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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

How safe is your workplace?

By Stephanie Wei
Special to The Toronto Sun

These days, Canadians work longer hours and spend more time in the workplace than ever before. As a result, workplace safety has become an important human resources issue.

May 4 to 10 is North American Occupational Safety and Health (NAOSH) Week, an annual initiative led by the Canadian Society of Safety Engineering in partnership with the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety and Human Resources Development Canada, along with partners in Mexico and the United States.

The goal of NAOSH Week is to reduce workplace injury and illness by raising pubic and professional awareness of occupational health and safety issues. This year's NAOSH Week theme is Prevention is the Cure.

In 2001, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board registered 371,067 claims for illness, injuries or fatalities. According to the WSIB, a major step toward eliminating workplace illness and injury is making employers aware of their health and safety responsibilities.

A recent American Society of Interior Designers report showed more than 40% of workers considered health, safety and comfort important to the overall value they place on their work environment.

Under the Canada Labour Code, workers have the right to know about known or foreseeable hazards in the workplace, the right to participate in identifying and resolving job-related safety and health problems, and the right to refuse dangerous work. In the wake of the tragedy of 9/11 and fears of SARS spreading in places of business, workers are looking more than ever to their employers to provide a workplace where safety is paramount.
Lynn McGregor, principal of McGregor Design Group, says a well-designed office results in increased employee satisfaction and productivity.

"Too often safety in an office environment is taken for granted or looked over," says Lynn McGregor, principal of McGregor Design Group, a design consulting firm.

"A well designed office or workstation that is both comfortable and safe will result in an increase in employee satisfaction and productivity, and eventually add to the bottom line," McGregor says.

These days, McGregor says, employers are becoming more sensitive to the need to protect employees, and the legal issues surrounding maintaining a safe workplace.

"There's incredible PR value in being seen as proactive. You give the employees the feeling that they're in good hands. The organization attracts good employees and builds a reputation as a good employer, which in turn helps build the business."

When it comes to design, McGregor offers the following preventative office health and safety ideas:

Workplace design. Flexibility is key. Important elements include proper lighting, computer height, keyboard placement and proper seating. Emergency escape plans. Emergency preparedness ensures evacuations will occur safely and efficiently.
What can your company do to celebrate NAOSH week?
  • Post a daily question related to the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations for employees to answer. Provide prizes for correct answers.
  • Hold a special event to celebrate your company's commitment to maintaining a health and safe working environment.
  • Get more physically active. Encourage your workers to become more active, too.
  • Invite the local fire or police department to make a presentation at a function.
  • Review your Health and Safety Policy with your workers. This policy should be dated and re-posted annually.
  • Review your workplace inspection procedure and hazard controls and procedures to determine if improvements are necessary.

    -- Workplace Safety and Insurance Board

  • Building code compliance. The building code should be consulted even when making small office renovations to ensure changes do not result in a breach of code regulations.

    Planning an office space. When considering the design of an office space, special attention should be paid to day-to-day safety.

    Health or first aid rooms. These rooms should be designed to handle the risks employees or visitors may face in the specific work environment.

    Employer obligations. Employers have an obligation to their staff to present the safest work environment possible.

    For more information on North American Occupational Safety and Health Week, visit

    (Write Toronto-based freelancer Stephanie Wei at (

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