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Workers suffering from increased stress, isolation at work: Survey

‘Organizations have evolved to prioritize employee well-being and management of workplace stress, yet reports of stress continue to increase’

Workplace stress is on the rise and employees are feeling the pressure, according to a a survey by Morneau Shepell.

More than one-third of employees said they are more stressed now from work (35 per cent) and personal issues (36 per cent) than they were five years ago.

One-quarter (27 per cent) of employees rated their stress from work during the last six months as high to extreme, compared to 34 per cent among people managers, found the survey of 1,591 people, including 1,005 employees and 586 managers.

One of the main contributors to stress is an increased feeling of workplace isolation, as 64 per cent of employees and 73 per cent of managers reporting a high level of workplace isolation are more likely to say they also have a high level of workplace stress.

About one in six employees reported a high to extreme feeling of isolation at work (15 per cent) during the previous six months, with one in four employees (23 per cent) and managers (24 per cent) reporting increased feelings of isolation at work when compared to five years ago.

“In recent years, organizations have evolved to prioritize employee well-being and management of workplace stress, yet reports of stress continue to increase,” said Stephen Liptrap, president and CEO.

“This is cause for concern as stress is now contributing to a decline in employees’ physical and mental well-being.”

In addition to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, employees suffering from high levels of workplace stress are also more likely to suffer from issues such as physical pain and sleep troubles, he said.

Stigma decreases

However, there’s been a decline in the sense of stigma associated with mental health issues, as two-thirds (67 per cent) of employees said they would be concerned their career options would be limited if their workplace was aware of their mental health issue, compared to more than three-quarters (77 per cent) in 2014.

Self-stigma – feeling negatively about oneself for having a mental health issue – has also declined over the last five years, from two-thirds (65 per cent) in 2014 to 56 per cent today.

However, employees who report suffering from high (79 per cent) and medium (68 per cent) levels of workplace stress are more likely to say they are worried about the impact on their careers if their workplace knows about any mental wellness issues.

Rae Ann Aldridge wins 2018 Safety Leader of the Year award

Thanks to her hard work, the University of Calgary is the only post-secondary institution with COR for its entire operation

After receiving her undergraduate degree in chemical engineering, Rae Ann Aldridge’s first job was writing material safety data sheets at a consulting firm. About one month in, her manager asked her to help out in the firm’s industrial hygiene (IH) group and that sealed the deal — she fell in love with occupational health and safety and has never looked back.

“I really loved the IH work. Every day was something new and different and interesting. I got to go into all kinds of work environments, everything from huge GM plants in the (United) States to little dry cleaning plants,” says Aldridge. “And when I monitor and I find elevated levels, I can make a difference to their life and their health.”

Aldridge is now the associate vice-president of risk at the University of Calgary and the winner of the 2018 Safety Leader of the Year award, presented by Canadian Occupational Safety. One of the reasons she is deserving of this award is for leading the organization in achieving its Certificate of Recognition (COR). The university is the first post-secondary institution to achieve this certification for the entire university and it’s among one of the largest employers with the certification in Alberta. The nature of the activities that take place at the university further proves why achieving this high standard is such an accomplishment. The university has 115 buildings, 14 faculties, four campuses in the Calgary area and 900 research labs using animals, radioisotopes, pathogens and all kinds of chemicals. It has 30,000 students and 5,000 employees. Plus, it contributes nearly $8 billion annually to Alberta’s economy.


But achieving COR was a journey and it didn’t happen overnight, says Aldridge. It began with a baseline audit in which the university scored very low. Aldridge and her team got to work on developing policies and procedures and standardizing documentation — then the real heavy lifting began. One of the out-of-the-box ideas Aldridge had was to engage a consultant to deliver 165 workshops on hazard assessment and control. Participation was mandatory for each of the 420 departments. By the end of the project, more than 1,000 hazard assessment documents were completed for every role within the university.

“Honestly, it’s what got the program off the ground,” says Aldridge. “The hazard assessment and control component drives everything else inside the management system; they’re really the fundamentals.”

The university achieved COR in 2014 and successfully renewed it in 2017.

According to Aldridge’s boss, Linda Dalgetty, vice-president of finance and services, the university would not have been able to achieve COR without Aldridge’s passion, leadership and desire to shift the paradigm.

“She’s not willing to just sit back and say, ‘I’ve done a good job, my team’s done a good job.’ She wants to validate it, she wants to use the findings to make us better and move the needle even further.”

It was important for Aldridge to pursue COR for the University of Calgary because the environment, health, safety and sustainability committee of the board of governors was asking about benchmarking. It’s very difficult to benchmark your health and safety management systems if you’re not auditing to a standard, she says.

“Even looking at things like WCB (Workers’ Compensation Board) claim rates, lost-time claim rates, we look at those but those are not really telling you about how deep the roots are for your management system,” Aldridge says. “The best tool that we could find was COR.”

To pique the interest of the board of governors, Aldridge takes them on tours of the university, so they can better understand the type of work that goes on. She recently made the business case for updating the university’s emergency eyewash and shower systems, and she showed the board the new models during a recent tour.

“There’s this trust in Rae Ann and this focus — right up to the top of the house — on environmental health, safety and security,” says Dalgetty.

Another one of Aldridge’s initiatives is to have the executive leadership team participate in health and safety inspections during Safety and Wellness Week every September. She also walks through at least three tabletop exercises with them for the university’s crisis management system. All the meetings of the board, board committees and General Faculties Council start with a safety moment.

Aldridge says her success with senior leadership stems from getting in front of them. If she’s working on a large-scale project, she meets with the executives to explain what’s coming, why it’s happening and what groups may be impacted. Plus, she always follows through with her commitments.

“You need face time with them and you need to deliver. When you’re pushing initiatives or projects, you need to have credibility at the table, so you need to be delivering those scope, schedule and budget all on time,” Aldridge says. “When you have that kind of credibility, then you’ll be invited back to the table.”

Aldridge can be quite persuasive when advocating for the requirements of health and safety at the university. The hazard assessment process was a great example of this.

“She went to each individual faculty and said, ‘Here’s what you need to do and here’s why you need to do it,’” says Denise Howitt, manager, EHS systems and compliance. “It was a lot of work that was required by a lot of people and she convinced them it was the right thing to do. It’s now a normal thing — almost everyone you talk to would know what a hazard assessment control form is.”

Aldridge has the ability to “meet people where they are” when discussing health and safety initiatives, says Dalgetty.

“She has a very soft way in bringing people along and getting them on board and, in her role, that is absolutely critical,” she says. “It’s a skill. It’s not something a lot of people can do.”

Aldridge and her team are regularly out on campus talking to the different faculties and researchers.

“It’s not the health and safety department coming and hammering them. It’s the advocacy and helping them understand why this is important to their staff, to their safety to their processes, to what they’re trying to accomplish,” Dalgetty says.

One reason why this is a successful approach is because Aldridge is an excellent communicator. She is warm, enthusiastic and personable, and she comes across as a credible resource in everything she does, says Howitt.

“A lot of people will go directly to her and ask for her advice on issues or challenges they are having,” she says. “In a large institution, it might seem strange to go straight to the associate vice-president and say, ‘I’m having this issue,’ but they do and she helps them.”

Creativity is one of Aldridge’s greatest leadership qualities. The university is a dynamic, ever-changing, diverse and complex environment, but Aldridge can always see the big picture and come up with innovative solutions.

“When you have ideas, especially in post-secondary, the path to get there is not always linear and it might not be the path that you thought you would accomplish things by, but what Rae Ann does is she listens and responds and she thinks it through and she comes up with ways to do things to get to that end goal,” says Dalgetty.

