Workplace safety often comes with strings attached, especially from the perspective of those whose interests are directly in question. The lawmakers and bureaucrats who create the rules surrounding safe work practices are generally well-meaning but are all too often distanced from the realities of the workplace. Rules are written and standards created that look great on paper and often do lead to safer outcomes for frontline workers, but sometimes this comes at the cost of sacrificing comfort or efficiency. In more extreme cases this tradeoff leads to safety regulations being outright ignored.
Regardless of your personal stake in this issue – as a frontline worker, crew chief, manager, or lawmaker – you almost certainly agree that workplace safety is important. Fortunately, we seem to be on the right track within Canada.
The latest available data published by Employment and Social Development Canada demonstrates that workplace injuries across Canada have been on a near-constant downward trend since 1982. As of 2010, workplace injuries were at an all-time low with 14.7 injuries per 1,000 employed Canadian workers. Even better, the industry segments related to natural resource extraction fell below this national average with mining and quarrying at 9.9, and electricity, gas, and water at 11.5 annual injuries per 1,000 employed.
These statistics demonstrate that as cumbersome as they sometimes feel, workplace safety regulations are having a positive effect after all. It should be noted, however, that the data only shows incidences of injuries – not overall severity – and when dealing with heavy machinery, confined spaces, and remote work sites, caution remains extremely important to those working within the fields of natural resource extraction. Positive trends aside, ignoring workplace safety protocols or working without the right equipment can prove fatal, and nobody wants to become a statistic.
What then can we do to reduce the tradeoff between workplace safety and the comfort or efficiency of the workers in question? Some of this needs to be undertaken at higher levels, ideally in an arena where policymakers and frontline workers can engage in crafting sensible regulations together. The rest of it can be approached at just about any level, and that boils down to choosing the right equipment for the job.
As any tradesman knows, using the correct tool is both more efficient and safer than trying to improvise with something that “might work.” Safety equipment is no different – it is a tool that you use to keep yourself or your workers safe. Like any other tool, it comes in a variety of qualities. You can equip yourself with the barebones version which will pass regulation but leave you feeling like you are encased in a suit of medieval armor, or you can select a more refined alternative which will keep you safer and give you the mobility and comfort that you need to actually do your job.
The fact of the matter is that safety equipment has come a long way since it first began to be seen in the early days of organized labour, and the technologies have improved exponentially in the last few decades. Take flame-resistant jackets, for example. Product lines like Carhartt and Bulwark FR make flame-resistant jackets that will not only pass muster as a genuine safety product, but often look and feel indistinguishable from their traditional counterparts. Likewise, high-visibility safety-wear is now available in a large variety of cuts and styles – with options that can meet the needs of any workforce.
If we want to eliminate incidences of workers eschewing safety for comfort, we need to tackle the problem right at its base by making certain that safety is comfort. Budgets are an ever-present reality in any industry, but given the overall costs associated with workplace accidents (in lost time, legal fees, and morale) it simply does not pay to settle for the baseline minimum standards when dealing with safety equipment.
Safety does not have to be packaged up with sacrifice – not in the 21st century with our vast array of possible choices. We simply need to make the correct choices for ourselves or for our workers. When considering new safety equipment, we need to move past the idea of “one size fits all” within a company and start looking at the individual needs of the roles and people in question. More than ever, you’re going to find a product that meets your exact needs.
If you are a decision-maker within your organization, please consider this next time you review your workplace safety equipment. The costs of misuse will very often outweigh any budgetary savings you may have made in selecting generic equipment. Likewise, if you are a front-line worker, please explain this to your boss, as not only will you be safer and more comfortable in the right safety equipment, but you’ll also be considerably more productive.
Based out of Winnipeg, Xpromo.ca / Xpressions Corporate Promotional Products has been serving the Canadian apparel and promotional products market since 1987. We carry a full range of products ranging from corporate apparel to work and safety wear and specialize in premium brand-range lines.