Occupational illness

Occupational Disease Action Plan (ODAP)

The ODAP Implementation Team includes the ministry, OHS system partners and Public Health Ontario.

In the fall of 2021, they developed an evidence-informed logic model framework to guide OHS system and partner occupational illness prevention activities. This work was aligned with recommendations from key reports, including the 2019 Auditor-General report and the Occupational Cancer Review (see Research and Data). The framework includes five core areas of activity:

  • Build strategic partnerships.
  • Conduct research and data analysis.
  • Provide training and education.
  • Develop and share workplace tools.
  • Update regulations and enforce legislation.

A new Occupational Illness Prevention Steering Committee will continue this work in 2022, replacing the ODAP Implementation Team. The Committee will work to develop the occupational illness prevention plan as part of the roll-out of Prevention Works.

Strategic partnerships

In 2020-21, the ministry established a new working group to help create the framework for the new occupational illness prevention plan. This working group is led by the ministry’s Prevention Division and the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW). Its work is supported by the ministry’s Program Evaluation Unit. Other participants include the ministry’s occupational physician and representatives from:

  • Workplace Safety and Insurance Board
  • Workplace Safety North
  • Workplace Safety & Prevention Services
  • Occupational Cancer Research Centre
  • Centre for Research Excellence in Occupational Disease

Research and data

In July 2020, the ministry released the Occupational Cancer Review (Demers Report). This report addressed four themes:

  1. Update presumptive lists and cancer-relevant policies.
  2. Enhance scientific capacity.
  3. Improve access to exposure data for compensation and prevention.
  4. Improve recognition through medical education.

The recommendations in the report will help to inform future activities of the ministry, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board and the new Occupational Illness Steering Committee.

Education, training and workplace tools: Moving from research to workplace practices

During 2020-21, the ministry and its partners rolled out several new educational resources, presentations and workplace tools. The goal was to educate and support workplace parties so they could better:

  • recognize and assess risks
  • improve control of workplace exposures

A summary of these initiatives follows.

The Occupational Cancer Research Centre created the Occdiseasestats site to show workers at greatest risk for occupational diseases in different sectors. The site uses the data from the Occupational Disease Surveillance System.

The Centre for Research Expertise in Occupational Disease (CREOD) created a Skin Health at Work toolbox. This resource provides accessible, plain language evidence and resources for workplace parties to support occupational skin health.

The Occupational Disease Labour-Management Committee, supported by the Infrastructure Health and Safety Association (IHSA), held a seminar on Regulation 833: Control of Exposure to Biological or Chemical Agents. The session featured Paul Demers, who shared the results from a study on strategies to reduce the future burden of cancer in the Ontario construction industry. The event was attended by 70 stakeholders. The IHSA has been working with industry stakeholders on the development of a strategy for preventing exposures to the occupational health hazards in construction. The goal is to help the construction sector to prevent overexposure to chemical agents.

The Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW) held their 6th Annual Occ-tober Symposium as a webinar series over the month of October. The focus was on new tools that workplaces can use to assess risks and better control workplace exposures. These include:

OHCOW held an extensive Occ-COVID webinar series to share the latest science and strategies for prevention. It also held an Occupational Disease Winter Webinar Series to share:

  • best practices for adjudication of cancer claims and policy-development
  • results of the OCRC study on McIntyre Powder and Neurological Disorders
  • support for workers who think that their illness may be work-related
  • the work that OHCOW has been doing on occupational cluster investigations

All of the OHCOW sessions were recorded. This will allow workers, Health and Safety Representatives and workplace parties to conveniently access the information and share it at Joint Health and Safety Committee or other meetings.

Work-related mental health and workplace violence and harassment

Over the 2020-21 fiscal year, the OHS system contributed to the evidence base on mental health in the workplace. It also supported workplaces in creating psychologically safe and healthy workplaces through educational resources and programs.

Data and research

Pandemic Experience Surveys and Impact

The Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW) released a survey on April 7, 2020. The goal was to measure the experiences of healthcare workers (HCWs) during the pandemic. Several academic and labour partners also participated, including the Institute for Work & Health (IWH). The study findings include:

  • those who reported that none of their personal protective equipment (PPE) needs were met were the most anxious
  • anxiety levels increased as workers reported inadequate COVID‑19 policies and practices, but less steeply

The study provides insight for future stress and harm prevention: “If PPE protection and infection control policies and practices are adequate, then this mental health burden can be reduced.”footnote 19

Following the HCW survey, a second survey for non-HCW was released on April 26, 2020. The study found that “the adequate design and implementation of employer-based infection control programs have implications for the mental health of site-based workers.” Results from these studies and others were widely shared through conferences, webinars and meetings.

