Volume 12, Number 4 October 8, 2004

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Campaign will try to reduce workplace injuries

By Lawrence McMahen

In response to a new provincial guideline, the U of S is launching a major, multi-level campaign against workplace injuries.

Last year 80 University employees had to spend time away from their jobs because of workplace injuries – most often back, shoulder or wrist injuries from overexertion while lifting, bending or reaching.

In the coming months, awareness and safety training will be given to supervisors, campus units with the highest injury rates will be helped to develop strategies for reducing injuries, and a number of other actions will be taken.

The University officials in charge say it’s all an attempt to help the thousands of people working on campus to avoid being hurt on the job – with the physical suffering and psychological and financial upset that an injury can cause.

And they note it’s also an effort to act on a Saskatchewan Labour directive telling major employers to reduce their Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) claims.

Sunil Choubal, Director of the U of S Department of Health, Safety & Environment (DHSE), and Joan Meidl, Occupational Health Nurse Consultant with the Human Resource Division’s Health and Wellness Resource Centre (HWRC), say Saskatchewan Labour has issued an Action Plan for Healthy and Safe Workplaces.

It calls for a 20-per-cent reduction in workplace injuries.

“Among the provinces, Saskatchewan is tied for the highest workplace injury rate,” Choubal says.

He notes that while U of S workplace injuries account for only 0.5 per cent of the provincial total, the University represents 43 per cent of all injuries in the province’s post-secondary education sector.

The University is one of 10 “significant employers” in the province that Saskatchewan Labour has now asked to cut their injury rates by 20 per cent over the next four years.

Choubal and Meidl are taking the directive seriously, and they’ve joined forces to try to make a real difference – DHSE through injury prevention strategies and HWRC through early intervention and improved return to work.

They plan to tackle everything from the basic campus philosophy on safety, to ironing out procedural issues for handling injury cases, to working directly with people across the University on safer work practices.

Choubal says two overriding concepts are that health and safety is everyone’s responsibility, and also that supervisors play a key role in ensuring safe conditions in their areas and that staff in their areas use safe practices.

“It’s important to change our attitude in the workplace,” he says. “We have to integrate health and safety into our daily routines, so that safety habits happen automatically.”

He and Meidl say DHSE and HWRC are set up to work well together in this effort. DHSE works to help people on campus prevent accidents and injuries, and the Health and Wellness

Resource Centre works with people after an injury has taken place, to help with a safe and timely return to work.

Choubal notes that until last month, his office handled the Workers’ Compensation Board claims, which sometimes meant a delay of a few days before Meidl and her colleagues in HWRC would know a case had been filed.

That changed Sept. 15, when the process of filing WCB claims was transferred to HWRC to allow for early intervention and a “seamless” approach to claims management.

“Psychologically, physically and financially it helps to practise early intervention, to have the claim processed smoothly,” Meidl says, adding strategies include early identification of lighter duties and alternate work.

Choubal says the goal of the new anti-injury campaign is to reduce the number of injuries, lessen the seriousness of injuries, and reduce the time people spend away from their job as the result of injuries.

He will initiate a Supervisory Training Program to teach supervisors about their supervisory obligations and how to identify safety problems and how to work to prevent injuries.

“ And those units that consistently have the highest injury rates will be contacted and helped to develop their own strategies,” Choubal says. This will no doubt include Facilities Management Division, since caretakers and cleaners accounted for 37 per cent of U of S injuries in 2003. Other campus occupations at some risk of injuries include food service workers, people working in Veterinary Medicine, Medicine, and Residences.

Meidl says the staff of the Health and Wellness Resource Centre will be promoting this new initiative to key stakeholders. Nov. 23, as part of the Human Resource Division’s Leading People series, they will present information about the services offered through the HWRC to managers – and later this fall to union representatives and employees.

In Saskatchewan there are about 32,000 employers registered with the WCB, and each year up to 40,000 new work-related injury claims are made. About 40 per cent involved lost work time. In Saskatchewan 25 people died from worksite injuries in 2003.

For more information, contact communications.office@usask.ca

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