Today’s Workplace Hazards: Harder to See, But No Less Harmful

In 1930, Lewis Hicks Wine, an American social photographer, was commissioned to photograph the construction of the Empire State Building. His photos show workers wearing minimal safety gear atop construction sites stories high. Men are seen balancing on beams and climbing up scaffolding.

His photos give us insight into the workplace of the past and the many physical hazards that workers experienced to make a living. He himself is said to have endured many of these hazards as part of his commitment to documenting the process.

Today, when we see his photos we are shocked, appalled and awed by the great heights and the apparent lack of fear of the workers. Most of us also thank our lucky stars that we, and our family members, aren’t the ones forced to work in these conditions.

And yet today’s workplace still involves hazards – it’s just that today’s hazards are a little harder to see. They may involve work overload, limited control or bullying. Often, these hazards are dangerous, but they don’t look like a broken arm or a shattered jaw.

Take Action to Prevent Bullying and Harassment

In BC, workplaces of all sizes are being asked to look at the hazards in their workplace, specifically bullying and harassment, with a new lens. As of November 1, 2013, workplaces will be required to have policies and procedures in place to prevent and address bullying and harassment.

To help businesses, WorkSafeBC has issued a toolkit on Preventing and Addressing Workplace Bullying and Harassment. The resource includes a handbook, a small business guide with a checklist, fact sheets, posters, sample complaint forms and investigation procedures, and an investigation guide. It’s available for download at

In many ways today’s toolkit to address and prevent bullying and harassment is the safety harness of the 1930s. It won’t prevent every fall and does necessitate a user manual, but it is a good starting point to create a psychologically safe workplace.

Employers should take advantage of the tools to consider the hazards in their workplace and if their employees know what to do should they feel intimidated or harassed by a customer, colleague or boss.

What Does the Future Look Like?

Today’s workplace hazards are often harder to see, but the consequences are still devastating – for families, communities and individuals.

A workplace that protects against bullying and harassment is characterized by civility and respect, and the Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division works with businesses to help them respond more effectively to employees who may be struggling with a mental illness, and help them move towards greater mental well-being and psychological health and safety.

In their handbook, WorksafeBC provides a checklist to help organizations identify behaviours that protect against bullying and harassment.

Some of the behaviours or qualities are:

  • People are respectful toward each other
  • The atmosphere is positive
  • Workers are consulted in the development of company policies and procedures
  • Feedback is provided in a respectful manner
  • Managers lead by example to promote a respectful and positive attitude

While it’s true that many smaller businesses have limited time and limited human resource capacity, they’re also in a great position to root their business in a respectful culture. It’s an great time for small businesses to show their leadership and create the images of tomorrow’s workplace.

Here to Help

No matter what stage of business, or what problem you face, Small Business BC offers a range of seminars and one-on-one advisory sessions to suit any business.

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