When it comes to workplace health and safety, especially in an industrial setting, it’s usually the physical injuries that are the most concerning.
While that is justified, given the nature of physical work often involving machinery, there is a growing trend to start giving more consideration to mental stresses in the workplace.
That topic was touched upon by Dennis Hogan, chief executive officer of Workplace NL, when he addressed the seventh annual Forestry Health and Safety Conference in Corner Brook Wednesday.
His presentation to the 70 or so conference delegates from across Newfoundland and Labrador’s forestry sector focused on emerging trends in occupational health and safety, including how those relate to the forestry industry.
In February, Workplace NL launched a new five-year injury prevention strategy and, while its priorities include everything from accidental injuries and disease to workplace violence and traffic control, it also lists psychological health and safety.
Hogan said considering the mental stress from having concerns about safety on the job to dealing with the psychological trauma of having suffered a workplace injury is just as important as dealing with work environments and medical treatment.
“Mental stress conditions are being talked about in the public, in society and in workplaces far more frequently than even just a few years ago,” said Hogan. “We have been taking measures to work with employers to develop psychological health and safety standards and prevention programs to not only help deal with trauma once it occurs … but to try and prevent these things from happening in the first place.”
After a recent review of its mental stress policy, WorkplaceNL removed the inherent risk provision that essentially stated that people in certain occupations, such as emergency first responders, should have known exposure to stressful situations was part of the job they had signed up for.
In another measure, stress from work will no longer necessarily be based on one incident that led to the mental health problem. Rather, cumulative exposure to workplace stress will be given more consideration.
Hogan said it’s a little early to say how the new priority being given to psychological health and safety will apply to the forestry sector. Given the fact it can be a dangerous occupation at times, it’s sure to see its fair share of application, he said.
“We will be working with the Forestry Safety Association (of Newfoundland and Labrador) and others to ensure we give their members the tools to deal with mental stress conditions in the workplace,” he said.
The injury rate in Newfoundland and Labrador’s forestry industry reached a new historic low in 2017 with 1.0 lost-time incidents per 100 employees. That compares to the rate for all provincial workplaces which, at 1.5 per 100 workers, is also an all-time low. Given the small number of companies that make up the province’s forestry industry, it would not take many injuries for this statistic to be significantly affected.
Forestry has seen a 48 per cent reduction in lost-time incidents between 2008 and 2017. The provincial lost-time incident rate is 32 per cent. Agriculture has seen the sharpest decline at 68 per cent, while the manufacturing sector has seen a 56 per cent reduction. The forestry rate is the third lowest.
Claims costs in the forestry sector are decreasing. They peaked in 2014 at $3.2 million, but were down to just below $2.7 million in 2017.
Half of lost-time claims in the forestry sector are due to soft tissue injuries, which make up 40 per cent, and fractures, which make up 15 per cent. The industry is seeing a rising trend in transportation-related injuries, particularly involving haul trucks (no statistics were provided for that area of the industry).