When snow unexpectedly hit Calgary in early September 2014 — ultimately known as “Snowtember” — there wasn’t an effective way to communicate with the staff and students on campus. So, under Aldridge’s leadership, the university got a new emergency mobile app that everyone on campus can download, and it has been very effective.

Another one of Aldridge’s innovative ideas was to dramatically increase the number of cameras in the university’s security operations centre. A few years ago, the system was very antiquated with just a smattering of cameras, says Dalgetty. Now, it’s state-of-the-art with about 1,500 cameras (and counting) across campus, and security professionals from other universities are coming to take a look.

When Aldridge realized she was having difficulty engaging some of the lower-risk faculties in occupational health and safety (OHS), she knew she had to get creative. Aldridge and her team developed health and safety binders designed to assist departments in understanding their responsibilities, communicating about health and safety and collecting relevant documentation for regulatory compliance and audit purposes.

Each department identified an OHS management system co-ordinator, who received coaching on the requirements for keeping the binders up to date. Hundreds of binders were pushed out and Aldridge and her team are working with IT to try and put all the information online.

“It has prompted a bit more activity in the administrative areas around health and safety,” says Aldridge. “Those teams are now doing inspections; they sent people in for first-aid training. It’s continuing to shift the culture.”

Another way workers are engaged is through the Risk Shining Stars recognition program. Individuals in the university community are nominated by those within the risk portfolio for their outstanding contribution to safety.

“We have shining stars all across our campus,” says Aldridge.

The University of Calgary’s enterprise risk management (ERM) system used to fall under the finance department, so it was largely focused on financial risks. Then, the ERM was put under the risk portfolio — under Aldridge — and it was re-built from the ground up, says Howitt. It now looks at all the institutional risks, such as health and safety, disability management and security. The risk matrix is regularly used in decision-making at all levels of the organization.

“It’s part of our living and breathing institution as opposed to a paper checklist that lives in someone’s drawer,” says Dalgetty.

Aldridge is lauded for her ability to remain calm during crisis situations, such as the Calgary floods in 2013 and the Fort McMurray, Alta. fires in 2016, when the university housed evacuees on campus. She takes in all necessary information and comes up with the best strategy.

“That’s when leadership really shows. It’s easy to lead day-to-day when nothing is going wrong, but when there’s a major event and you have a leader who is still able to be effective and is calm and compassionate and caring and responding to the people — not just the event — that’s Rae Ann in a crisis,” says Dalgetty.

Aldridge joined the University of Calgary in 2006 as director of EHS. After working there for two years, she left to go work in Nova Scotia, but came back to the university in her same position in April 2011. Since then, she has climbed the ranks to associate vice-president of risk, a position she has held for 4.5 years. When asked how she got to this high level, she humbly says there was some “luck and timing” in her journey and credits “phenomenal teams and extremely strong support” from leadership.

She encourages safety professionals to be innovative and think outside the box when faced with “weird and wonderful” health and safety problems.

“I think there is always a solution,” she says. “It’s sometimes not the same solution for every kind of circumstance but I think when you bring the right people to the table, we can always find a solution.”

For example, after the university’s poor baseline audit, Aldridge approached the deans of the higher-risk faculties to ask if they would each cost-share a position with the safety department. This resulted in health and safety professionals that report to the director of health and safety sitting within the high-risk faculties. They were able to meet regularly with their respective deans to help move the health and safety management system along.

Aldridge is passionate about her OHS work and that extends beyond the walls of the University of Calgary. She sits on the board for the Alberta Association for Safety Partnerships and is the co-chair of the Campus Alberta Risk and Assurance Committee, which includes representatives from all the public sector institutions in the province. Recently, the group developed business continuity templates and produced a video to educate students and staff on how to respond in an active shooter situation. Aldridge welcomes the opportunity the committee provides to help some of the smaller post-secondary institutions in Alberta.

“I have lots of time to answer calls and entertain other post secondaries who come and ask me about our ERM program or our management systems,” she says.

What interested Aldridge in the industrial hygiene work nearly 30 years ago still rings true in her job today and is the reason why all the positions she has held throughout her career have been in occupational health and safety — that ability to make a difference.

“It’s the reasons I stay,” Aldridge says. “Every day is something new here and I think with the right team I have in place we are able to be leading edge in terms of safety, security and risk management in general, and we have been able to do a lot of leading-edge changes to make sure our campus is a safe and healthy environment.”

Workers exposed to chemotherapy drugs at increased risk for cancer, organ damage, reproductive issues

Nurses, pharmacists and housekeeping staff all must be aware of this toxic hazard

Over the past year, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) has received 150 complaints from its members about exposure to one of the most toxic classes of chemical agents used in health care. Cytotoxic drugs, also known as antineoplastic drugs, have a toxic effect on cells within the body and are most often used in chemotherapy to treat cancer.

“It was alarming to us that we would walk into a health-care facility and hear or witness licensed, practical nurses, heath-care aids distributing cytotoxic medications or other hazardous medications without any form of personal protective equipment,” says Trevor Hansen, occupational health and safety and disability representative at AUPE, which represents more than 90,000 workers. “Generally, employers in the health-care industry here in Alberta were not properly advising their workers of the medication and the impact to the worker… They were not doing their due diligence.”

To date, the union has filed seven formal occupational health and safety complaints to the Ministry of Labour for different employers throughout the province in regards to a lack of training, education and personal protective equipment (PPE) for cytotoxic drugs. OHS officers visited each workplace and in every single case, a compliance order was issued, Hansen says.

Every year, the number of cancer cases in Canada increases. The Canadian Cancer Society says nearly one in two Canadians will be diagnosed with the disease in their lifetime and one in four will die from cancer.

With chemotherapy being one of the principal treatments for cancer, there are global increases in the development and use of antineoplastic agents worldwide, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Currently, there are more than 100 different antineoplastic agents available.

These drugs not only attack cancer cells, but they are non-selective and affect normal cells, too. Acute reactions can include skin irritation, eye and mucous membrane irritation, nausea, vomiting, hair loss and rashes.

Due to the latency period of some of these medications, chronic issues can show up five, 10, 15 years later, such as damage to the liver, kidney, lung and heart, Hansen says.

Many antineoplastic drugs are carcinogenic, meaning that exposure could cause cancer. Studies have shown an increased risk for leukemia, non-Hogskin lymphoma, bladder cancer and liver cancer among exposed workers.

The drugs are also teratogenic, meaning that they can affect fetal development. There is a fair amount of literature regarding reproductive toxicities and cytotoxic drugs, such as infertility issues, miscarriages, stillbirths and birth defects. Employees who are pregnant, trying to conceive or breastfeeding should be reassigned to tasks where they won’t be exposed to cytotoxic drugs.

Hansen says reproductive issues are a concern among his union members who work with these drugs.

“Now they are trying to relate it back to things like miscarriages they have had, the inability to conceive children… It’s really hard to specify that this was the direct result of dealing with these types of drugs without being properly protected, but once that information becomes available, people’s minds start to ask that question,” he says. “And had they been properly protected, perhaps they wouldn’t have to ask.”

All workers who may come into contact with cytotoxic drugs have to be aware of all of these risks, receive relevant training and wear the necessary PPE to protect themselves. According to Carex Canada, occupations with potential exposure include: pharmacists and pharmacy assistants, nurses and licensed nurse practitioners, physicians, veterinarians and their assistants, environmental service workers (janitors and caretakers), shippers and receivers, industrial laundry workers and pharmaceutical manufacturing workers. Hansen adds that correctional officers can be at risk if offenders have been receiving cancer treatment.

