Will You Stop Gossiping?

The practice of occupational Health and Safety strives to keep employees safe at work.

Most of the time, this focus is on the physical workplace environment. We apply hazard recognition, risk assessment and control strategies for reducing and eliminating the number material or tactile incidents that cause harm to our colleagues and co-workers. As Human Resources professionals, it is our legal and moral obligation to ensure that preventative measures are in place to make people feel and be safe from harm when doing their jobs.

How do we apply this same level of care and control to psycho-social hazards, such as bullying, backbiting and gossiping in the workplace?

Glen Rolfsen explores a practical approach to dealing with toxic culture that comes from the very real practice of workplace bullying in this TedTalk.

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYLb7WUtYt8[/embedyt]

As Rolfsen states, backbiting, or the spreading of gossip, is a form of bullying. People have been doing it for centuries. Why? Our basic self-interests come into play as gossiping about others seems to elevate ourselves and makes us appear more interesting to others. This may be true, but the negative impact on those others as a result of this type workplace bullying is as tangible as any type of physical workplace hazard.

Following a sound Health and Safety model, Rolfsen provides us with a three pronged tool for controlling the hazard of negative backbiting in the workplace. Before articulating negative gossip about others, he encourages us to apply the triple filter test and ask the questions: Is it true? Is it good? Is it useful? If the answer to any of these three questions is no, the solution is easy – stop talking. Stop spreading rumours, untruths and negative commentary about others.

What is the impact when workplaces stop bullying, backbiting and gossiping? There are positive, tangible results as evidenced by reduced absenteeism and increased productivity. All of these lead to the creation of a healthy workplace where employees can enjoy the feeling of both physical and psychosocial safety.

Rolfsen reminds us, as adults, to be role models for others. He asks us to make a conscious commitment and apply the triple filter test in our daily lives.

The question is there for us to respond in a positive way.

Let’s say yes, for a change.

Discussion Questions:

  1. When was the last time you gossiped about someone? What was the context?
  2. How does it feel knowing that you are the target of backbiting and gossip?
  3. For the next twenty-four hours, practice applying the three filter approach to your own words when commenting about others.
  4. What would your workplace feel like if there was no backbiting, bullying or gossip?

Pay Gap Not the Only Thing Hurting Women

The pay gap is not the only thing hurting women. There is also the PPE gap.

What is the PPE Gap? Well, it is the gap in the design of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) which leads to poor or ill-fitting PPE. These ill-fitting safety control measures can make women ill or injured. Current research shows:

 “…that women working in hazardous industries often do not have access to correctly fitting personal protective equipment (PPE) – and in some cases the PPE can hinder rather than protect.”  Occupational Health at Work 2017; 13(6): 32–35 Pg 32

The above quote does makes sense and we have all seen it in action. Have you ever noticed a female road construction worker wearing a reflection safety vest and it is hanging off her shoulder like a crop top in a 1980s Madonna music video? This safety deficiency is all too common because PPE has been only designed to fit men.

This issue being address by one progressive UK Company. Transport for London (TFL) which runs the London Public Transport System, has started to take this significant safety matter into their own hands. They have sourced PPE that fits and doesn’t make females feel that they are children playing dress up on occupation day at the local elementary school.

Click here to read more about TFL PPE innovations.

In the workplace, Occupational Health and Safety hazards don’t discriminate between male and female workers. It is time employers stop discriminating and  ensure the female workers who are required to wear PPE for their safety are provided with equipment that fits.

Discussion Questions:

Develop a checklist of common PPE that may not fit female workers adequately. From your list try to research and identify safety equipment suppliers that provide women specific PPE.



Is it a health and safety inspection or investigation?


For most, it is difficult to know the difference between a safety inspection and a workplace safety investigation. It is vital that all HR and safety professionals know the distinction between the two.

When a Ministry Safety Officer enters your place of business, do you always wonder what the purpose of their visit is? Is it an inspection or is it an investigation?

Cynthia Sefton, a legal partner with Aird & Berlis LLP in Toronto, explains the vital differences. “An inspection is not an investigation, although it can lead to one,” she says. “The inspector comes to see if there is compliance. The decision to investigate a possible offence comes later.”

Click here to read the complete article

Typically, safety inspections come first, with an investigation following the inspection if the safety officer deems it necessary. In addition, there may be certain events that trigger an investigation right away, such as a critical injury that occurs in the workplace as defined by legislation.

It’s fundamental to understand the concept of compliance and due diligence. All Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) legislation in Canada works on the principles of general duties, minimal standards and due diligence. All workplaces that are covered by OHS legislation must ensure they meet the minimal safety standard that is outlined in the legislation. Those standards must be reasonably achieved in all circumstances.

If you are not meeting the minimal standards you are by default not in compliance with the OHS legislation. The main purpose of ministry safety inspections is to identify if an organization complying. When they do that, the inspector can decide how to proceed.

Every year most provincial health and safety jurisdictions pick a combination of specific industries or safety hazards on which to focus. For example, the MOL of Ontario for 2019 have safety inspection blitzes in construction, health care and mining services planned.

Click here to read more about the Ontario safety blitzes

In addition to inspection blitzes, each jurisdiction gives its health and safety inspectors the power to write orders. There are different types of orders a health and safety inspector can issue. The three most common ones are: 1) stop work, 2) forthwith and 3) a compliance order.

