In its continuing efforts to make Sudbury and Northern Ontario a centre for excellence in workplace health and safety, Laurentian University's Centre for Research in Occupational Safety and Health (CROSH) is lobbying for a research chair to enhance its groundbreaking work.
Over the last eight months, the organization has raised $200,000 from labour and industry for the initiative, and an application is currently pending with the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp. (NOHFC).
“Really what this chair means is enough money would be raised to bring in another international leader in health and safety,” said CROSH director Dr. Tammy Eger. “Usually, with that leader would come his or her research team, and so it would bring another area of expertise and it would help put Sudbury and Northern Ontario on the map even more for leadership in health and safety.”
CROSH’s mandate is to conduct research into occupational health and safety issues that are relevant to Northern Ontario in industries such as mining, natural resources (forestry, pulp and paper), steel and health care. Working with its advisory committee, comprised of labour and industry representatives, data gleaned from the research will be applied to workplaces in an effort to find solutions that reduce illness, injuries and fatalities in the workplace.
First established in 2008, CROSH only became official in July 2011. It has turned out some impressive projects, particularly ones focused in the resources sectors, as that’s what funding has supported.
In the area of ergonomics, researchers are studying how closed-circuit television cameras can help improve the line of sight for drivers operating mobile equipment underground. In another project, a graduate student and a clinical psychologist have teamed up to study the injury profiles of forest firefighters to predict injuries firefighters might incur while doing their jobs.
“The idea there is not to identify a worker to say that that individual cannot do the job,” Eger said. “The idea is to identify some of these patterns so that training programs can be revamped and to make sure that the workers are getting the support that they need in order to do their job safely.”
A third research project resulted in a booklet aimed at identifying hazards for pregnant women working in mining or other environments in which they could be exposed to chemicals and ergonomic hazards and how to protect them during the early stages of their pregnancies.
Work is now underway to look at the same issue from the male workers’ standpoint.
“There were a lot of questions from some of our male workers in their reproductive years asking if there would be potential harm to them when they’re working in some of these environments,” Eger said. “So they’re working on the next phase of that project.”
CROSH also wants to delve more into health care, an area Eger said is significant on two levels. Health-care workers are tasked with caring for those working in industry, but it’s also important to monitor health-care workers themselves, since they work in a stressful industry. CROSH wants to understand what health-care workers need to maintain a life-work balance so they can continue to provide care to the community.
CROSH plans to meet with the advisory committee this fall to identify potential projects in health care.
Support for CROSH from labour and industry has been strong, Eger said, and some representatives have already provided seed grants to get smaller research projects started sooner. Approval for funding for larger projects can take between 12 and 24 months.
The centre has also set up a website where people can get information about CROSH, access data from the research projects and find out more about occupational health and safety, but Eger emphasized the centre is not aiming to duplicate work that’s already being done by other organizations.
Over the next year, CROSH wants to expand to collaborate with partners across the North, and its five-year plan envisions CROSH connecting with faculty members at Nipissing University, Algoma University, Lakehead University and the North’s colleges.
“We’ve got a lot of unique questions to look into, research and study,” Eger said. “If we can get Northern Ontario solutions put back into industries we’ll see the benefits more so than if we try to take a solution that was developed in a different urban environment that won’t work as well.”