Carex Canada estimates about 75,000 Canadian workers are exposed to antineoplastic agents. There is no safe level of exposure to cancer-causing agents. Detectable levels of cytotoxic drugs have been reported in the urine of pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, nurses and workers in drug manufacturing plants. The largest occupational group exposed is pharmacy staff (pharmacists, technicians and assistants), with 42,900 workers exposed.


Cytotoxic drugs come in liquid form, which can be administered through IV or injection, as well as pill form, which sometimes needs to be split in half or crushed so the patient can swallow it easier. Along with being used to treat cancer, the drugs can also be used for rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis and some viral diseases, such as HIV.

Workers can be exposed through skin absorption (direct contact with the drug or indirect contact with contaminated surfaces or handling patient excreta); inhalation (breathing in drug vapours or dust); accidental injection (needles or other sharps that puncture the skin); and ingestion (not washing hands prior to eating or putting contaminated pencils and pens in the mouth).

In health care, workers along the entire medication circuit can be exposed to cytotoxic drugs. It starts with the staff involved in the receiving department, who rely on warning labels on the outside of the shipping and transport containers so they know what they are handling. Workers could be exposed if the vials of the drug are broken or if there are traces of it on the boxes.

“If there’s no safe handling protocols in place, then there’s that risk of touching it and being exposed to it,” says Komal Patel, educator at the de Souza Institute in Toronto, which provides continuing education to health-care professionals.

Pharmacy staff can be exposed when they are storing, mixing and preparing the drug or transporting it to the proper unit.

While they are administering the drug, nurses and their aids can be exposed. For example, the drug can be absorbed through their skin if they are not wearing gloves or if it permeates through the gloves.

Exposure can also occur when they are caring for the patient after treatment. Bodily fluids and excreta — such as saliva, sweat, urine, feces and vomit — may contain drug residue for up to one week. This means not only nurses can be exposed after the fact, but housekeeping and maintenance staff can be too.

“These dangerous drugs carry that 48-hour to seven-day window where they can still be impacting the health-care workers out there who have to go in and change linens and clean the rooms and work on the facilities and maintenance of beds and toilets and sinks and that whole system,” says Hansen.

In addition, there’s a whole range of support workers who may unknowingly face exposure at various points along the line, such as the dietary staff.

“They are delivering the lunch trays and they may put the tray down and maybe the patient has asked them to move something and the object is contaminated, then there’s that risk as well,” says Patel. “It’s not just necessarily the individuals who are around patients all the time.”

Anyone working with cytotoxic drugs or handling waste products should at least be wearing two pairs of chemotherapy gloves and a non-permeable chemo gown. They may also need goggles or a face shield if there is a risk of splashing and a respirator if there is an airborne risk, says Hansen.

When it comes to pharmacy staff, they have to wear two pairs of chemotherapy gloves, a chemotherapy gown, hair cover, a beard cover (if applicable), a respirator, shoe covers and safety goggles with side shields if there is a potential for splashing, says Lynne Nakashima, provincial pharmacy director at BC Cancer, which operates six cancer treatment centres across British Columbia. They are not allowed to wear any jewelry, rings or makeup, and they cannot wear contacts.

A 2014 survey by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in Atlanta found 80 per cent of oncology nurses and other health-care personnel were not always wearing two pairs of chemotherapy gloves and 15 per cent did not wear even a single pair. Forty-two per cent of the 2,100 survey respondents failed to always wear a non-absorbent gown with closed front and tight-fitting cuffs.

One reason why health-care professionals may not be wearing their PPE is because they are so patient-focused.

“A lot of the times the health-care staff themselves get lost in safety requirements for them as workers,” says Hansen.

To get ahead of the problem, BC Cancer makes sure it hires individuals who are adapt at following very strict policies and procedures, such as wearing all necessary PPE.

“We ask in the interview: ‘Are you the sort of person who is good at following very strict policies and procedures?’ Because if they’re not, this isn’t going to be a good place for them,” says Nakashima. “You have to do all of these procedures and you have to follow them rigorously because not only are you protecting your own health, but you’re protecting those around you.”

It’s also important to foster a safety culture where not wearing PPE is simply regarded as unacceptable among staff.

“If someone were to walk in with the wrong thing, everybody would turn around and say, ‘Go back out,’” says Nakashima. “They do kind of self-monitor in that way.”

The PPE needs to be easily accessible and workers need to be trained on how to properly don and doff the equipment as well.


When it comes to cytotoxic drugs, there needs to be strict policies and procedures in place. Aside from the national and provincial standards it has to follow, BC Cancer has created its own standard for the pharmacy staff who work with these agents. The standard covers everything from the time the drug is received on site through the mixing and dispensing of the medication, counselling of the patient and cleaning procedures, to the time it is given to the patient or it leaves the premises, says Nakashima.

One of the most important engineering controls at BC Cancer is the biological safety cabinet. It is a ventilated containment cabinet that is exhausted to the outside atmosphere to prevent re-circulation into the preparation room. For chemotherapy drugs, the exhaust and ventilation systems should operate continuously to ensure that no contaminants escape from the cabinet into the workplace, according to WorkSafeBC.

To ensure pharmacy staff are in fact following the many policies and procedures, BC Cancer requires them to complete an annual oncology certification. Every year they complete a written test and they are also observed in their day-to-day work. Evaluators have a checklist with specific criteria the workers have to meet. If they don’t score at least 85 per cent, they need to go through a re-training process, says Nakashima.

“And there’s certain aspects within those that we would consider an automatic fail if you don’t do certain things,” she says. “So some of them are smaller processes and we want you to do them and some are critical to the process.”

Closed system drug transfer devices have shown to be effective in controlling exposure to chemotherapy drugs. The devices are designed to minimize potential exposure of hazardous drugs and their vapour concentrations when transferring the drugs between containers or pieces of equipment.

BC Cancer implemented this type of system about five years ago for both its nurses and pharmacists. Nakashima says the agency has been pleased with the reduction in surface contamination.

“We take a swab and swab usual work spaces and the before and after’s are quite striking,” she says. “And once you implement, you maintain that low level of surface contamination. It’s another way the staff know they are not being exposed.”

Good communication about the types of hazards workers may be exposed to is very important. One method of doing this is door signage, which is especially useful for the support workers who do not have access to patient records, says Hansen.

“It is as simple as putting up a type of symbol on the doorway to allow those workers — the environment staff, the maintenance staff, the dietary staff — to know what they are walking into,” he says.

Posters can be another means of communication. Employers may want to have posters for restricted access zones (such as the areas where the chemotherapy drugs are mixed), appropriate use of equipment, proper handwashing, hazardous drugs and the location of spill kits.

Emergency procedures need to be clearly outlined for cytotoxic drugs in case of accidental exposure. According to the NIOSH survey, 12 per cent of respondents reported an antineoplastic drug spilled or leaked during administration.

Workers need to be trained in all of the emergency response procedures for the different scenarios that could occur.

“If it was to go into my eyes what do I do? What are the steps? If I were to ingest it somehow, what would I do? If it was absorbed into my skin, what would it do? Where do I get this information?” says Patel. “If you’re not educated then you’re not going to know what to do.”

Spill kits must be readily available in areas where drugs are stored, transported, handled and administered. A spill kit includes all necessary equipment and PPE to clean up a spill as well as step-by-step instructions. It also explains escalation processes if it’s not safe for the worker to clean the spill himself, says Nakashima. For example, if the spill is quite large, the area would need to be quarantined and the hazmat team called in to clean it up.