Click here to read about the powers of a safety inspector in Ontario

HR and safety professionals have to be aware of the subtle differences between a safety inspection and a workplace safety investigation, as well as being aware of their rights and their responsibilities under their local OHS laws.  It is a large legal liability that is best addressed with a proactive safety program long before an inspector comes to visit for an inspection or an investigation.

Discussion Questions

Can you identify the powers of the safety inspectors in your jurisdiction?

Review under what circumstances an inspector in your jurisdiction will be required to conduct a workplace investigation.

Identify in your jurisdiction if the governmental safety department has identified any industry or topic specific safety blitzes.



Do not be a Pinball Wizard!

Asa Smudhavanich /Shutterstock

Many pundits, including myself, continue to question the effectiveness of the Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC) in Canada.

What is happening with JHSCs in Canadian workplaces? Most organizations understand the legal requirement to have a JHSC, and most JHSC members are smart dedicated employees that are committed about health and safety. Canadian organizations spend time and money to make sure their JHSC works – but it usually doesn’t.  What is happening?  It is a strange paradox which I call the “pinball effect.”

Even though video games have long since replaced the old-style arcade pinball machine, I think millennials would understand how they work.  For those that have never played a pinball machine, it’s basically a metal ball hitting an electrified bumper and moving in random directions, where the player has very little control over where it goes.

Click here if you want to see one in action.

Most JHSCs behave like a pinball machine – hence the term pinball effect. Most JHSCs start off with direction, just like when the ball is shot out into the pinball machine, then the fun begins once the metal ball gets bounced around in a haphazard fashion. Let’s expand on this metaphor with a summary of a typical JHSC activity: the monthly safety inspection.

The JHSC does a safety inspection and they obtain a long list of complaints from the workers about all the things that need fixed. The JHSC member is now bouncing from complaint to complaint, in a random way. The JHSC member writes up the complaints and gives them to the managers or the maintenance department who quickly become overwhelmed and don’t complete the tasks.

The workers get frustrated at the JHSC because they never get anything accomplished, the JHSC members become disengaged because of perceived lack of support from management, and management feels it is spending time and money on the safety program but not seeing the results. Everyone is just compounding each other’s unmet needs.  That is why I call it the pinball effect.

Since no one has ever solved a problem by complaining, here is my recommendation to avoid the JHSC pinball effect. The number one way to overcome this pinball effect is to change the focus of your JHSC monthly inspections.  Your JHSC should not be walking around every month with a clipboard identifying hazards. What should happen is this: the JHSC becomes the auditors of how well the safety program is being embraced with the organizations; if they see a hazard on their inspection, they should not write the hazard down. What they should do is ask two very important audit type questions, one to the worker and one to the supervisor. Here are the questions:

  • To the worker: Why did you not report this hazard to your supervisor?
  • To the supervisor: Why did you not identify and correct this hazard?

The JHSC should be writing down the answers and then taking them back to the JHSC meeting for discussion and recommendations to correct the Health and Safety program. This is how you avoid the pinball effect.

Discussion Questions

What other interventions would you recommend as a HR professional to improve the effectiveness of your organizations’ JHSC?

Click on this link to download a JHSC assessment tool.

Review the tool. Identity which assessments questions you feel are more valuable to improve the effectiveness of a JHSC. Create a smaller questionnaire with the 10 questions your feel are the most important.


Treatments for the Toxic Workplace


As we have learned from our studies, the three steps of sound health and safety practices are hazard awareness, risk assessment, and the application of controls. When dealing with physical agents in the workplace such as toxic chemicals, the steps are applied in order to recognize and identify the chemical hazards; assess the risk of harm to employees in the workplace resulting from exposure to the chemical hazards; and finally, to apply controls to the chemical hazards in order to reduce or eliminate the risk of injury or harm to employees.

These same steps must be applied when dealing with psycho-social hazards in the workplace, which include a poisoned or toxic workplace culture. In the same way that toxic chemicals can cause irreparable physical harm, a toxic workplace can cause severe psychological harm resulting in devastating consequences to employee mental health and physical well-being.

Unlike physical agents, psychological hazards are sometimes more difficult to identify and to assess. A recent publication from HRD On-line provides a summary of toxic workplace hazards from the book ‘Culling Culturitis’.

Click here to read the article.

As noted by the book’s author, many organizations leave the development of organizational culture to chance. From a health and safety perspective, this is a high risk strategy. As with any organic culture once an infection begins, if it is not stopped, the disease spreads throughout entire organism. When dealing with toxic workplace culture, it is imperative that the third step of controls is applied in order to stop the spread of workplace infection and it may require the elimination of the root cause at the source.

While there are some remedies provided in the article, there are numerous resources available which provide additional practical solutions for toxic workplace problems, including those provided by the federal government and a leadership blog provided on-line by Inc.

Click here to access the Government of Canada’s workplace mental health link.

Click here to access the Inc. blog.

Health and Safety applies to all workplaces. Mental health and safety applies to everyone within them.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you worked in a toxic environment? What was the impact on you and/or your colleagues?
  2. Why do you think employees stay in a toxic work environment even though it is detrimental to their own mental health?
  3. What advice would you give to the CEO of a toxic workplace culture in order to make a constructive change?