North American Occupational Safety and Health (NAOSH) Week occurs every year during the first full week of May. While it is crucial to focus on the importance of preventing injury and illness in the workplace and the community all year long, NAOSH Week is a great opportunity to show your commitment to health and safety, raise awareness and remember that we all have a role to play in creating safe work environments and communities together.
Occupational Safety and Health Professionals (OSHP) Day is observed on the Wednesday of NAOSH Week. It is a day dedicated to celebrating health and safety professionals for their efforts towards reducing workplace risks and hazards. Occupational health and safety professionals play a big role in ensuring workers return home safely each day. With compassion and careful attention to detail, they work hard to protect us from workplace incidents, injuries and illness by providing training, developing prevention programs, conducting audits and assessments, and delivering practical tools and resources that support safe environments and healthy workers.
At PSHSA, we are fortunate to work alongside several accomplished health and safety professionals who are truly experts in their field, and it is a pleasure to learn from them every single day. As part of our OSHP Day celebrations, we sat down with 4 of our own Health & Safety Consultants to learn more about their work, their passion for health and safety and what keeps them motivated. Here’s what we learned.
Q: Why did you choose to go into Occupational Health and Safety (OHS)?
Christine Joli-Coeur: I am not sure if I chose it or it chose me. Prior to my career in health and safety, I had worked in healthcare and then for a national disability management firm. One day, I came across the Industrial Accident and Prevention Association (IAPA) office [now, Workplace Safety & Prevention Services]. I was very interested in their health and safety courses and decided to take the JHSC Certification Part 1 course. The training really resonated with me. Soon after, I was fortunate enough to be hired at IAPA. It was a pleasure working with so many committed and knowledgeable Health & Safety Consultants. Now, I work at PSHSA, which is a fabulous health and safety organization, and I still enjoy teaching JHSC Cert 1 as I continue to help employers and workers to really understand how the legislation and the Internal Responsibility System works to protect them.
Olivia Monk-Saigal: I chose OHS because I wanted to help people. As a yoga teacher and Health & Safety Consultant, I wanted to holistically help people live better, healthier and safer lives — and where better to start than the workplace, an area where we spend 1/3 of our day!
Jeff Pajot: To help people. As an ergonomist and health and safety professional, I am interested in designing work systems that reduce risk of injury and illness.
Q: Describe a typical working day as a health and safety professional.
C.J-C: It’s hard to remember what a typical day looks like! COVID-19 has really changed all of that. I would say prior to COVID, the days were always a bit different. At PSHSA, we provide health and safety training, consulting, ergonomics and so much more. I really enjoy the variety.
O.M-S.: Health and safety is an incredibly changing field. Not only are there new hazards that arise as technologies change and the world around us develops, but there are hazards that have always been present in the workplace that are really only being addressed now, like psychological health and safety. As health and safety professionals, we are challenged every day with thinking about these new or unaddressed hazards and finding creative and innovative solutions.
J.P.: A typical day for me involves consulting or training with clients and providing advice on improving health and safety in the workplace.
Q: How has COVID-19 impacted your work?
Frances Ziesmann: Despite the obstacles COVID-19 presents, we still work hard to help our clients through consulting and providing OHS services online. I would say our passion is heavily linked to our mission.
C.J-C.: We have transitioned to virtual health and safety training which, although not the same, allows us to continue providing workers with greater health and safety knowledge.
J.P.: We now provide our services virtually, for example online virtual training rather than in-person in the classroom. We have also conducted several COVID-19 infectious disease risk assessments.
Q: What do you love most about your job?
C.J-C.: Teaching front line workers how to see their work differently – helping them see that health and safety isn’t just training, but about rethinking how work is done and so much more. I truly feel grateful to work with an organization whose vision is helping workplaces better integrate health and safety into their daily activities so workers can return home safely at the end of the day.
F.Z.: I have worked with some incredibly bright and innovative people over the years at PSHSA, many are highly experienced, educated and qualified. The diversity of knowledge and experience, and the varied perspectives is what makes it work so well. We seek each other out to verify thoughts and considerations on a regular basis. This can only occur in a workplace with deep respect and trust amongst the professionals.
O.M-S.: I love how every day is different. Whether I am facilitating training, fit-testing, doing a risk assessment or answering client questions, no two days are the same. There is always a unique challenge or hazard to address that keeps work interesting (and keeps me on my toes!).
Q: What guidance do you have for OHS professionals just getting started in the field?
J.P.: Cultivate relationships with clients and believe in what you’re doing. You won’t go far in affecting change in an organization unless you really believe in what you’re doing and can clearly articulate why change or action is necessary. This requires OHS expertise, but also professionalism and skill in the art of relationship building.
O.M-S.: If you have the opportunity, explore as many different industries and sectors as you can! Health and safety is such a dynamic field and each sector and workplace has their own unique challenges. There is lots to learn and much can be applied from one sector to the next, so keep a curious mind. And think outside the box. The way things have always been done is not necessarily the only way. With such a rapidly changing field, there are options that have never been considered or explored. There is no one size fits all approach - think critically and creatively!
C.J-C.: It is a rewarding career, but it isn’t easy. Often, when workplaces don’t have a well-integrated health and safety management system in place, the full weight of health and safety can be put on your shoulders. Although program development, training and auditing are important aspects of an OHS professional’s job, enforcement should be the role of the employer and supervisors. Engagement from workers is also key in making sure that the policies and programs that are being developed are effective.
F.Z.: All your efforts should focus on helping clients improve their organization’s OHS performance and outcomes. Having a collaborative team-based approach provides much support to those with challenging projects and deliverables. In many cases the outcomes are greater than the sum of the whole: true synergy in the greatest sense.
Q: This NAOSH Week, what is one piece of advice you want employers/clients to take away?
O.M-S.: Health and safety is part of everything we do. It is more than just visible hazards or mandatory legislation. Take a holistic approach to health and safety, and implement programs that work best within your organization’s context (i.e. culture, design and strategy).
J.P.: Success in OHS and reducing risk starts with genuine commitment on behalf of senior leadership. By this, I mean senior management truly showing care and compassion for the welfare of their employees, having a comprehensive Health and Safety Management System (HSMS) and having resources and people assigned to managing OHS.
C.J-C.: Doing nothing is still doing something. Status quo and never having had a serious injury doesn’t mean that your organization has the infrastructure in place to prevent a tragic incident. It is really important to manage your hazards and to engage workers and all workplace parties to work collaboratively to incorporate health and safety into how you do business. It also offers you the peace of mind that, if an unfortunate incident occurs, the measures and procedures in place will mitigate the impacts to your organization and your workers.
PSHSA has a large team of expert occupational health and safety professionals working diligently to ensure Ontario workers have a safe and healthy environment in which they can thrive. Contact your Health & Safety Consultant to learn how you can make the best of NAOSH Week.