OHS Canada Magazine

Q&A: Tackling the ‘unseen’ hazard of COVID-19 in Manitoba


Jamie Hall is the COO of SAFE Work Manitoba.

The province of Manitoba has not been immune to the wide-ranging effects of the novel coronavirus.

Public health orders and bans on social gatherings have been in effect to reduce the impact on the provincial health system, while the vaccination rollout took place.

On June 26, the province moved into its first step towards reopening, ahead of schedule.

As of July 13, the province had logged 56,943 cases of COVID-19, alongside 1,163 deaths.

Jamie Hall is the chief operating officer at SAFE Work Manitoba in Winnipeg, a public agency dedicated to the prevention of workplace injury and illness.

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OHS Canada: How did SAFE Work Manitoba assist the province and workplaces through the COVID-19 pandemic?

Jamie Hall: First, I want to start off by acknowledging the safety and health community in our province and our shared effort to protect workers from this new hazard. SAFE Work Manitoba was active with several responses in the past year. 

Early in the pandemic, we created an online toolkit to provide information about COVID-19 and the workplace. This included collaboration with our peers in other provinces to provide a suite of prevention resources for employers. 

We also connected with the industry based safety programs in our province to direct employers from different industries to sector-specific prevention resources. 

Finally, in response to a growing need for virtual training, we expanded our promotion of online courses from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS). 

As the pandemic progressed, we executed social marketing campaigns to raise awareness of this new hazard, including where to find resources to protect workers.

In the fall of 2020, our marketing campaign promoted a new online course for workers that enabled employers to ensure that their employees understood this new hazard, the risk that it posed, and how to mitigate the risk of infection in the
workplace.

OHS: Did Manitoba face any unique health and safety issues as a result of the novel coronavirus?

JH: I don’t think that we faced any unique issues. I would separate the safety and health needs of workers and employers that resulted from the pandemic into three categories:

First, we had a new hazard — a virus with global impact — and we were learning about it and how protect ourselves, not just at work, but in our entire lives.

We all, including SAFE Work Manitoba, had to be nimble, listen closely to our public health experts and then equip employers and workers to protect themselves.

Second, we provided resources to assist with mitigating psychological harm that has been increased or exacerbated during the pandemic. If we limit this to work, we can see increasing anxiety in those who may have to go to a workplace while the pandemic continues. We also see the added psychological pressure of having to adjust to working from home and the change that brought for some workers.

Third is ergonomics, especially for workers who now had to work safely in their homes. For most of us, our homes are for living and not necessarily working. At SAFE Work Manitoba, we have tried to make resources available to help those working from home do so in an ergonomically safe way.

OHS: What will be COVID-19’s lasting effect on OH&S in Manitoba?

JH: Undoubtedly, the pandemic will have lasting effects on our society. I prefer to look for silver linings and I think that there will be some.

As a society, I think we will come away with a new respect for occupational exposures. 

The pandemic has conditioned us to be aware of “unseen” danger. I believe this will translate to a new respect for other exposures in the workplace and will ultimately result in a healthier work environment.

I also believe that we will have a renewed respect for the basic safety and health management principles. 

When we look through the lens of COVID-19, we can all understand the importance of identifying a hazard, assessing the risk of that hazard to our health or safety, and then introducing measures to mitigate that risk to an acceptable level. 

Isn’t that how we always have and always should manage all of the hazards that workers face in the workplace? 

This Person of Interest feature was published in the July/August 2021 of OHS Canada.