Health and safety hazards

Health care workers have identified six major risks to their health and safety.

Workload and stress

HEU’s Anti-Stress Initiative identified chronic stress as one of the most serious problems facing health care workers today. Our anti-stress brochure – Stress. Had Enough? – offers practical ideas on reducing stressful workplace conditions.

A companion Workplace anti-stress guide has many more facts on fighting stress, and is available through your local union office.

HEU has also created a Workload Journal for members to fill out and provide a copy to their local OH&S steward.

Workplace harassment and bullying

On-the-job bullying is on the rise in British Columbia. Between 83 and 94 per cent of HEU members surveyed say they have either witnessed or experienced workplace bullying and/or harassment. To address this growing problem, WorkSafeBC has worked with unions and employers to ensure every work site has clear policies around this issue.

For more information, check out the WorkSafeBC website for tools and resources for dealing with bullying and harrassment and workplace violence.

Violence in the workplace

More and more HEU members face violence and aggressive behaviours at work, especially when short-staffed, understaffed or working alone. There's also a growing number of physical assaults occurring in residential care facilities that house seniors with dementia and patients with mental health disorders.

Workplace violence can range from verbal and physical abuse to sexual assault.

Be sure to report any violent incidents to the OH&S committee at your work site.

For more information, check out the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation on violence.

Injuries (MSI and Mental Health)

Although mental health is becoming a growing problem among health care workers, musculoskeletal injuries (MSI) remain the most-reported injuries in the field.

Exposure to chemicals

In this era of superbugs, there is increasing attention paid to the fact that health care workers are continually exposed to infectious air-borne diseases. But what most people don’t realize is that toxic chemicals found in various cleaning supplies – as well as other pathological and diagnostic materials and treatments – are also putting workers at risk.

In the 90s, HEU – along with several other unions – spearheaded a successful research project that examined the effects of chemical exposure and potential cancer-causing agents in the workplace. That groundbreaking research led to vast changes in the chemicals used in health care facilities and ultimately in other public institutions.

Unfortunately, private contractors new to health care, and with an emphasis on cost-cutting, have once again made toxic exposure a vital issue.

If you are concerned about exposure to chemicals in your workplace, contact your local occupational health and safety steward.

Needlestick injuries

To address the alarming rate of health care workers suffering sharps injuries, HEU – along with the British Columbia Nurses’ Union, Health Sciences Association, British Columbia Government and Service Employees’ Union, and Service Employees International Union – successfully lobbied for amendments to the BC Occupational Health & Safety Regulation (section 6.36) that would require the use of safety-engineered medical devices (SEMDs) for the prevention of sharps/needlestick injuries.

As of January 1, 2008, all needles must be safety-engineered, and as of October 1, 2008, all sharps must also be safety-engineered. There are some very rare exceptions to these regulations. If there are no commercially available options, then a regular sharp may be used. However, across North America, most of the medical sharps and supplies required by these regulations, are available.