President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS)
Anne Tennier, President and CEO of the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, discusses misconceptions, pressing safety issues, and future plans for workplace safety in Canada.
In your experience, what are some common misconceptions people have about occupational health and safety, and how can these misconceptions be corrected?
A common misconception is that health and safety is the occupational health and safety committee or officer’s responsibility. Although they provide guidance, tools and resources to work in a safe manner, the employer is ultimately responsible and must take every reasonable precaution to ensure the workplace is safe. It’s important to remember that every employee at all levels of the organization has a very specific role to play in safety, and the committee is only one part of the team.
Another misconception is that workplace safety can be time-consuming, costly, or challenging. Smaller-sized organizations may find they don’t have enough time to focus on safely preforming a task, or they may not be aware of what’s needed to work safely. It can be overwhelming, so knowing what organizations are out there that can offer free resources and information, and that are available to them for help, is a critical way to kickstart their health and safety program.
In your opinion, what are the most pressing occupational health and safety issues facing Canadian workers today, and how can they be addressed?
Psychosocial issues (mental health, harassment and violence) definitely come to mind. Climate change is another one. Specially, the physical effects of extreme weather events and the long-lasting psychosocial impacts (like mental health trauma) can have on workers.
Also, let’s not forget what we learned during the COVID-19 pandemic: community health and workplace health and safety impact each other. Emergency response planning should continue to include guidance from both a workplace and public health perspective.
How do you see the future of occupational health and safety evolving in Canada, and what role do you see the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety playing in this evolution?
Occupational health and safety will have to evolve to include climate change, new technologies, mental health and diversity and inclusion into their plans.
Workplaces will have to be adaptable while still making sure workers are appropriately protected. For example, mitigating and adapting to climate change may well result in new technologies. Those new technologies can bring risks and challenges that weren’t accounted for before. While they should have risk assessments in place already, they will have to be updated to ensure any potentially new hazards are being identified and preventive measures are outlined.
And while health and safety systems typically address the physical and psychosocial safety of our workers, we can’t forget about what I like to call the intersection with human rights. You may have well developed safe work practices, but they should be adaptable and communicated so the diverse populations that make up Canadian workplaces can have the information needed to work safely. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety is working hard to ensure we keep abreast of the changing world of work so that our guidance appropriately reflects the needs of changing workplaces.
Learn more at ccohs.ca.