Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Work-related injuries can’t happen here…can they?

One of the biggest barriers to improving health and safety is the belief that work-related injury, disease or death “can’t happen here”.  I’m not saying injuries are an inevitable part of work.  What I am saying is that believing work-related injuries are not possible actually makes it more likely they will occur. 

A teacher commented to me that workplace health and safety really wasn’t an issue where he worked—a high school.  The only health and safety issues he could identify involved the occasional issue in one of the industrial education or foods classes.  “Schools are safe places for students and staff.  Work-related injuries can’t happen here.” 

I agreed that schools are generally safe for students and teachers but hazards and risks of injury are present in every workplace in every sector—including education.   I listed Sandyhook,  Columbine,  Virginia Tech,  and École Polytechnique as high profile examples of a very real risk of  violence in the education sector that has lead to the injury and death of students and workers.   These tragedies tell us about very real risks—risks that have been identified and have led to most schools to perform a risk assessment and develop new procedures.

He conceded that his school now practiced procedures in the case of an intrusion but he put the risk of such an incident right up there with earthquakes and fires:  possible but not probable.   “These are rare events—terrible but rare.  Work-related injuries to teachers, teaching assistants, administrators and other staff in educational settings just don’t happen in day to day work…do they?”

That little bit of doubt provided an opening.  I agreed to check and sent along the following table [data from ] :

That’s 10,000 claims for short-term disability or new long-term disability or survivor benefits in British Columbia alone in the last ten years.  Most common injuries were strains and sprains from over exertion or falls on the same level , but hundreds were injuries caused by violence or acts of force including biting, kicking, scratching and hitting. The average age for injured workers in most of these occupations was in the mid 40’s and these injuries were serious enough to cause a work absence.  Getting seriously injured is never “just part of the job” (another widely-held attitude that has to be challenged).   

Injuries can occur in any workplace including schools, colleges and universities.  Work involves risks; complacency and an unfounded belief that “work-related injuries can’t happen here” heighten the probability of injury.  Joint Occupational Safety and Health meetings, safe work procedures, safety plans, new worker safety orientation, ongoing safety training are all part of controlling the apparent and hidden risks in every workplace including all educational settings.

Whether you work in an office, hospital, school or factory, there are ongoing risks to your health and safety.  This is a fact.  It is not meant to scare you.   Unless you believe work-related injuries are possible, that “It really could happen here,” you won’t really engage in the health and safety training, orientation, or practices that make workplaces safer and healthier for everyone. 

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