An accessible eyewash station that meets the criteria of ANSI/ISEA Z358.1-2014 must also be available.

t’s very important to properly dispose of hazardous drug waste, including material used to clean the spill, used gloves, paper liners, gowns, unused pills, powder residues and containers, gauze, IV bags or drug vials that contain more than trace amounts of hazardous drugs and needles and syringes. The items must be put in a sealed container or bag that is labelled as cytotoxic waste and then set aside in a safe area before it is picked up by a third-party waste disposal company. The ministry responsible for the environment regulates biomedical wastes, which includes cytotoxic waste, so employers need to make sure they are meeting the relevant legislative requirements in their jurisdiction.

“It’s not just a matter of ‘Throw it into the green garbage bin in the back of the parking lot.’ This is material that needs to be properly disposed, that needs to be properly identified and dealt with in a correct fashion,” says Hansen.


Worker training on chemotherapy drugs has to start from the very beginning with a comprehensive orientation and it has to include everybody, from front-line workers to managers, says Patel.

“It can be regulated staff, unregulated staff, you’re a manager or leader, whether you’re in a hospital setting, a community setting, it doesn’t matter where, if you are working with individuals receiving hazardous drugs or cytotoxic drugs, you should be aware of this,” she says.

Supervisors may need additional training so they understand their responsibilities in monitoring workers and ensuring they are doing what they are required to do under occupational health and safety law, says Hansen.

“These front-line supervisors have to have more knowledge than the front-line workers. These are people who your nurses, your environmental services, your maintenance individuals are going to to ask questions,” he says. “They are the point of resource.”

As a best practice, the training should be offered in various ways to meet individual learning needs.

“Some people like to read, some people like to listen, some people like to do, so make all three of those opportunities available so (workers) can learn in the way that they best learn,” says Patel.

The training should offer a practice component so workers can have the chance to test out what they have learned and make mistakes. At BC Cancer, new pharmacists practice just with water first, rather than the actual drugs, until their one-on-one trainer deems them ready to try real drug mixing.

Throughout the training process, it’s important for employers to be forthcoming with their workers so they understand the severity of the risks and take safety protocols seriously, says Hansen.

“A lot of employers don’t want to use the direct words that ‘These drugs can cause you cancer.’ They are trying to downplay it,” he says. “But wouldn’t that grab the attention of the worker a little bit more to ensure that on a day-to-day basis once I provide them the training, education, the proper PPE, that they are going to wear it?”

Health and safety professionals should make sure to evaluate the success of their cytotoxic drug risk prevention plan. Start by observing workers completing tasks (see sidebar) and asking them questions about the medications and safe handling procedures. An anonymous survey can also be deployed to the workforce.

“If everything is in place, they should be able to explain that program to you as a health and safety professional. They should be able to educate you on the program — it shouldn’t be the other way around,” says Hansen. “That’s the ideal world here.”

In order for the cytotoxic drug risk prevention program to be successful, upper management needs to be involved. Not only do they need to approve any additional costs for PPE, spill kits and training, they also set the tone for the rest of the organization.

“That’s where it starts,” says Nakashima. “If I don’t commit to the same standards of care and if I don’t support them, then nobody else is going to either. From my perspective, the buck stops here. If I am going into an area, I can’t be an exception; I have to follow the exact same policies and procedures as the rest of the staff.”

While it elicits some negative reactions, Hansen compares chemotherapy drug exposure to that of asbestos, saying the dangers of the drugs have not been properly explained to workers and the adverse health issues may be yet to come. He is urging employers to take action and put policies and procedures in place before their workers suffer any consequences.

“If the information is there and as an employer you’re either A) blind to it or B) you’re ignoring it, not only are you in violation of your required due diligence as an employer, I am going to start using the word neglect — and you don’t want that.”

Women’s group aiming to boost gender representation in safety profession

Mentorship program will help women support each other’s career development

Paula Campkin knows what it’s like to be the odd woman out. As the vice-president and chief safety officer for Energy Safety Canada, she is one of the few women at the C-suite level. Throughout her career, she has attended many meetings where she was the only female in the room. When she first started out in the construction industry, she was surrounded by men. But she is setting out to change this. Campkin and a group of female safety professionals in Alberta have launched the Women in Occupational Health & Safety Society (WOHSS) to bring more women into the profession and support their advancement, from entry-level to the C-suite.

“Safety is an emerging profession and although the number of women entering is rising, we are still underrepresented,” says Campkin, who is the chairperson of WOHSS.

In 2016, only 38 per cent of safety professionals certified by the Board of Canadian Registered Safety Professionals (BCRSP) were female, which is a good indication of the trend throughout the profession, Campkin says.

The safety profession can be very challenging for women because it is a male-dominated industry, she says. For example, personal protective equipment is usually tailored to men, so finding equipment that fits properly is a challenge. Additionally, there can be concerns around personal safety when working at remote camps.

“There’s the whole issue of harassment in the workplace and how do you navigate these challenges as a woman and being able to assert yourself without coming across as the dreaded B word?” Campkin says. “Those are some of the specific challenges that we face that our male counterparts don’t have to think about.”

The idea for a group devoted to promoting women in the occupational health and safety profession came about 15 years ago when women in the Calgary chapter of the Canadian Society of Safety Engineering (CSSE) expressed frustration about the lack of female mentors. They wanted to be able to go to other women for advice on the specific challenges they were facing. An attempt had been made at that time to start a group, but it wasn’t able to get off the ground.

In 2014, Campkin was approached by a few individuals about resurrecting this idea, but she was just too swamped with other responsibilities and board positions at the time.

“But the idea really resonated with me,” recalls Campkin. “It came up again in 2016 and I had come off some boards, so I jumped on it. And then a group of us got together in June in a pub in Calgary and it was born.”

Including Campkin, there are 11 founding members of the society from different industry sectors in the occupational health and safety field. The women are fairly well-known in the safety world and include: Claudette Fedoruk, policy analyst at the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and president of the Calgary chapter of the CSSE; Alina Martin, president of Danatec Educational Services; and Wendy Wilson, global HSE director at Weatherford International.

To achieve its goal of increasing female presence, development and leadership in the health and safety profession, WOHSS will be providing members with networking sessions, workshops and a speaker series. While the society is seeking grants and sponsorship to cover costs, there will be a small membership fee of $50.

The society’s flagship program will be a mentorship program that will be launched with a speed mentoring event where members will find their perfect match. A program like this is particularly important to Campkin, who truly knows the impact of a good mentor. Early in her career in the late ‘90s, there weren’t a lot of women in high-level safety roles, so she ended up with a not-so-inspiring “mentor” at her workplace.

“It was such a negative experience. She essentially deterred me away from doing it and told me, ‘Oh, you probably wouldn’t succeed.’ It was awful. But I thought, ‘Whatever, I’m going to do it anyways,’” Campkin says.

But when she got into an executive role at Enform (now Energy Safety Canada) about five years ago, she was paired with a female mentor to help her with interpersonal and people skills.

“It was transformative. This lady helped me so much in my career,” Campkin says. “There’s enough barriers in this world already… We need to help each other when we can, we need to give people our learnings and any advice and if people are struggling, we need to help them through it.”

Campkin says it’s important for women to understand how they can progress in their safety roles. She wants to see more women in senior leadership positions and in the boardroom.

“Just because you’re health and safety, that doesn’t mean that’s all you do,” she says. “There are a lot of health and safety professionals on our board that have MBAs, masters degrees, well-rounded operational experience… Health and safety professionals can move into other areas of the organization and lead it.”

It’s also important to educate employers on the benefits of hiring female safety professionals as well as promoting them into leadership roles.

“It brings a good balance. Sometimes women put in a different perspective into the profession and maybe bring in a bit more empathy and understanding,” she says. “It is the best person for the job, I believe, but it’s also to show everyone that the company is more open-minded and they have the value of inclusivity.”

Although WOHSS is starting out as an Alberta society, there has already been an overwhelming response from female safety professionals across the country.

