Blinded By The Blue Light

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One of the physical agents that is identified as a hazard in our Health and Safety studies is the impact of blue light on worker eyesight. Blue light is emitted from electronic devices, such as computer screens and tablets. It is part of the light spectrum that travels in short waves with high intensity and reaches further into the retina than other types of light-wave frequency.

The ongoing impact of exposure to blue light includes a deterioration of the circadian rhythms, which we need to help us sleep. When these rhythms are interrupted, getting a good night’s sleep is also interrupted. As each of us may have experienced in the past, when we do not sleep at night, we do not function the next day.

The impact of blue light on employee health and safety is not a new phenomenon. The prevention or hazard reduction of this physical agent, however, does not seem to be getting the attention it deserves.

Click here to read about the increasing concerns linked to blue-light exposure in the workplace.

Think about the masses of employees staring all day at computer screens that are emitting high-levels of blue light. Is the sleep of each employee negatively impacted at night? If the workforce as a whole is not able to get a good night’s sleep, how can they be productive in the workplace the next day? As noted in the article, related costs include a reduction in daily productivity and having to deal with a sleep-deprived and cranky workforce.

The article provides recommendations for interventions that include screens for computer monitors, allowing employees to take additional eye breaks, and the installation of light monitoring software. None of these seems to be a high-price to pay when balanced against the costs that come with lost productivity and managing irritable employees.

Blue-light-induced insomnia benefits no-one.

A good night’s sleep benefits everyone.

 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Of the physical interventions noted in the article, identify the one that you think is both cost-effective and health-effective for the workplace. Explain your rationale.
  2. How do you protect your own eyesight from exposure to blue light?
  3. From a Health and Safety perspective, which interventions would you implement as mandatory for worker safety? Explain your rationale.
  4. Prepare an informal assessment of worker exposure to blue light in your current workplace. Are there interventions in place? If not, how will you approach your current employer?

 

Coffee With A Side of Bullying

In Ontario, the Occupational Health and Safety Act includes recent amendments to address incidents of harassment, sexual harassment, and violence in the workplace. The importance of these amendments lies in the presumption that workplaces need to be safe, physically, and that employees can feel safe, psychologically.

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act – Section 1, we know that the definition of workplace harassment means a person or persons “engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome.” The same section of the act also identifies that “reasonable managerial actions” taken to direct workers is not or does not constitute workplace harassment.

When there is an allegation of harassment, under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the employer must investigate and report on the results of that investigation. Further, an employee has the right to bring a complaint forward for investigation, based on their personal belief that they are being harassed.

These legislative parameters form an interesting backdrop when looking at the recent and on-going allegations of bullying by Tim Horton’s franchise owners. These are owner-employers who appear to have taken punitive measures against employees resulting from the implementation of amendments to the provincial Employment Standards Act.

Specifically, there has been much media focus on certain franchise owners, who have implemented cuts to benefits and working conditions for employees in a manner that has been reported as bullying. Bullying, while not defined specifically in legislation, falls into the category of workplace harassment.

Click here to read an article about the allegations of bullying Tim Horton’s employees.

In response to these allegations, the Ottawa District Labour Council set up a bullying hotline for individuals to report those employers who are engaged in these bullying practices. In turn, the labour council will publish the names of these bullying employers in order to provide a forum for public shaming of their actions.

Click here to read about the bullying hotline.

From the employer side, in this case, the justification for these actions comes from a need to balance the financial books. In order to provide the increases in wages, the employer appears to be implementing cuts in other areas of compensation so as not to suffer any additional losses in profits. Is it possible that these actions are reasonable and not, in fact, harassing or bullying?

Unfortunately, what seems to be missing is the ability of franchise employees to take reasonable and legitimate steps to report the perceived bullying behaviour on the part of their employer. In the absence of an HR department, reporting structures that include legislative requirements, or clear policies and procedures, it seems that small business and franchise employees continue to have limited options for potential support or resolution.

In these cases, employees often have one of two choices – either they comply with the employer’s demands or they quit. Neither option appears to support the reasonable and legitimate right to feel safe.

Discussion Questions:

  1. As a Human Resources consultant for a small business or a franchise, what types of procedures would you put into place that allow employees to report incidents of bullying or harassment? Be specific.
  2. If you were an employee in a Tim Horton’s franchise, how would you respond to the cuts to your work-related benefits? What actions would you take?
  3. Do you agree that the cuts to employee benefits implemented by some Tim Horton’s franchises are a form of harassment, as identified in Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act? Explain your rationale.

Party Planning

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There are three tasks that strike fear into the heart of every Human Resources practitioner.

  1. Responsibility for designating employee parking spots.
  2. Responsibility for employee seniority lists.
  3. Responsibility for planning the company office party.

Each of these is fraught with difficulties for various reasons. The only common thread for all three tasks is that, in the end, no matter how hard they try to get it ‘right’, someone will be angry with the designated HR practitioner.

The first two tasks require the categorization of individuals based on organizational hierarchy, length of service and other definition based processes. Nobody likes the processes or the end results, except for those who benefit from them with the good parking spot or the top notch on the seniority list.

