official information in British Columbia and Canada, you can find most information you need from WorkSafeBC. The WorkSafeBC website is searchable and includes Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) regulations, as well as a number of specific resources like new and young workers and how to lift correctly. On the WorkSafeBC site, you will find the “I Am a …” menu on the bottom left of the web page, where you can choose to find information specific to your workplace role.
Another good source of information is the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS). This is the federal governing organization for workplace health and safety in Canada. Similar to WorkSafeBC, there is a specific section for workers with the tab on the top navigation menu. The information on CCOHS is directed more toward employers and the education and promotion of workplace safety.
While it may be tempting to turn to Google for answers to your workplace safety issues, avoid this as most of these issues have legislation to support them and for a topic as important as your health and safety, you will want a trustworthy source of information.
Let’s practice finding information from the WorkSafeBC website. Go to the website, and using the search feature type in working alone. What types of information did you find?
- What are two examples provided in the WorkSafeBC resource, Working Alone: A Handbook for Small Business.
- Examples provided in the WorkSafeBC resource, Working Alone: A Handbook for Small Business are: retail employees, convenience store, taxi drivers, truck and delivery drivers, home care workers, social services employees, by-law officers, security guards, forestry workers, warehouse workers, night cleaners, night custodians, cleaners, custodians, night-shift employees.
- Now provide one example of a potential hazard they might face.
- Examples of potential hazards they might face are: tripping, falling, violence, motor vehicle accident, car accident, burns, sprains, strains, chemical exposure
Take a moment to reflect…
These hazards are the same for many people working, reflect on why would this be more hazardous for someone working alone or in isolation?
Recognizing Hazards and Preventing Injuries
The words risk and hazard are often used interchangeably; however, when it comes to workplace safety these two words have quite different meanings. Hazard is something that will cause harm to a person, property, and/or the environment. Whereas, according to Health Canada, “risk is the likelihood that a hazardous material will cause harm” and to what extent. When looking at risk, two factors are considered, “the seriousness of the hazard” and “how much exposure there is to the hazard” (Government of Canada, 2009).
One of the standard training programs you will likely encounter as a worker is the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS). This worker education program is designed to help you to understand the way that Canadian workplaces classify and document hazards. WHMIS also explains how to create and maintain safety data sheets (SDSs). Safety data sheets explain what hazards exist with a particular product and explain how to safely use it. If you aren’t sure how to safely use something, start by reading the safety data sheet. If you don’t know where the safety data sheet is, ask!
After completing his WHMIS training, Niko understands the importance of reading the safety data sheets the accompany the paint.
For example, after completing his WHMIS training, Niko recognizes the hazard of breathing in vehicle exhaust working in the warehouse while one of his co-workers is driving the forklift. However, the risk is low because this only occurs for a short period, about 20 minutes each day, and Niko can wear a face mask to decrease the effect of the fumes. In addition, by opening the exterior warehouse doors and allowing air circulation, the risk of this hazard is further decreased.
Risk and hazard need to be considered together when assessing if a workplace situation is too hazardous or if there are steps that can be taken to make the hazard less risky.
For example, Niko recognizes the hazard of breathing in vehicle exhaust working in the warehouse while one of his co-workers is driving the forklift. However, the risk is low because this only occurs for a short period, about 20 minutes each day, and Niko can wear a face mask to decrease the effect of the fumes. In addition, by opening the exterior warehouse doors and allowing air circulation, the risk of this hazard is further decreased.
Let’s look at a scenario and see if you can determine the hazards and the risk involved. Also, consider if there are ways to decrease the risk by using PPE or other means.
Paint 4 Less has just received a huge shipment of new stock and the staff is busily trying to unpack the boxes and check the invoices against what they have received. Twenty boxes are stacked in front of the customer counter in stacks 5 boxes high and several have been opened and their contents set on the floor beside the boxes. The boxes weigh approximately 50 lbs or 23 kg each. There is a box cutter open on the customer counter and a scattered pile of invoices. In the store there are also two customers, one buying and having paint tinted and another one looking at wallpaper sample books in the far corner of the shop. She has several books open to various pages and the books are piled haphazardly on top of each other. Niko was vacuuming before the customers and the stock arrived and the vacuum is still plugged in and in the middle of the floor.
