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Employees, who for years spend most of their working time seated, may experience other, less specific adverse health effects. Decreased fitness, reduced heart and lung efficiency, and digestive problems are common. Recent research has identified too much sitting as an important part of the physical activity and health equation, and suggests we should focus on the harm caused by daily inactivity such as prolonged sitting. Data collected in a 's Australian study on the prevalence of diabetes and its risk factors was further analyzed by a team led by associate professor David Dunstan to determine whether people's television viewing time was related to their metabolic health.

Results showed that people who watched television for long periods of time more than four hours a day , were at risk of:. In addition, people who interrupted their sitting time more often just by standing or with light activities such as housework, shopping, and moving about the office had healthier blood sugar and fat levels, and smaller waistlines than those whose sitting time was not broken up. Injuries resulting from sitting for long periods are a serious occupational health and safety problem and are expected to become more common with the continuing trend toward work in a sitting position.

An important step is to recognize that prolonged sitting can be a health risk, and that efforts must be made to design jobs that help people reduce and break up their sitting time. Frequent changes in the sitting position are not enough to protect against blood pooling in the legs or to prevent other injuries. Five minutes of a more vigorous activity, such as walking for every 40 to 50 minutes of sitting, can provide protection.


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These breaks are also beneficial because they give the heart, lungs and muscles some exercise to help counterbalance the effects of sitting for prolonged periods in a relatively fixed position. Another important aspect of job design is consulting with and getting feedback from employees. No matter how good the workplace and the job designs, there are always aspects of the job that can and must be tailored to the individual. The bottom line: stand up, move around and get off your backside as frequently as you possibly can. But understand that physical activity is just one part of the equation for preventing the harmful effects of prolonged sitting.

Other important factors include chair selection, workstation design and training. After many years of lobbying and activism by union health and safety activists, the issue of violence in the workplace has finally made its way into Ontario law. Bill — An Act to amend the Occupational Health and Safety Act with respect to violence and harassment in the workplace and other matters , passed Third final reading on December 9, and was given Royal Assent on December 15, It c a me into force on June 15, Business interests lobbied against the amendments, believing they were too onerous, and that preventing workplace violence and harassment should be based on voluntary and unenforceable codes of conduct and guidelines.

In November , OPSEU president Smokey Thomas attended the legislature Standing Committee on Social Policy and requested, as did many other labour leaders, that the definition of violence in the Act be amended to included threats of violence which often precedes actual violence. It is sometimes said that it is not the force of arguments, but rather the force behind those arguments, that wins. Standing behind President Thomas were thousands of OPSEU members from all over the province who for the past three years had been writing and lobbying to end violence in their workplaces, and we won!

The definition in the bill was amended to include threats of violence and not just actual physical violence. Employers will have six months from the date the Act comes into force to have all the prescribed measures in place. If not, insert yourself into the process! Now is the time for workers to get involved and ask supervisors what measures are planned, or in place to meet the new requirements of the Act.

Review the policies and procedures as they are developed and ensure they will work for you in your workplace. An off-the-shelf set of policies and procedures probably will not be workable or effective in your particular circumstances. An effective, complete workplace violence program must be developed to address the specific hazards in your workplace. Unfortunately, experience has shown that many employers make minimal efforts to comply with health and safety legislation, and some ignore the law for as long as they can get away with it.

Sadly, this results in a reactive approach once a tragedy occurs, a tragedy that is often entirely preventable. It is one victory to finally have these protections for workers in the law, but making them real in the workplace often requires a fight at the local level. The real victory will be when all OPSEU workplaces have effective workplace violence and harassment policies and procedures firmly in place. In the first part of this series, we looked at how OPSEU is leading the way to ensure the well being of their members by addressing and preventing mental health issues in the workplace.

This part will concentrate on the rights and responsibilities of employers, employees and unions when accommodating a worker with a mental illness. At some point in their lifetime, 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a mental health issue, such as anxiety or depression, most often during their prime working years.

If this happens, an accommodation may be required for the employee to feel a sense of confidence and create a positive working environment. Unions and employers are beginning to recognize the true cost of mental illness in the workplace.


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  4. The cost is high for all involved. In Ontario, about three-quarters of all human rights complaints come from the workplace. To start reducing this number, all three participants must be educated of its shared responsibilities and be proactive in creating fair and equitable workplaces where human rights are respected; striking a balance in the social, physical, spiritual and mental aspects of the lives of all involved. The Supreme Court of Canada states the search for accommodation is a multi-party inquiry; not only are the employer and the union responsible, the employee must assist with the accommodation process.

    Central Okanagan School District No. Renaud, [] 2 S. First, the employer has the primary responsibility.

