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British Columbia targets long-term care sector

(Canadian OH&S News) 


(Canadian OH&S News) 

A new workplace health and safety association in British Columbia is taking aim at reducing the number of employee injuries in the province’s long-term care sector.

Launched in February as a joint project by WorkSafeBC and the BC Care Providers Association (BCCPA), SafeCare BC is a non-profit, industry-funded initiative that focuses on diminishing both the severity and frequency of injuries in the long-term care industry. The organization plans to provide education and information about workplace health and safety, as well as cost-effective training in injury prevention.

“The long-term goal is to see a decrease in the injury rates in BC among long-term care workers,” said Jennifer Lyle, SafeCare BC’s executive director. “Although we may not have the type of severity injuries that you see in forestry, for example, or construction or manufacturing, what we are seeing is an extremely high volume. And that has big implications for everything from the financial operations of a facility right through to the quality of life for the staff, and then also to the quality of patient care received.”

The founding of an association like SafeCare had been in the works for years, Lyle added, until “the majority of the industry got together and said, ‘Enough is enough. We need to do something about this.’”

According to Stephen Symon, public sector manager of industry and labour services for WorkSafeBC, the annual injury rate in British Columbia’s long-term care industry is more than four times higher than the average annual injury rate for all sectors. “So it’s considered an at-risk group,” Symon said. “Out of 100 workers, somewhere between nine and 10 will get injured on an annual basis, and those injuries will, on average, be upwards of 45, 46, 47 days.”

Symon added that more than half of time-loss claims for injuries in the long-term care sector were due to overexertion injuries. “More than half the time, the musculoskeletal injuries are due to lifting, pulling, pushing, transferring a patient.” Acts of violence or force account for 11 per cent of time-loss claims for injuries in long-term care, while falls on the same elevation account for 10 per cent. “They also have significant exposure to infectious agents,” said Symon.

WorkSafeBC and the BCCPA modeled SafeCare after a similar association in Alberta, the Alberta Healthcare Industry Health and Safety Initiative, which is credited with diminishing the province’s injury claims in the continuing care sector by one-fifth since 2005. The Alberta initiative has also decreased long-term disability claims by more than a quarter and back injury claims by 36 per cent in the same industry over the past nine years, according to a press release from WorkSafeBC.

“Not only do we have examples within BC of health and safety associations that have been successful in addressing injury rates in their areas,” said Lyle, “but we have the example right next door in Alberta of a long-term care health and safety organization that’s successful.”

As a practising kinesiologist with a background in healthcare, Lyle draws on her own experience while running SafeCare. “From a therapist’s perspective, you certainly gain an appreciation for what people go through when they are injured,” she explained. “You really get an appreciation for the mechanism of injuries, how they happen, and also to the processes that are behind that in terms of coming back from that.

“When somebody’s injured, it’s not just that they’re unable to work. It affects a huge portion of their life as well.”

SafeCare BC invites all long-term care employers in the province to attend its first official meeting in Whistler on May 27. There are nearly 350 long-term care employers in British Columbia, according to information from WorkSafeBC.