The third task, the office party, comes with a host of challenges, which include trying to provide organized glee for people who may, or may not, want to socialize with each other after working hours. What is meant to be a positive event for employees, to thank them for their efforts, comes with rules, regulations, and stipulations as a result of unfortunate party outcomes from the past.

The office party is linked to Occupational Health and Safety for many reasons.  There are numerous risks that come with the gathering of individuals who are meant to get together to have a ‘good time’.  Celebratory food, drinks, games and dancing are all part of what most people expect when they have a party.  When one of these elements goes wrong (the food results in salmonella poisoning; the games and/or dancing cause physical injuries; the drinks lubricate individuals to the point of lewd behaviour), the employer is liable for the consequences. Rather than the event ending in a feel good result for everyone, when things go wrong, the employer is left with significant costs and potential penalties under the provisions of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

Does this mean that employees can no longer have any fun?  No, not exactly.

Good party planning, which includes reasonable precautions, should result in successful party celebrations, as noted in HRMOnline.

Click here to read the article.

For a good time to be had by all, a good plan needs to be in place first.  Once the party is over, the only thing that people should remember is that they did have some fun, with no disastrous results for anyone.

If everybody ends up being happy, hopefully, the HR Practitioner can be happy too.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Interview a Health and Safety representative at your current workplace to ask them about the potential risks involved in an employee office party both on-site and off-site.
  2. What types of safety risks do you think are involved for an employee ‘gathering’ at a bar outside of working hours?
  3. If you had responsibility for planning an office social event, how would you proceed? Would you include alcohol, games, dancing?  Why or why not?
  4. Have you participated in an office social event? What was it like?  What would you change about the event?

 

Safety Costs

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There are three key principles in the management of Human Resources. These are, in no particular order, the management of risk, the management of costs and the management of investments. When we apply these three principles to the management of people they help guide our Human Resources practices in a language that non-Human-Resources business leaders can understand.

These same principles apply to the management of Occupational Health and Safety. Risks, costs, and investments are concepts that make sense to business leaders whose main concern is the bottom line. It is our job as Human Resources practitioners to make the connection for business leaders between the bottom line and safe workplace practices. We are responsible for the people who are the resources impacting the fiscal health of every organization.

Nowhere is the need for the diligent Human Resources management of risks, costs, and investments clearer than in the emerging precedent-setting cases linked to workplace harassment. The financial penalties imposed on the employer for failing to providing a safe workplace are significant.

Click here to read about a recent case where an employer was ordered to pay damages as a result of workplace harassment.

If business leaders to do not understand the language used by Human Resources practitioners when we speak to the social need for safe workplaces, free from harassment of any kind, then we need to re-shape the language to get our points across. We need to use the language that makes sense and has an impact on business leaders in order for them to implement what is required by law.

Workplace harassment in Ontario falls under the scope of the Occupational Health and Safety Act in two distinct pieces of legislation. Bill 168 and Bill 132 both impose the legislative requirements for employers to ensure that workplaces are free from harassment of any kind. When the employer fails in these responsibilities, it is a failure of risk and investment management, resulting in significant costs.

Money talks. It is the job of Human Resources to make sure that people are listening.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does risk management, cost management, and investment management apply to people management?
  2. How could you use these three principles to convince the leader of an organization to implement a harassment free workplace?
  3. What are ‘Wallace damages’? Why would these be a consideration when dealing with the employer’s responsibilities in an allegation of workplace harassment?

Dangerous Work

A bag of money and gavel represent many legal expenses.
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Some workplaces are inherently dangerous. Often we think of these dangers arising from physical or environmental agents that could cause harm to the worker on a day-to-day basis. The human element is also a very real source for contributing to a dangerous workplace, especially in organizations that serve vulnerable and disenfranchised members of our society.

Ontario’s Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care is a facility that treats patients with severe and complex mental health issues and disorders. In the spring of 2016, a patient at the center was able to access two screwdrivers and stabbed several workers, causing them serious injury.

Almost a year later, the Ministry of Labour has laid three charges against the Centre under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. These charges include the employer’s failure to take every reasonable precaution to protect workers; failure to ensure that measures and protections were established for workers; and failure to have health and safety procedures in writing.

Click here to read an article about this case.

As noted in the article, if the employer is found guilty of, or pleads guilty to, these charges they may be faced with a fine of up to $500,000 and other potential penalties.

The Waypoint Centre has responded, as noted in the article and as posted on their website.

This case shows us that policies and procedures on their own do not make workplaces safe. It is clear that the employer must engage risks proactively, especially in a high-risk workplace where danger lies in human behaviour that may be volatile and unpredictable. The employer must act in order to ensure that all persons, both employees and patients alike, are able to have some assurance of living and working in a safe environment.

Discussion Questions:

  1. As the Health and Safety Manager in this situation, what steps would you take to ensure that workers feel safe?
  2. How could you promote a safe workplace in an inherently dangerous work environment?
  3. If you were the employer in this case, how would you plead and what would be the result?