    They have the ultimate control over the workforce and must accommodate to the point of undue hardship. All requests must be taken seriously, and an atmosphere in which employees are comfortable asking for an accommodation must be available. They should respond to the request in a timely manner and respect the confidentiality of the information provided to them. Employers must engage in joint problem solving, and the accommodation must be concrete and specific, putting the conditions in writing.

    An ongoing review mechanism should be set up. All levels of management must be aware of their obligation to prevent an employee from being harassed or discriminated against in the workplace because of their mental illness. The second participant is the union. As discussed earlier, unions have a legal obligation to actively participate in the accommodation process and in doing so, need to be objective and non-judgemental. Supporting the accommodation request may not be consistent with the collective agreement; however, the Supreme Court of Canada said human rights legislation trumps collective agreements.

    Simpsons-Sears Ltd. Therefore, the union must agree to variations for reasonable accommodations. At times, an employee may not recognize the need for an accommodation. If the steward suspects the worker might have difficulty at work, related to a mental illness, they should approach the employee about the possible need for an accommodation. The union rep may often have a better relationship with their member than the employer does, in order to have the difficult conversation around a mental illness and the need for an accommodation.

    Union reps may see members continue to struggle with mental illness and potentially require accommodation in order to continue working or to return to work after a medical leave. Tensions can arise when workers seeking accommodation are not required to perform certain parts of a job or are able to avoid less desirable shifts and co-workers have to pick up the slack.

    Union members need to communicate that accommodation is not preferential treatment. Workers have been accommodating co-workers long before human rights codes made it a legal requirement. Often allowances were made for someone who had a bad back or family problems and we expected our colleagues to do the same for us. In two landmark decisions the Supreme Court of Canada has defined accommodations to be the norm in workplaces; equality and accommodation must be integral parts of all workplace rules and practices: British Columbia Public Service Employee Relations Commission v.

    The final participant is the employee, who must first recognize and identify the need for an accommodation. However, with the stigma attached to mental illness plaguing our workplaces, an employee is unlikely to disclose their accommodation needs to their employer or union steward. Because of this, the stigma of mental illness has to be eradicated.


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    It manifests itself in incorrect, negative stereotypes and discriminating behaviour. The answer to reducing this stigma is an educated, positive, encouraging and welcoming workplace. The employee must consider all proposals that effectively address their need.

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    Once the accommodation request is identified it is expected to be reasonable. They must cooperate during the process and provide supporting documentation from a health care provider to assist with an effective accommodation.

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    A major principle of accommodation is upholding the dignity of the employee being accommodated; therefore, the responsibility is to strive for inclusiveness where barriers are removed and the equal participation of all three parties is possible. Most accommodations are not expensive. The attitude towards employees experiencing mental health issues can be the defining difference between a workplace that is perceived to be committed to the mental health of its employees and one that is not.

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    Understanding the financial and human costs of workplace health is essential to helping the employer, employees and the union work together to improve the overall working environment. Flexibility, communication and cooperation amongst all parties are the keys to its success. More than substances are known or suspected to cause or worsen asthma. Much of the evidence used to identify these substances comes from workers exposed in the workplace. Workers in a range of occupations may be exposed to ammonia, chlorine, formaldehyde, diisocyanates, diesel exhaust or any of the other chemical culprits identified in a report from the Massachusetts Toxic Use Reduction Institute.

    Lab workers, bakers, woodworkers, plumbers, farmers, auto painters, hairdressers, health care workers and those in industries that produce metals, plastics, electronics, rubber and textiles are just a few examples of those at risk. Asthma-causing substances are also commonly found in cleaning products used in most workplaces and homes. Asthma is a chronic lung disease that kills upwards of Canadians annually. Tell-tale symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain or tightness, coughing and wheezing. According to the Canadian Lung Association, 25 per cent of working adults with asthma have symptoms that are triggered or made worse by exposure at work.

    Three million Canadians suffer with this disease. The Canadian Lung Association also report up to 15 per cent of new asthma cases are caused by workplace exposures.

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    It is in the workplace then where efforts are needed to eliminate these substances or eliminate worker exposure to them. Asthma-Related Chemicals in Massachusetts can be used by workers, their representatives, joint health and safety committee members and others seeking to identify potential asthma-causing substances in the workplace or when considering the purchase or use of certain chemicals, products or processes. Whether it is new locals starting out or an established local, this program is designed for everyone.

    Building Local Capacity is a complete program that helps the local reflect and discuss where the local is and how to take it to the next level. The course will help assess what union courses your stewards have taken and develop steward education to improve knowledge and comfort with respect to understanding Stewards Training, Grievance Handling, Newsletters, WSIB and Health and Safety. It will also help find where the skill sets are within your local.