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Niagara Health System and unions partner on safety

Posted Jan 9th, 2012

Innovative return-to-work program announced

NIAGARA, ON: Workplace injuries and illnesses cost billions of dollars each year with more than 250,000 people injured on the job across Ontario. This amounted to approximately $10 million for the Niagara Health System in 2011. With this in mind, the Niagara Health System (NHS) in partnership with its local unions, Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA), Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and Ontario Public Service Employees Unions (OPSEU), is pleased to announce the launch of an innovative new Return-to-Work (RTW) and Primary Prevention Program.

This proactive initiative is aimed at preventing injuries and illnesses by maintaining a safe and healthy workplace, and at helping injured employees return to a productive and safe work environment.

“ONA and the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW) initially approached us with the idea, and we liked it so much that our other unions, SEIU and OPSEU, quickly joined us,” says Terry McMahon, Vice President Human Resources, NHS. “We recognized that we needed some more expertise though, and the Occupational Disability Response Team, Public Services Health and Safety Association, and Institute for Work and Health joined in the partnership. The collaborative nature of the program is innovative and we are all positive this will help ensure it is a success.”

Rooted in industry best practices and scientific research, the Program ensures that there is a support system in place to enable employees return to work after a work-related or non-work-related injury or illness. Research indicates that employees recover more quickly and successfully when they return to productive, safe duties as early as possible. Additional benefits of RTW programs include the retention of healthy and qualified staff and reductions in replacement staffing and claims costs.

In preparation for the launch of the program, a RTW Committee has been established and a team of more than 40 RTW Coordinators participated in five days of intensive training. The Coordinators, including front-line employees, union representatives and leadership, learned about a variety of topics including disability prevention strategies, return-to-work legislation and accommodation principles. “Now we have an ‘army’ supporting employees coming back to work,” says Chris Cecchini, Regional Director, Labour Relations, Human Resources. “These people are also trained in prevention strategies to help us avoid workplace injuries and illnesses as much as possible in the first place.”

Moving forward, all NHS employees will be educated about the Program through a series of in-services and videos beginning in January of 2012. With the help of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, baseline data has been collected to help track program outcomes in the hopes that anticipated successes can be shared with other organizations.

The Return to Work and Primary Prevention Program was developed in collaboration with:

  • The Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA) Local 26, the union representing registered nurses at the NHS
  • Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1 Canada
  • Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) Local 215
  • The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB)
  • Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW)
  • Occupational Disability Response Team (ODRT)
  • Public Services Health and Safety Association (PSHSA)
  • The Institute for Work and Health (IWH)

Quotes about the Return to Work and Primary Prevention Program:

  • ONA Provincial President Linda Haslam-Stroud, RN, says this is just the kind of innovative program the province needs to encourage in order to help recruit and retain registered nurses during a world-wide nursing shortage. “Due to the nature of their work, RNs are especially at risk of workplace illnesses and injury. Easing the transition back to work will help the NHS ensure that every RN possible can be retained to provide the quality care our patients deserve.”
  • “We are pleased with the intent of this new program,” says Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU). “It will assist injured and ill workers to get accommodation to return to the workplace and also prevent future work-related injuries and illnesses. With the employer and the unions working together to bring employees back to work, we will gain knowledge and develop strategies to make the workplace safer and more productive for all workers.”
  • “Our members are passionate about providing quality care to NHS patients,” says Sharleen Stewart, President of SEIU Local 1 Canada. “This new program will ensure that we are safe and secure on the job, with the added comfort of knowing that there will be more support in place to help us return to work if we do get injured.”
  • “WSIB is delighted with this initiative that will prevent unnecessary work disability and improve the return to work experience for both the employer and worker,” says Judy Geary, WSIB Vice President, Work Reintegration. “We’re impressed by the collaborative effort to establish a best practice program, and congratulate all the participants.”

Niagara Health System