“We kind of had to walk before we could run. Our goal is absolutely to share our learnings with our sisters in other provinces and one day we would like to see our organization as a national initiative,” Campkin says.

In the meantime, the society has decided to have an associate membership option for individuals outside of Alberta.

Campkin is excited to welcome the society’s very first members. She says she is incredibly proud of the work these 11 women have accomplished so far and is looking forward to seeing the impact WOHSS will have.

“In less than six months, a group of women took a concept, established a business model, a board and became incorporated and we are on the verge of rolling out mentorship to fill a void that’s long overdue,” she says. “With that, there’s been no egos, no competition, all highly educated, competent women coming together to volunteer their time and try and make things better for those coming up behind us.”

Higher education can enhance career advancement

Options range from leadership development programs to PhD

Professionals know the only way to keep up in the ever-changing world of work is to be a committed lifelong learner. Lifelong learners inevitably are led to higher education, which refers to all the educational options available after high school. It includes all formalized certificates, diplomas and degree programming offered at universities and colleges. Many people are held back in their careers because they have not completed the higher education needed for a position or a promotion. Minimum education standards are going up in many facets of the safety world. Generally speaking, higher education will continue to be in demand by those that want to succeed in safety.

It may be that a promotion to a higher level within your company, such as director or vice-president, requires a bachelor’s degree, a master of business administration (MBA) or maybe even a master’s degree or PhD. Maybe you just want to broaden your skill set and further develop your capacity as a leader. Regardless of your reasons, higher education is a worthwhile endeavour and further certificates, diplomas and degrees will be an asset in the long run.

So, what’s out there? Every major city in Canada has at least one university and college. There are hundreds of smaller centres across Canada that make extension programming available. Online programs abound and are available to everyone, everywhere, all the time.

Perhaps your goal is to specialize in one of the many disciplines in the occupational health and safety field. Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C. has a certificate program with specialization in ergonomics, for example. How about risk management? The University of Winnipeg, York University in Toronto, Memorial University in St. John’s, N.L. and at least 20 others offer the Institute of Risk Management’s three-course specialty risk management certificate. What about disability management? Simon Fraser has a diploma program and the Pacific Coast University in Port Alberni, B.C. has a practitioner certificate program.

If you are not sure what direction to go, the Canadian Society of Safety Engineering publishes a guide called Hiring a Health and Safety Practitioner. The guide describes the range of OHS certifications and designations, in Canada and globally, and their educational requirements.

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) publishes a fact sheet summary of 50 OHS degree, diploma and certificate programs across Canada. The programs range from short programs of under 100 contact hours to university degrees, including master of science and PhD.

Having a bachelor’s degree in occupational health and safety will become the norm within one decade. Ryerson University in Toronto already offers a full-time classroom-based degree and the University of New Brunswick will soon launch one in an online format. If you are looking to take a master’s degree in the OHS area of study, McGill University in Montreal, the University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver all offer programs. If you set you sights high and are careful in your program design, doing a master’s degree at McGill can lead you to cross-appointed PhD studies in occupational health. If your path takes you through UBC, you can do a PhD in their school of public health.

If it is soft skills programming you are looking for, such as leadership development, most universities in Canada offer a certificate. offers a listing of leadership development programs. The University of Alberta in Edmonton has a four-course leadership development program as part of its executive education mandate. Dalhousie University in Halifax offers a program that follows what it calls the “master leadership model,” leading to a certificate. Even the Conference Board of Canada has a program that it says will “equip leaders with the essential leadership competencies needed to achieve organizational results.”

Perhaps you want to work on your communication or negotiation skills. UBC offers a certificate program in professional communication. The program includes persuasive business writing, report and business writing and presentation skills. Royal Roads University in Victoria offers a program that includes courses on mindful communication, difficult conversations and communication with clarity and impact. McGill has a continuing education department that offers credit and professional development courses in communication skills. Their program includes courses on effective public speaking, communication for results, conflict resolution and reading and writing for success. Regardless of where you live and work, programming is available to help you develop these essential soft skills.

As the range of higher education possibilities is nearly endless, you need to create and implement a solid professional development plan. Define the educational gaps, research the programming available and build a gap-closure plan. Here are the seven steps to follow:

  • Self-assess strengths.
  • Describe the knowledge, skills and abilities of the type of position, role or place you’d like to be.
  • Research programming available.
  • Create a road map.
  • Create a plan with smaller milestones of six months to one year.
  • Re-evaluate the entire plan at each milestone and adjust as necessary.
  • Repeat as necessary.

So, what’s next for you? Where do you want to be in five years? What higher education will you need to close the gap? If you want to get ahead in your career and you have not engaged with ongoing higher education, now is the time to start.

The changing role of the safety professional

Which type of safety advisor are you?

Today’s business environment demands agility from safety professionals to be successful. It’s agility that allows for the proper and effective response to change and turns adversities into opportunities.

Historically, the role of the safety advisor was to “police” the workplace and drive compliance to the legislation and the company policy. Gone are the days where the “safety cop” is the safety professional’s main role in our modern workplaces. In fact, safety advisors that bring just this antiquated thinking and approach often find themselves disconnected and disempowered by the exact system they are supposed to be serving. The role must evolve beyond simple compliance.

Today, the business unit management team owns compliance and the role of the safety advisor has broadened to include being a consultant, consensus-builder, advocate, tutor, coach and mentor. There is a wide range of competencies and skills needed by a safety advisor to succeed in today’s workplace, and it is fair to say the role of the safety advisor is growing. The skills needed for success today include hard skills such as knowledge of engineering, physics, math and chemistry. The skill set for success also includes soft skills such as communication, leadership, general business acumen and a technical understanding of your company’s core business. Important behaviours include customer service, problem-solving, needs analysis and risk communication.

Safety advisers use their knowledge and skills to promote a positive culture and best practices in health, safety and environmental management in the workplace. Their job is to support the operations team that is responsible for ensuring the employer and all employees comply with safety legislation and that the management system (policies and practices) established to provide the framework for compliance are adopted and adhered to. They need to bring a transformational leadership style to work with them every day and be able to adjust this style and, indeed, their communication style to every circumstance.

The question is, how should safety advisors position themselves to maximize their impact and therefore maximize their value to the company? We know that simply driving compliance will not do. We also know that the role of the safety advisor has broadened significantly. The range of approaches a safety professional can take in his advisory work can be characterized as one of the policeman, the politician, the technician, the challenger and the consensus-builder. Depending on the circumstance, each of these approaches may be more effective than others.

The policeman is the deeply self-confident safety advisor, often from the “old school” or with too many years of working experience in a single industry. They follow instinct that the years on the job have taught them. They know the letter of the legislation and they may be described as the “enforcer” who does things “by the book,” believing safety is a discipline distinct from operational excellence.

The politician has a bias towards telling people what they want to hear. They are usually good communicators, liked by most and are considered to be highly reliable. Their focus is on the people aspects of safety and listening to employees’ concerns. They may struggle with the bigger issues and prefer to talk about issues rather than take corrective action.

The technician is exactly as the title sounds: they know the science of safety and speak to the technical correctness of how thing should be done. They are hardworking, often putting their “nose to the grindstone.” They are typically well-educated, self-motivated and don’t give up easily. They are the safety advisor that will fight long and hard for what they think is technically correct.

The challenger may best be described as the debater in the safety department. They have a deep and thorough understanding of the technical aspects of the company’s business and the safety system and they are not afraid to challenge the business unit leaders and teach them something new about how things could be run. They are not afraid of controversy and can often be quite assertive (although diplomatic) about pushing new ways of thinking about old problems.

