If prevention has taken on more importance in several workplaces, it is now clear that this will be more the case in the health and social services network in the years to come. New provisions of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHS Act) went into effect on October 6, 2022, positively changing the prevention landscape for healthcare professionals. The issues linked to these changes were at the heart of the discussions at the Network of OHS Union Representatives last month.
Several amendments are planned to the OHS Act, but some require specific attention. The fact that psychosocial risks are now named and recognized is a particularly important advance for the healthcare professionals. Remember that the main psychosocial risk factors of work are the workload, recognition at work, decision-making autonomy, social support from colleagues and the superior, and communication and information. Given the importance of these risk factors, it is fortunate that both employers and workers now have obligations regarding them, particularly in the health and social services network.
Moreover, it is important to know that your union teams are active in deploying the mechanisms of prevention and participation. Whether talking about the health and safety committee, the health and safety representative or the prevention program, they are all levers which, by now becoming mandatory in the health network, will make it possible to improve the management of risks. Healthcare professionals will undoubtedly reap many benefits and will thus be able to evolve in a healthier and safer work environment.
But what is the role of unions in this period of change and amendments to the OHS Act? And what if the question was: how can we take advantage of the overhaul of the OHS Act to strengthen autonomous, integrated and mobilizing union action for occupational health and safety?
After a very incomplete application of the prevention and participation mechanisms set out in the law in predominantly female job settings such as the health sector, the reform offers an opportunity to rectify this. To date, employers have used false pretexts to avoid taking preventive action. However, since the end of the 2000s, the labour movement has returned to the forefront of struggles against working conditions that affect workers’ physical and mental health and safety. However, union action faces many challenges: an agenda already filled with files other than OHS, various professional activities, the need to compensate for employers’ shortcomings in prevention, etc.
To cope with this, different means are available, such as integrating the people looking after OHS into the heart of the union structure, training, not working by themselves and being present in the field, taking advantage of the obligation to implement the mechanisms such as the joint health and safety committees, and getting involved in identifying and analyzing the risks… The idea here is to develop an autonomous union agenda, to take the initiative, to mobilize collectively around legitimate and shared problems. The union is a tool, OUR tool. It is a strategic place to mobilize and to face the great need to improve the occupational health and safety of healthcare professionals.