A new chapter: How Niclas Manson is rewriting the script at Toronto Public Library
Health & Safety OH&S Professional of the Year OHS Honours Toronto Public Library
OHS Professional of the Year
Gold: Niclas Eduardo Manson, Toronto Public Library
Silver: Lilian Riad-Allen, LCBO
Silver: Stephanie Benay, BC Hydro
When Niclas Manson was studying kinesiology at the University of Toronto, a lot of his peers were focused on careers focused on treating injuries and diseases — including as physiotherapists or doctors.
“I always thought it would have been a much cooler, and smarter, idea to try and prevent any sort of injury from happening before going to a doctor,” he said.
That lens put him on path to workplace safety that has seen stints at Irving Oil, Magna, the Hospital for Sick Children and the Toronto Public Library. He also launched his own firm, Manson Methods, which specializes in industrial hygiene, risk and sustainability assessments.
Now, Manson has been named the OHS Professional of the Year for 2023 as part of OHS Honours, which recognizes outstanding contributions to workplace safety, for his work at the Toronto Public Library (TPL).
Work at Toronto Public Library
Manson joined TPL in April 2022 and has been lauded for his significant impact on health and safety initiatives across the library system.
“Since joining… Niclas has made significant and positive impacts to workplace health and safety programs and practices at TPL, positively affecting the health and safety of TPL staff, customer and the public,” said Brian Daly, director of human resources at TPL, in his nomination letter.
As the largest public library system in North America, TPL serves as a benchmark for libraries across the continent. Manson’s role is particularly critical as he is responsible for the health and safety of approximately 3,000 staff across 102 locations.
Manson wasted no time in acting after his appointment, promptly working on a comprehensive Workplace Violence Prevention and Response Program. A lot of the elements were spread out in different departments, he said.
For example, incident reporting was in HR while information about how to respond to an escalating situation was housed in a different department, he said.
“I combined all of that information, updated it and included the missing elements in one collective document,” said Manson. “The goal is that every employee would understand what their role is and how to respond.”
Workplace violence, mental health challenges
Many public-facing organizations, like libraries, are grappling with complex challenges that arrive on their doorsteps, including incidents involving overdoses, homelessness, and mental health crises.
Post-COVID, TPL was seeing an increase in workplace violence interactions throughout the system.
“Of course, there are some libraries that don’t even see one incident per year. But there are some that see about three or four workplace violence incidents per day,” he said. “There was a steady increase, so that organization was like, ‘OK. We’re seeing this trend. We need to do something to nip it in the bud.’”
It led to the creation of a brand-new role at the TPL — library safety specialist. These specialists focus on a trauma-informed approach to de-escalate violent or disruptive incidents.
“This is truly a new and innovative approach to the work that public libraries do across North America,” said Daly.
Manson pointed out that librarians are not crisis workers, social workers or mental health nurses — and they shouldn’t be tasked with those roles. The Service Development & Innovation (SD&I) department at TPL, led by Pam Ryan and her team, designed specific strategies that worked well to serve the vulnerable populations.
“We want to make (people ) feel that there is someone there to support them, talk to them, and who also knows the community resources to point them to since they might be unaware,” said Manson
Recognition from TPL
Daly said that Manson’s “collaborative, innovative and science/evidence-based approach to this work have been recognized and acknowledged by TPL’s union (CUPE local 4948), board, staff and leaders.”
Daly’s letter of nomination highlights the ripple effect of Manson’s efforts, stating, “The impacts of Niclas’ work are already beginning to extend beyond the boundaries of TPL. Our work in this area is already being recognized for leadership and innovation, both within the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA), as well as across the public library system in Canada.”
Before joining TPL, Manson worked at the Hospital for Sick Children and published a scientific paper on the safe disinfection of N95 masks.
According to Daly, Manson’s “evidence-based work is already having a significant positive impact on the health and safety of public library workers, and more broadly for marginalized individuals and communities across the GTHA and beyond.”
Manson’s efforts reflect a commitment not just to library safety, but to creating an inclusive space that serves all members of the community, making him a deserving recipient of the OHS Professional of the Year award for 2023.
Winning the award
Being named OHS Professional of the Year wasn’t the only honour Manson has received from OHS Canada this year. He was also named to the Top 25 Under 40 for 2023.
“I was a little shocked because this seems like the top award for the nation and little me, coming from sort of an impoverished part of Toronto, is getting some award that is coveted in the safety field,” he said.
“I’ve been given really good opportunities from managers, as well as directors, to actually showcase my skills.”
But what he’s most proud of is the knowledge that his work will ultimately reduce the risk of injuries to workers.
“I know that sounds cliché, but with the rise in mental health issues the social fabric for those who are experiencing a crisis is pretty much failing apart,” said Manson. “As safety professionals, this is something we don’t think about because oftentimes it doesn’t affect us. However, it is affecting us now.”