The consensus-builder thrives on nurturing and fostering relationships and is an advocate for safety at every level of the organization. They “speak many languages” and can relate equally well with the front-line labourers as with the senior management team. They willingly give their time to those that ask for it. Their primary posture to the employee group they serve is “accessibility” and “first-class” service. Consensus-builders may be seen as the master communicators in the organization.

While many safety advisors have the capacity to modify their approach, most default to a single one. There is not one best role for the safety advisor to take. The variety of circumstances a safety advisor may face would call for a variety of roles. It is recognized the role may need to be adjusted for any given situation and appropriate adaptation may garner the greatest success. It can be generalized that the consensus-builder and challenger profiles may be best suited to the direction that the safety profession is evolving, however, as the world becomes increasing technical, some support from the technician may be highly beneficial. There may be times during some types of risk communication where the politician may be best but, increasingly, it is becoming evident that the role of the policeman needs to be limited to crisis-type situations when a command-and-control leadership style may be needed.

Ideally, the safety professional is multi-skilled and highly adaptive with the capacity to modify her thinking and behavioural preferences to suit any circumstances. Situational leadership is very much the order of the day. When the safety team is knowledgeable about safety, regularly talks about safety with the operations team and engages in matters related to safety to build consensus, they increase the likelihood that safety will indeed succeed. The safety professional must take a leadership role in supporting the operations team to own and drive the safety activities such that safety becomes a habit. In the absence of this tutoring, coaching and mentoring role, safety becomes a “nice to have.” Occupational health and safety risk management only works when it becomes a habit. We need to make safety a habit.

Don’t just shrink it and pink it

Many women in hazardous jobs still wear ill-fitting safety gear made for men

When Amy Charette, a journeyperson welder, was just starting out in the late 1990s and needed to buy her own personal protective equipment (PPE), she had a hard time finding PPE that fit her properly. As a woman in the trades, she had to rely on men’s PPE.

“In gloves, there was nothing under a medium. When I started, that was the smallest size you could get,” says Charette, program co-ordinator at Edmonton-based Women Building Futures, which provides trades training and housing for women.

“I remember, as an apprentice, the ends of my gloves would hang off my fingers and burn in the radiant heat of the arc. They would crimp up because I couldn’t get my hands all the way into the gloves. They were so big. I would have to roll them or put my coveralls over them, or they would fall off my hands when my hands were at rest beside me. So safety was a primary concern.”

Many women workers are compelled to wear PPE designed for men. Even those in smaller sizes tend to not fit properly: Women are typically smaller, have shorter arms, more slender hands and feet and faces that are shaped differently. Loose or disproportionate PPE can itself become a safety hazard and put workers at risk.

When women wear men’s flame-resistant (FR) clothing, for example, they are wearing safety clothing that doesn’t fit them properly, says Mark Saner, FR technical manager at Oxnard, Calif.-based Workrite Uniform Company. With any uncomfortable clothing, there’s a tendency for workers to not wear them properly or not wear them at all.

“There are more and more women in these work environments that need FR clothing, so it’s important for them to have the right kind of safety PPE when they are doing their jobs,” he says.

Some of the ways women have adapted men’s FR clothing makes it unsafe, Saner says. If the pant legs are too long, for example, they often roll them up at the bottom. If a woman is wearing a man’s shirt that fits her torso, it’s likely the sleeves will be too long and she will roll them up. If the shirt is too long in the tail because it’s made for a man’s torso, she may not tuck it in.

“Now, you have that open area between the shirt and the pant that’s a hazard for heat and flames to blow up underneath. You’re supposed to keep the shirts tucked in but you can’t bunch a whole big wad of your shirttail into a pant if it’s a man’s versus a woman’s shirt. It makes it uncomfortable, all bunched up in there,” he says.

Women’s FR clothing is identical to men’s in the FR fabric, sewing thread, buttons and zippers and differs only in cut and design, he says. The waist area is usually contoured differently, and measurements through the seat and thighs are different. The shirt has darts in the back or chest area, and sleeves may be slightly shorter. The buttons, as with street clothing, are on the left side.


Sudbury, Ont.-based Covergalls specializes in manufacturing PPE designed for women, including FR coveralls and bibs. Company CEO and creator, Alicia Woods, designed coveralls for women working in mining and presented them on the CBC television program Dragon’s Den in 2014.

Woods, also general manager at Marcotte Mining Machinery Services, says she was driven to devise coveralls for women out of her own frustration of wearing men’s PPE. She had both safety and health concerns. In mines, loose-fitting coveralls present constant safety problems.

“When you have big, baggy clothing on, there’s a risk of getting it caught in machinery. I’ve seen girls just get a roll of duct tape and tape their sleeves up because they’re big and baggy and they want to prevent their garments getting caught,” she says. “There’s also a risk of tripping. And if you have to climb an escape ladder, you’re going to struggle wearing men’s coveralls. So women need to wear PPE that fits properly.”

But Woods had other concerns, too. When she first went underground, she realized how difficult it was to use the bathroom in coveralls made for men. If there was a portable toilet, it was usually dirty, and she would have to take everything off. That problem led her to design her own pair. Then a close friend, also in the mining industry, saw them and asked Woods to make her a pair.

Woods’ design includes a rear opening, which makes for easier bathroom breaks and allows women to keep their coveralls cleaner. The feature is also hidden: Women’s coveralls look identical to men’s.

The company is also manufacturing a wider range of PPE for women: safety gloves, bibs, cargo pants and shirts.


Gordon Leffley, duty consultant at Mississauga, Ont.-based Workplace Safety and Prevention Services, first confronted the limitations of standard-sized PPE when, as safety co-ordinator at a food plant in Ontario in the 1980s, he introduced a safety glasses program. He then learned that not everyone’s face is shaped so they can wear glasses that come in a box. The different shapes of noses, cheekbones and chins make it difficult to wear the equipment safely, comfortably and properly.

“Our experience with PPE taught us the theory that one-size-fits-all means ‘doesn’t fit anyone right,’” he says.

Safety goggles that don’t fit a narrower face leave gaps in the seal against the face, which can allow flying debris, chemicals or sparks to go past the goggles and enter the worker’s eyes.

The difficulty reappeared with respiratory protective equipment, Leffley says, which was not compatible with many women’s bone structure. One woman maintenance worker, who had to wear a self-contained breathing apparatus to work on an ammonia compressor, couldn’t get the breathing apparatus to fit at all. In the end, she had to be taken off the task.

“With respiratory equipment, proper fit is essential,” he says. “The face masks absolutely require a proper seal, and if the equipment cannot be adjusted to create that proper seal, you’re going to have a problem.”

One item of PPE where women’s different needs are often overlooked is hearing protection, Leffley says. Companies should offer employees several different kinds and allow a trial period.

“There are several types of fitted hearing protection available that some people find very, very uncomfortable. And most of the insertable types are designed around the standard ear canal, which not everyone has.”

Although there are many designs of safety shoes and boots for women on the market today, there are not as many options  with steel toes and reinforced shank for women as for men. Women’s feet tend to be not only smaller but also a little narrower, so it can be difficult to get a proper fit.

Boots that are too large can cause tripping, slipping and falling, as well as blisters and burning soles. Moreover, the worker’s toes may not be protected by the steel cap on the boots.

Just as finding gloves in the right size was a problem, Charette also had difficulty finding safety glasses that fit properly. Glasses and goggles typically came in one size and were made for men.

“None of the glasses would stay on my face, no matter how hard I tried,” she says, adding more glasses are available in smaller sizes now. “They actually stay on my face and don’t fog up because of their massive size.”