Occupational Stress Injury Resiliency (OSIR) Index

Another project that contributed to the evidence base in this area was a joint project between the Conference Board of Canada and Public Services Health & Safety Association (PSHSA). The goal was to create an occupational stress injury risk assessment tool for first responders.

This work stemmed from ongoing efforts by PSHSA to help prevent mental injury. One area of particular interest is assessment of risk to support proactive steps to protect the health and safety of first responders. Preliminary results show that the Occupational Stress Injury Resiliency (OSIR) Index can help employers to:

  • better understand how their employees are faring
  • identify areas of focus in prevention programming.

Mental Harm Prevention Roadmap

The Mental Harm Prevention Roadmap is one of four project streams of the CPO-directed program, Laying the Foundations for Workplace Mental Harm Prevention. For the Mental Harm Prevention Roadmap, Workplace Safety and Prevention Services (WSPS) has partnered with the Conference Board of Canada (CBoC) and Howatt HR (HHR). They are working together and conducting research to develop a suite of evidence-based resources to help employers in identifying and implementing psychological health and safety programs.

The Roadmap is one of the resources. It consists of eight building blocks that serve as a simple, practical framework. Organizations can use this as a guide to advance psychological health and safety in the workplace.

This initiative is part of a three-year research project:

  • Part one was to explore current programs, tools and policies as well as evidence of their effectiveness. The CBoC released a primer document on December 8, 2020.footnote 20
  • Part two will test the Roadmap in an applied setting to learn whether it can help employers make decisions and take actions that will support psychological health and safety in the workplace.

Knowledge mobilization & supporting workplaces

Health and Safety Excellence program – Mental Health

The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board’s Health and Safety Excellence program helps employers address key hazards in their workplace. These include mental health hazards. Research shows people are more likely to rate the risk of mental stress higher than any other form of risk at their workplace.footnote 21

Employers who join the Health and Safety Excellence program can engage and empower employees to create a safe and healthy workplace through the roll-out of various program topics. Examples include:

  • workplace health promotion
  • corporate social responsibility
  • control of hazards, with a focus on psychological hazards.

Educational resources

The OHS system also made efforts to mobilize existing data to help workplaces address work-related mental health. Supports included new webpages, educational events, consulting and training. In February 2021, the ministry updated its Mental Health in the Workplace webpage to:

  1. Ensure that stakeholders have the information that they need to understand how Ontario regulates psychological injuries in the workplace.
  2. Provide links to resources offered by OHS system partners.

Other highlights in fiscal 2020-21 include:

Workplace Safety & Prevention Services (WSPS) worked with Howatt HR and Mental Health Commission of Canada to launch the Psychological Safety Blog. This blog was in response to self-isolation during the COVID‑19 pandemic and its anticipated impact on employee mental health. The blog is posted on the CEO Network website. It is directed at leaders, with the initial goal of assisting them in leading their people during the era of COVID‑19. It has now evolved from a strictly pandemic-related resource to one that offers more generalized mental health-related insight. It is a trusted source for information, tools and resources to help leaders protect the health, safety and wellness of their people. Since its launch in March 2020, the Psychological Safety Blog has received over 38,000 pageviews.

Workplace Safety North (WSN) worked to address the needs of their clients by leveraging their community engagement strategy. To help clients target their areas of greatest need, WSN began to plan and implement a two-pronged approach:

  1. WSN took a one-too-many approach by offering large-scale educational events, such as webinars, to many clients at once to help them understand this emerging OHS issue.
  2. WSN focused on helping clients with specific requests such as on-site awareness sessions for all staff around mental health.

In 2020-21, WSN delivered educational events on mental injury prevention with a total of 892 attendees.

The Workers Health and Safety Centre (WHSC) also introduced a training program designed to promote worker mental health. The program focused on the work-related causes of worker mental health or psychosocial hazards in the workplace. To date, 796 participants have taken this newly developed course. They have logged a total of 2,388 training hours.

Public Services Health & Safety Association (PSHSA) in conjunction with Dr. Michael Ungar from the Resilience Research Centre at Dalhousie University, developed the R2 for Leaders Training Program. The new training program was offered as a pilot in 2020-21. From April 2, 2020 to March 31, 2021, 253 participants registered for the program. Eleven pilot courses were completed. The program draws on the expertise of resilience researchers, psychologists, exercise, and nutrition specialists, as well as broader scientific evidence, to create a holistic approach to building resilience.

As part of Prevention Works over the next five years, the OHS system will continue to focus on:

  • providing work-related mental health information and resources through the Health and Safety Associations
  • preventing workplace violence and harassment (especially in education and healthcare sectors)