Make workplace health and safety the new normal — during the pandemic and beyond (May 19/21)

The opinion editorial below from Stuart MacLean, WCB Nova Scotia CEO, appeared in Saltwire’s online publications.

The first week of May was Safety and Health Week — a week dedicated to highlighting the importance of preventing injury and illness in the workplace. But it’s possible — and quite understandable — that you may not have noticed, as we find our resilience being tested yet again by the third wave of COVID-19.

Like many Nova Scotians, my team and I are now working mostly from home.

And while there are important challenges to working at your kitchen table — especially if you are also pulling double duty as a home school supervisor — those who are working from home are doing so because it is simply safer for us to be home right now.

After our second straight Safety and Health week under a state of emergency, I want to take this opportunity to salute and thank the workers and employers who don’t have the luxury of working at home.

Through three waves, workers and employers have ridden the storm of this pandemic. For some workplaces, it has meant having to close, then open, then close again. For others, it has meant navigating the changing tide of risk and restriction to provide the goods and services that Nova Scotians need.

The workers and employers in these sectors catch, raise, grow, and process the food we eat. They transport necessities to warehouses, or deliver them to our doorsteps. They ring up our purchases and stock store shelves. They maintain the roads, trails and parks so that the rest of us can enjoy time outdoors. They serve us our favourite take-out meals, build homes, teach and care for our children, and provide personal services. And so much more.

Then there are the workers in our health-care sector, the true heroes of this pandemic, who face a whole other level of risk, and to whom we will always be grateful.

For these working Nova Scotians, rigorous new safety routines have become part of their workday. In addition to the regular challenge of working in these sectors, they must also now contend with COVID checklists, temperature checks, masks, face shields, sanitizer, and where possible, doing their work while staying two metres apart.

Behind each of these workers is an employer who is also working hard to keep their employees, and those they serve, safe. For many employers, applying pandemic safety protocols has meant retooling entire processes and developing innovative approaches, while continually motivating pandemic-weary teams to keep going.

While it was easy to feel discouraged earlier this month as we saw our highest-ever case numbers, Nova Scotia’s management of the virus and our resolve to work together to defeat it remains an example the world over.

And it is worth noting that through the pandemic, we were more careful. We followed safe work processes to the letter. Perhaps more than ever, we watched out for the people we work with.

We know that workplace injury still takes too great a toll in our province, and too many people die on the job. At the same time, it remains true that in 2020, fewer Nova Scotians were injured at work. But, when someone is hurt on the job, it takes too long to bring about a safe, healthy return to work. We all have much to do in order to change that.

As we look forward to a vaccinated, post-pandemic economy, I am optimistic that we will continue to work together, to reduce the impact of workplace injury.

After all, as Nova Scotians, finding a way forward is what we do.

If there is a silver lining among all of these storm clouds, a stronger focus on working safely — one that outlives the pandemic — may be it.

I want to challenge all Nova Scotians to keep making workplace safety a priority, long after the pandemic is over.

No matter where you work or what you do, let’s take that same health and safety mindset into whatever the future may hold.