Chris Roddelt, journeyperson carpenter and carpentry instructor at Women Building Futures, agrees the need to use men’s PPE created many safety issues in the past. She would often take her safety gloves off and forget to put them back on again because they provided no dexterity and made the task more difficult to perform. In her experience, too, certain types of equipment — such as harnesses and respirators — were not made for women to wear and properly fitting ones were, until recently, almost impossible to find.

Today, although women working in trades certainly have more choices, they may still opt to wear men’s small sizes. Coveralls and other safety clothing made specifically for women tend to be more tailored, Roddelt says.

“It’s not sometimes practical at all in the working world. You need room to be able to bend over and flex, and some of the clothing that are specifically made for women don’t work well.”

Part of the problem, Charette adds, is manufacturers’ assumptions about women’s shape.

“They assume every woman is an hour-glass shape. So, they think you need a ton of room in the hip area, for example, which is not necessary true,” she says. “A men’s small may fit perfectly.”

Some manufacturers have also gone for pink, a feature that women don’t want, Charette says.

“They assume that because I am a woman in the trades I want to wear pink. I don’t. I don’t want to stand out; I’m one of the crew.”

Moreover, women’s PPE is usually more expensive than men’s. That extra cost, Charette says, makes companies less willing to buy it and makes workers who have to pay for their own PPE less willing to pay for it — even if they prefer the women’s version. “If I have to buy my own or take what the company supplies me, I’m going to take what the company supplies me, just in a smaller size because that smaller size is in fact available now.”

In many locations, too, PPE designed for women is not available locally but must be purchased online, requiring much more time and effort, Roddelt says.

“You order something that you think might fit and you’re willing to pay the price, but if you have to return it two or three times to get the right fit, it’s not worth the time.”

Generally, Charette and Roddelt agree, there are far more options available to women today. Buying work boots, for example, is much easier today than in 1995, when Charette was starting her training, in Fort McMurray, Alta.

“Women’s boots were unheard of. I had to purchase a men’s size 6, so I had the choice of about three different pairs,” says Charette, adding that now, she only needs to go to one store to find a dozen options specifically for women and all available in women’s sizes.

“That, right there,” she says, “is a testament to how our numbers are growing and the effect we’re having on the workforce, which is fantastic.”

Linda Johnson is a freelance journalist based in Toronto. She can be reached at [email protected]

This article originally appeared in the February/March 2017 issue of COS. 

Breathing for 2

Without proper respiratory protection, moms-to-be face risks of birth defects, complications

When Meredith Corman worked at a medical marijuana processing plant in Flin Flon, Man., a few years ago, she wore a surgical mask to keep dried plant particles from entering her lungs. When she became pregnant, she and her employer stepped up the respiratory protection.

“When the marijuana was dry, I would have trouble with my breathing,” Corman recalls. So managers had her work more on the growing side of the facility and less on the processing side. On the growing side, there was less dust and the work didn’t irritate her lungs as much. Her employer, Saskatoon-based Prairie Plant Systems, also regularly sent inspectors to check the facility’s air quality. Hudbay Minerals, which owned the property, monitored air quality as well.

Corman’s daughter is now seven years old and in good health.

Corman and her employer were right to concern themselves with respiratory health. If a pregnant worker has trouble breathing, her fetus may become oxygen deprived. The worst cases can result in a condition known as intrauterine hypoxia and lead to premature birth, low birth rate or cardiac and circulatory birth defects.

Pregnant workers face these risks in a variety of industries, including pharmaceuticals, health care and mining.

Breathing difficulties aren’t the only hazard for pregnant workers and their fetuses. Workers can also inhale dangerous drugs that cause birth defects.

For example, pregnant nurses who administer aerosolized pentamidine and aerosolized ribavirin to pneumonia patients put their fetuses at risk of developing physiological abnormalities, according to Marion Rita Alex, an associate professor at Saint Francis Xavier University School of Nursing in Antigonish, N.S. Pregnant workers can also inhale dangerous gases. Sandra Dorman, associate professor of human kinetics at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ont., has studied respiratory dangers for pregnant workers in mining. She says some of the worst hazards come from diesel engines used to power vehicles on mining sites.

“Some of the byproducts of the exhaust are particulate matter and the particulate is a Class-1 carcinogen. But there’s also carbon monoxide and the nitrogen oxide family. They’re all hazardous.”

Carbon monoxide is probably “the scariest one,” Dorman says. The gas is common and has an enormous effect on fetal development. She explains that fetal hemoglobin — the substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen — is different from adult hemoglobin. In the fetus, hemoglobin is designed to capture oxygen from the mother’s blood rather than from the air. That enhanced ability to capture applies to carbon monoxide as well, which is dangerous. If a pregnant woman inhales carbon monoxide, the gas is completely concentrated in the fetus.

“And it takes a long time to unbind, so you’re basically inducing hypoxia,” Dorman says. “In a normally ventilated mining environment, carbon monoxide levels shouldn’t cause significant adverse effects.”

But if the vents fail or carbon monoxide builds up for some reason, supplied-air respirators, face masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) can help filter the toxins and allow the worker to get herself and her unborn child to safety.

Problems with PPE

That said, respirators are complicated for the pregnant worker.

“(They are) breathing for two,” Dorman says. “They have to bring in more oxygen and expel more carbon dioxide. At the same time, the baby is growing and pressing up into the (mother’s) lungs.”

As the baby grows, mom can’t draw air as far down into her lungs. This is why women in the third trimester sometimes feel breathless. The condition may be exacerbated if the worker wears a respirator.

“With a respirator, you may have to generate extra force to breathe,” Dorman says. The harder it is for someone to breathe, the more tired that person’s breathing muscles will become, more quickly.

“The concern is if you’re fatigued and you don’t take in enough oxygen or push out enough carbon dioxide, it’s going to be worse for the fetus than for the mom.”

Respirator fit is another challenge, according to the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Some respirators must be fitted to your face to make a tight seal,” the organization says on its website. “Weight changes, including weight gained during pregnancy, can affect how a respirator fits. If a respirator does not fit correctly, it may not protect you… We suggest talking to your doctor and safety office to make sure you can wear your respirator safely and correctly throughout pregnancy.”

Sometimes PPE just won’t cut it at all. In 2011 the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which represents 474,000 public sector employees across Canada, issued a health and safety bulletin about cytotoxic drugs, which are used in chemotherapy treatment. These drugs may cause tumors and damage or alter DNA. According to the union, the only safe exposure level is zero, and it recommended employers reassign pregnant workers to tasks that don’t expose them to these drugs.

Speak up sooner

Even if PPE isn’t always the solution, information certainly plays a key role. For instance, although they usually don’t disclose their pregnancies to employers until after the first trimester, women might want to reconsider that common practice.

“A lot of the critical fetal development occurs in the first trimester,” Dorman says. “That’s the time when the fetus develops its spinal cord, brain and heart, as well as other key organs.”

If a pregnant employee’s work involves substances that are dangerous to a fetus, exposure could be especially damaging during those first few months.

Of course, part of the reason a worker doesn’t want to tell her employer before 12 weeks about her pregnancy is that the risk of a miscarriage is high in that time, Dorman notes.

“You don’t want to tell people you’re pregnant and then have to explain that you’re no longer pregnant in the worst case. Still, I would encourage people to go see their occupational support personnel, such as the hygienist, for advice,” she says. “And I think it’s important for the employer to provide information about who employees can contact to confidentially disclose their pregnancies, so best practices can be implemented immediately.”


Accommodating pregnant workers need not be difficult. In fact, doing so should be a matter of regular health and safety procedures. That was the situation for Stacey Ritz when she studied at McMaster University in Hamilton. Her PhD research involved examining the molecular and cellular pathways of early allergic responses in the lungs to understand the triggers that lead to allergic disease.

