Workplace Safety – Not Optional

Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)

The International Labor Organization estimates that there are 2.34 million occupational fatalities every year across the globe. In Canada alone injury and illness at work continues to be a significant problem.

It is estimated that musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) from working cost Canadian society upwards of $20 billion a year. Reports from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board in 2012 indicate that 43% of the claims were due to sprains and strains, 20% were due to low back injury and 19% were due to overexertion.

In Ontario, the Ministry of Labour enforces the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Occupational safety and health (OSH) is a cross-disciplinary area concerned with protecting the safety, health and welfare of people engaged in work or employment. This Act explains the procedures for dealing with workplace hazards and allows the law to be enforced when workplaces have not adhered to the policies put in place.

Occupational therapists are experts at helping injured people to return to their jobs in modified or full capacities, or assist people to be retrained or find alternative forms of work if their previous occupation is no longer suitable. We conduct jobsite evaluations to outline the physical and cognitive work demands, assess the individual’s physical, cognitive and emotional preparedness to return, and often look at the ergonomics of their workstation or body positioning when doing the job. The overarching goal of all this is to ensure that people can return to work safely, can perform tasks independently, are productive, and to reduce the risk of re-injury. We also provide devices, education, organize work schedules and gradual return programs, and collaborate with employers, physicians and other health professionals to promote a successful outcome. With respect to prevention, we conduct workshops and provide education and training programs for employers and employees alike to promote health and safety while engaging in all work tasks.

April 28th is recognized as The World Day for Safety and Health at Work. It is held as an annual international campaign that seeks to promote safe, healthy and decent work environments. It also commemorates people who have had an accident or injury in the course of their job. It is important that we are all involved in this initiative – workplace safety should not be optional. Consider these four steps to make sure that health and safety are paramount in your organization:

  1. Get on board: You don’t have to be an owner or boss to be concerned about safety. Everyone is responsible for contributing to a safe workplace.
  2. Get in the know: Understand the hazards and risks at your own workplace.
  3. Get involved: If you see a hazard on the job, speak up and offer your insight and possible solutions.
  4. Get more help: All workers have the right to refuse work if they have reason to believe it is dangerous. Speak to a supervisor if you have concerns, or seek guidance from the Ontario Health and Safety Contact Centre at 1-877-202-0008.

Or, if you are off work due to injury or illness and need help returning, would like solutions to help you work more comfortably, or are concerned about the impact of your job on your physical, cognitive or emotional health, consider contacting an occupational therapist. We are here to help.


Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.

United Nations.

Ministry of Labour.

Ministry of Labour.