Residents of Sudbury, Ont. will often see SUVs packed with health-care equipment driving around the area to deliver public health programs in schools, community centres and health units. These programs, which include dental health, smoking cessation, immunization, breastfeeding and parenting, are presented by the Sudbury & District Health Unit (SDHU).
Healthy Smiles Ontario, for example, provides preventive dental services and treatment for children and youth in low-income families. It calls for teams of dental hygienists to take portable dental offices — a folding dental chair, suction for teeth cleaning and bins that hold the day’s supplies — to various locations.
According to dental hygienist Sally Guy, a 20-year veteran of the SDHU and member of its joint health and safety committee, a typical day involves loading the equipment into her SUV first thing in the morning, unloading mid-afternoon, then completing administrative tasks back at the office.
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A job like this poses numerous safety challenges, including risk of musculoskeletal injuries.
“We are not always in a controlled environment, so we can face unexpected hazards in our travels,” says Guy. “Over the years, our team has developed safe routines for lifting and loading that we share with others, such as health inspectors and home visiting nurses.”
Since many of its workers are in an office, SDHU recognizes sitting as a significant hazard. In response, it installed two walking work stations that employees can use to take a break from sitting. The organization encourages workers to be active on their lunch breaks by walking or going for a jog. It posts walking maps of routes that are in close proximity to the workplace — there are five different routes ranging from 0.9 to 2.5 kilometres — and shower facilities are available.
With 45 different types of jobs among SDHU’s 300 employees, sharing safety tips, techniques and reminders helps keep safety top of mind and establishes trust and confidence. Staff also model the road safety policies and procedures that the unit extends to the public.
Guy points out that the organization’s excellent safety and health track record is due largely to forward-thinking leadership from senior management and front-line workers who are committed to sharing responsibility.
“We have a lot of leaders here at the health unit who have successfully started or shared programs,” she says. “They are not afraid to be proactive when something needs to be done.”
A good example of such proactivity is the recently launched psychological health initiative to ensure SDHU is a place where mental health can be discussed and treated without stigma.
“We had been noticing increases in EAP (employee assistance program) usage and benefits, as well as medications related to mental health,” says human resources officer Sara Polano-Newell. “We subsequently formed a psychological health and wellness committee and are working to integrate this aspect into the organization’s overall health, safety and wellness program.”
Being a public health organization, the majority of SDHU’s staff work with clients, making violence and harassment a recognized hazard. As part of their orientation, staff are educated on how to deal with difficult clients. At their manager’s discretion, verbal de-escalation training is available for those staff members who would benefit from it as well.
This year, SDHU expended its annual OHS week to an OHS month, with various activities taking place throughout the month of May.
“We use internal newsletters and bulletins to disseminate safety messages, advertise events and publicize employee draws,” says Polano-Newell. “We stage employee challenges for fitness, random acts of kindness and other interesting activities to inspire them not only to live a safe and healthy life, but also to talk freely about all aspects of it.”
This article originally appeared in the October/November 2017 issue of COS.