Part of her work involved extracting RNA from cells and tissues to analyze gene activation. One standard protocol for RNA extraction involves the use of a chemical solution called TRIzol, which contains phenol and chloroform to help separate the various compounds. Phenol and chloroform have adverse effects on the lungs and the central nervous system in humans, and there is some evidence they may increase the risk of birth defects or miscarriage, Ritz explains.

So she always used the fume hood when conducting these experiments.

“When I became pregnant, toward the end of my PhD, I didn’t change my behaviour because we were already taking precautions to protect ourselves from these chemicals.”

Companies should keep these matters in mind when creating pregnant-worker policies to help ensure employees stay safe and their children arrive without experiencing detrimental effects from damaging gases, drugs and other airborne hazards.

And what Corman says of her daughter is what every employer wants to hear: “She’s smart, energetic and healthy. I don’t think my work had any effect on her.”

A variety of career paths exist for OHS professionals

Many people go into occupational health and safety because it is a rewarding career — implementing processes and procedures that can save lives. But they may not realize it also has many opportunities for variety and professional advancement.


OHS professionals can have varied career paths just based on the wide range of industries that require their expertise, says Thomas Tenkate, director of the School of Occupational and Public Health at Ryerson University in Toronto.

“Even though the issues might be different in another sector, (the skills) are still very transferable and a lot of people might start in oil and gas but move into manufacturing or construction,” he says. “The variety of where people can be employed is a real bonus and it opens up so many potential opportunities.”

OHS professionals may want to look to sectors that don’t traditionally have health and safety roles, such as non-profit organizations. People going into these roles are doing so because they really want to make a difference, says Shelly Ptolemy, senior occupational health consultant at Ptolemy & Associates in Calgary.

Another area to consider is government agencies.

“There is a huge opportunity to work with folks that build the foundation from a best practice perspective or from the perspective of looking at legislation — you really have a voice there,” says Ptolemy. “Can you image developing something that lives through an act or through best practice recognition?”


There are several specialties that occupational health and safety professionals may want to consider in lieu of being an OHS generalist.

For example, behavioural safety is something that is starting to gain traction, says Ptolemy. This takes a look at the psychology of safety as it relates to employee behaviour. This may be of particular interest to people who like working with others.

“(OHS professionals) can look at this as a career path especially in the organizations that are founded more on the service end of things where the human impact plays a big part in terms of behaviour, as opposed to a manufacturing environment where process and equipment plays a bigger part,” says Ptolemy.

Behavioural safety specialists can help employees and managers be aware of what acts, values and assumptions they make that impact their safety.

“There are a lot of unsafe acts and you and I can build all the administrative and engineering controls, have the proper PPE in place and it still happens because of people’s beliefs, attitudes and even their learning patterns,” she says. “It’s a different way of managing risk.”

While they are currently few and far between, there are some job postings popping up specifically for behavioural safety specialists, and Ptolemy expects to see this area grow significantly in the future.

Another specialty is process safety. This is very interesting for people who are analytical or enjoy the background piece of how process impacts safety.

“That’s an evolution that continues to arise,” says Ptolemy. “When I started, there was not a lot of work on process, but it’s a huge component and people need to think about it when they’re looking at career paths.”

Process safety positions look at the specifications of equipment and the processes around them that may create hazards.

“(For example): What’s in this pipe? Where is the stuff in this pipe going? How is it maintained? What are the variables that are impacting safety of that process coming from the environment,” says Ptolemy. “It’s about looking at the process of what’s happening and it might not include an employee.”


After working in the field for a few years, receiving the Canadian Registered Safety Professional (CRSP) designation is a good way to take a career to the next level, says Andrew Church, OHS officer at Nova Scotia Community College in Dartmouth, N.S.

“The CRSP designation is the gold standard in Canada,” he says.

The portfolio, education and work experience required to get the designation speaks volumes to the type of professionals who hold the designation. This is why job ads often say: “Must have CRSP” or “Must be working towards CRSP,” says Church.

The designation is also very helpful for professional advancement.

“Definitely the CRSP would allow you to become a safety manager rather than a field officer… it’s an important thing to do if you want to be a safety professional long term,” he says.


Safety professionals in the mid-range of their careers often turn to leadership opportunities.

“They should look for positions where they can lead people, take more responsibility for outcomes that are team driven instead of individually driven and this may mean hiring folks that are more proficient at certain competencies than you are yourself,” says Ptolemy.

Taking on a management role may require expanding duties into workers’ compensation and managing accommodation for disability, says Tenkate. Professionals at this level will also be required to demonstrate efficiencies and cost savings of health and safety systems, he says.

“(You need the) ability to show value of what you’re doing by putting a dollar value on it: ‘By having this to ensure the health and safety of our workforce, it saves us X dollars,’” says Tenkate.

“You need to advocate in the organization to show value and benefits of an efficient and appropriate system.”

Related occupations

There are also options for OHS professionals to branch into different but related occupations, such as occupational hygiene.

“A practitioner in occupational health and safety could already be practising some hygiene… I could be doing air sampling or noise monitoring as part of my job,” says Renzo Dalla Via, past chair of the Board of Canadian Registered Safety Professionals in Mississauga, Ont.

“To get into it in a fuller, more robust way, it’s very possible.”

These professionals may be interested in looking into the Registered Occupational Hygienist (ROH) designation from the Canadian Registration Board of Occupational Hygienists, which may require additional education or experience.

Environmental management positions might be another option for occupational health and safety professionals wanting to further their careers. In many cases, companies only hire one individual for health, safety and environment, so it’s likely OHS practitioners already have a good handle on environmental issues, says Dalla Via.

“If you’re going to hire a health and safety practitioner, it’s a pretty good bet that individual would be more than likely prepared, if not absolutely easily prepared, to take on the role once they have a sense of what’s needed by the company and given some time to review some materials — that is very much a plausibility,” says Dalla Via.


The consulting route is another option. The Canadian Society of Safety Engineering’s Certified Health and Safety Consultant (CHSC) designation may be of interest.

After 40 years of full-time work in the health and safety profession, Dalla Via started his own environmental, health and safety consulting business.

While he had “more than enough” of working for organizations, he was not ready to leave the workforce completely.

“I wanted to use the experience and wisdom and mistakes I’ve made, lesson learned, so I’ve entered the consulting field for no other reason than to extend the shelf life,” he says.

Reaching the top

For OHS professionals, the ultimate goal may be to become a vice-president of health and safety or even a chief safety officer. At this level, it’s a matter of trust in the individual and whether the company can maintain a role of that stature.

“It’s not a technical issue anymore… it’s no longer what I’ve done and what subjects I’ve learned and what knowledge I bring, but how much can I actually function in that role to represent the company in a professional fashion in the field and get the job done,” says Dalla Via.

“And it can easily be done by a health and safety professional who carries also that particular personal trait.”

A company will often have someone in a vice-president role who has health and safety as his obligation, but is not necessarily from an OHS background, says Dalla Via. He might be someone who is well respected in the company, such as an engineer who had been a plant manager or an operations manager.

“That doesn’t negate that once the role was made they don’t funnel the health and safety person into it — that’s often what will happen,” says Dalla Via. “Eventually, once the corporation has a good sense that it’s good, it’s a V.P. position that’s worth maintaining, then they will typically stream them up through the OHS role.”

Although not all companies have safety represented at these high levels, the positions are there, they do exist and they are not beyond someone’s reach, says Dalla Via.

No matter what path they choose to follow, occupational health and safety professionals need to make sure they take charge of their own careers, says Ptolemy.

“They need to really examine what they want to do,” she says. “Don’t just hope that something is going to come out and it will bite them on the finger: ‘This is it, this is what you should be doing.’ People need to do more exploration from their perspective.”

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