In the eyes of many, occupational health and safety legislation is in place to protect the blue-collar worker. The notion of an injury in the workplace brings up images of horrifying industrial or mining accidents or construction-related losses. What is lesswell understood is that the scope of occupational health and safety extends much beyond those areas and encompasses almost all workplaces, including those in the healthcare sector.

To the point, less than a year ago, the Alberta health and safety regulators were tasked with reducing the number of injuries sustained by workers in the healthcare industry. On April 27, 2009 the Alberta government published a formal Healthcare Industry Compliance Strategy (“the Strategy”) which targets the healthcare sector.

According to governmental sources the medical initiative is necessary. These sources claim that the lost-time claims rate in the healthcare sector is 58.9% higher than the provincial average, and at least three times higher than the mining industry (which historically has been considered very dangerous).

The government regulators have targeted both the medical profession and employers within the profession. To ensure compliance, they will perform random workplace inspections, or follow-up inspections as a result of complaints/incidents.

The inspectors will initially seek compliance through the use of inspection reports which can contain compliance orders, stop work orders and stop use orders, failing which charges can be laid.

It is noteworthy that the trend to “target” employers and workers in the medical sector extends beyond Alberta’s borders. On September 15, 2010 the Ontario Ministry of Labour Inspectors announced a two month “safety blitz” which focuses on hazards involving musculoskeletal disorders. Of the multitude of industries, inspectors have targeted four “priority areas” which include: retail, homebuilding, mining and hospitals.

In hospitals, they will check for actions to ensure that:

  • appropriate patient handling equipment is available;  
  • the equipment is used correctly;  
  • ergonomic considerations are taken into account;  
  • floor surfaces are properly maintained; and
  • carts are in good working order.  

To accomplish a fulsome investigation they will conduct monthly inspections and review the training policies and procedures which are already in place at the hospitals.  

As if the targeted strategies were not enough, recent developments highlight the importance of maintaining a strong safety record in Alberta. On September 30, 2010 the government of Alberta issued a news release confirming that they were the first in Canada to make public a comprehensive list of employers along with details about their related worksite injuries and fatalities. For some, this publicity may be quite damaging.  

The press release indicates that “Albertans have the right to know the injury record of who they are working for”. Further, the government suggests that by shining a light on employer records they will improve competitiveness though attracting and retaining talented workers which will increase productivity.  

In summary, it is no longer safe to assume that OHS legislation relates only to blue-collar industries such as mining and construction. H1N1, biological risks and lifting hazards (just to mention a few) have taken on new significance and the government’s formal policy of targeting the medical sector will have long reaching effects for patient care, employee relations and internal policy development. Physicians or other owners/operators of clinics should be aware of their duties and responsibilities and seek advice regarding compliance.