What hazards do you see? What are ways that you could decrease the risk?
- Hazard: tripping over the cord
- You could decrease risk by: putting the vacuum away
- Hazard: lifting injury
- You could decrease risk by: practicing proper lifting procedures
- Hazard: falling boxes
- You could decrease risk by: practicing stacking procedures
- Hazard: tripping
- You could decrease risk by: opening one box at a time and moving the boxes to a less busy area
- Box Cutter
- Hazard: cutting
- You could decrease risk by: ensuring the box cutter is closed when not in use and keeping it someplace safe
- Wallpaper Books
- Hazard: falling
- You could decrease risk by: providing a table for the customer to view the books
- Paint Tinting
- Hazard: splash risk
- You could decrease risk by: wearing eye protection
For more information on lifting, pushing, or pulling, use the WorkSafeBC Push/Pull/Carry calculator.
Incident Versus Accident
Sometimes bad things happen at work. Even if you and your co-workers are good at identifying and eliminating workplace hazards, things can still go wrong. When they do, you need to be prepared. There are two main terms we use to talk about times when things go wrong: incident and accident. Like the words hazard and risk, incident and accident are two terms that seem interchangeable; however, in terms of workplace safety, these terms have different meanings. The distinction is that an accident implies an element of fate or chance; whereas the term incident can be applied to all events, including accidents, that could or could not be prevented, and that caused or didn’t cause injuries.
Accidents usually means that someone got hurt. For example, someone might slip and fall, injuring their knee. In contrast, incidents do not necessarily have to result in injury. For example, an incident would take place where someone trips but lands on their feet. It may also be an incident when something falls but no damage takes place and no one gets hurt, like if a heavy item falls down off of a shelf.
Most of the time, accidents are preventable. That is why reporting hazards and following the rules is so important. Often when accidents are investigated it is found that “if the right actions were taken” they could have been prevented (CCOHS, 2019).
Reporting an Incident or Accident
If there is an incident or you are injured on the job, you may be required to complete some documents. This could be a formal incident report provided by the company or WorkSafeBC, or something less formal. In either case, remember that the goal of reporting is to help prevent further issues. When investigations and reporting take place, the goal should not be about finding fault but “finding the root cause of the incident so you can prevent the event from happening again” (CCOHS, 2019).
- Provide as much description as you can. It is important for you to record as much information as possible in a clear, objective, detailed way.
- Include details about when it happened. Make note of the time and date. Anyone who was present and could potentially have witnessed the incident or injury.
- Use objective language and stick to the facts. Using objective language means simply stating the facts without judgement or blame and while remaining neutral.
- Keep all relevant documentation. Keep a copy of all documents regarding an incident, accident, or injury that you are involved in. Even if something appears to be a small incident, it is good practice to keep notes, any emails or other communication associated with the incident because there might be long term consequences.
- Note if medical treatment was required. If you require medical treatment, ensure the medical staff know that this occurred at or because of work. They will have their own documents that will need to be completed.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions or find out more information.
- Know your rights and responsibilities.
- Maintain an awareness of your surroundings and potential risks or hazards.
- Communicate potential hazards and when possible, identify solutions.
- Keep detailed notes about any incidents or injuries.
CCOHS (2019). Incident investigation. OSH answers fact sheets. https://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/hsprograms/investig.html
CCOHS (2021). Who pays for PPE? OSH answers fact sheets. https://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/prevention/ppe/who_pays.html
Government of Canada. (2009). Risk versus hazard. Environmental and workplace health. https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/environmental-workplace-health/reports-publications/occupational-health-safety/whmis-quick-facts-risk-versus-hazard-health-canada-2008.html
WorkSafeBC. (2017). Getting a job? WorkSafeBC. https://www.worksafebc.com/en/resources/health-safety/information-sheets/getting-a-job-ask-questions-about-safety?lang=en
WorkSafeBC. (2021a). Roles, rights & responsibilities. WorkSafeBC. https://www.worksafebc.com/en/health-safety/create-manage/rights-responsibilities
WorkSafeBC. (2021b). Who does and doesn’t need coverage? WorkSafeBC. https://www.worksafebc.com/en/insurance/need-coverage/who-needs-coverage