Injuries on the job have a big cost, both to the worker's health and to an organization's bottom line. No time are such injuries more likely to occur than in the winter or during school breaks when routine duties are altered.
While winter snowfall can elicit joy among many students, for many school building engineers, a snow dump means hours of heavy and frantic shoveling. For many older engineers, this can be particularly taxing and in some cases, dangerous.
School Break cleaning is another notorious time when it comes to injuries. While students and many teachers are enjoying time away from the classroom, custodians and engineers are busy preparing the schools for the students' return. Work such as wall washing, stripping and waxing floors etc is more intense and sometimes causes unexpected injuries.
The result of these difficult duties in the winter and during School Breaks has been a noted upswing in the number of injuries. In previous years, it wasn't unusual for the board to incur several dozen back injuries and strains a year. It went on like this for years, until a study was commissioned in 2005 in cooperation with UBC, IUOE Local 963 and VSB Operations.
"Injury Rates, Ergonomic Factors and Work Conditions associated with musculoskeletal injuries among school custodians" may not sound like a catchy title, but it has already saved years of pain for VSB engineers across the district.
The study looked at what people were doing in schools and how they could avoid injuries in their daily and seasonal duties. New technology and techniques to mitigate injuries were suggested including working in pairs when doing heavy lifting, making sure equipment is ergonomically safe and developing best practices for any high risk tasks. The top tips of the report were compiled into two short booklets that were distributed throughout the district.
IUOE Local 963 Business Manager Tim DeVivo says the cooperation of VSB facilities engineers was crucial to the success of the project. It was a staff and union management project that relied heavily on the participation of VSB engineering staff.
"We want to really credit our workers for their full participation in this project," he says.
Within a few years, the rate of injuries among engineering staff plummeted. When in 2006 there was an average of 30 back strains or injuries, by 2010 the number had dropped by 66 per cent to 10.
Both the IUOE Local 963 and VSB Operations say they are pleased with the results. Not only are workers safer, but the overall medical and training costs to the board has been significantly reduced. A single back injury can be expensive when one factors in loss of working time and training replacement time. VSB Operations notes the cost of a single injury will frequently exceed $18,000 when all costs and factors are added up.
"The development of this study and its accompanying booklets has led to real and significant reductions in injuries each year among our building engineers," says Bill Ostrom, Manager of Operations at the Vancouver School Board.