Putting safety on the front lines in health care

Leah Richards  (left) , Continuing Care Assistant, and resident Miriam Coldwell both know how important patient and worker safety is. At Mountain Lea Lodge, it’s a discussion management and staff have together throughout the day, every day, in order to help ensure injuries are prevented.

Leah Richards (left), Continuing Care Assistant, and resident Miriam Coldwell both know how important patient and worker safety is. At Mountain Lea Lodge, it’s a discussion management and staff have together throughout the day, every day, in order to help ensure injuries are prevented.

STRATEGIC GOAL: Build a workplace safety culture

Anne Underhill comes to work every day eager to help the residents of the nursing home she’s worked in for 21 years. “It’s so much more than a paycheque,” says Anne, a physiotherapy, occupational therapy and continuing care assistant at the Annapolis Royal Nursing Home. “You have to have compassion and a heart for these residents.” 

But Anne realizes that taking care of those residents also means taking care of herself.
Much of the work she does every day presents serious hazards. From straining muscles while lifting or moving residents to  cords or objects on the floor, there are many ways injury can happen in her workplace. “Safety has to be the first thing in your thoughts every time you go to move from one point to another,” she explains.

Anne teaches the safe patient handling program at the nursing home and always advises workers to put safety first. Earlier this year, she learned a tough lesson about why safety is so important in the workplace.


Our Progress


  • Completed the final year of the Workplace Safety Strategy, and worked together with our colleagues at LAE to determine a new way of working together based on the success of the strategy

Our Plans


  • Develop a new social marketing awareness campaign in partnership with the other Atlantic provinces, and increase the use of data-driven marketing
  • Continue to support injury prevention in the commercial fishing sector

She was helping a fellow staff member move a broken bed into the basement. They lifted the heavy bed and carried it down themselves. Anne ended up pulling a muscle in her back. She was fortunate and her injury wasn’t too serious. After one day off, she went back to work and modified her tasks until her back got better. 

“It could have been a lot worse,” says Anne. “It’s easy to preach what you should do. But all of us need to exercise care in all we do.”

Rising injury costs prompt collaborative response

Anne is one of many health and community services workers who have been injured on the job. In Nova Scotia, workers are more likely to be injured caring for others than in any other line of work. 

These workplace injuries have high financial and human costs. In 2018, employers in the health and community services sectors will pay an estimated $63.5 million in WCB premiums. “This means too many caregivers are being injured, and we have to turn the tide,” says Susan Dempsey, executive director of AWARE-NS, the safety association that's helping to build a stronger culture of safety for more than 44,000 health and community services workers.

Susan says the situation is most critical in home care and long-term care where both the number and severity of injuries is increasing. That’s keeping workers off the job longer and adding to the cost of claims. Everyone agrees something needs to be done to make these workplaces safer. Work is underway now to make that happen. 

Over the past two years, AWARE-NS has led a unique collaborative initiative that brought together representatives from government, health organizations, labour groups, employers and WCB Nova Scotia. Together, they developed Charting the Course: Report and Recommendations for Workplace Safety in Nova Scotia's Home Care, Long Term Care and Disability Support Sectors. The engagement process involved connecting with more than 1,200 people through consultations, focus groups and an online survey. Working groups involving more than 90 industry experts turned those insights into strategic advice and recommendations to improve safety.

Report a “turning point” for safety

Jenna Brookfield, National Health and Safety Representative  for the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), participated in one of the working groups and calls the report process a “turning point” for workplace safety. “It’s still going to require work, attention and resources to capture the momentum we’ve gained so far, but everyone is moving in the right direction.” 

“I hope it causes a shift to a culture in which the safety of the worker is on par with the safety of the patient, client or resident that the worker is providing services to.”
— Jenna Brookfield, Health and safety representative, CUPE
Jenna Brookfield, Chair of AWARE-NS Board of Directors, and National Health and Safety Representative for CUPE.

Jenna Brookfield, Chair of AWARE-NS Board of Directors, and National Health and Safety Representative for CUPE.

Jenna hopes the collaborative effort leads to more accountability at all levels and a change in attitudes about the importance of keeping workers safe. “I hope it causes a shift to a culture in which the safety of the worker is on par with the safety of the patient, client or resident that the worker is providing services to.”

Susan is also optimistic about the report’s positive impact on safety. “This will raise the awareness at every level and make sure health and safety is number one,” she says. “If that happens, we’ll have fewer staff injured and more healthy and productive workplaces.”

Anne Underhill feels change is already starting to happen. Her workplace injury not only served as a personal reminder about the need to put safety first, it also led to a new policy on moving beds that will reduce the risk of others being injured in the future. 

Anne feels fortunate that her workplace has made progress on worker safety. She hopes with increased awareness and everyone working together, the job of caring for others will get even safer for workers like her across the province.

Together, we can make a difference

We’re applying what we learned through the development of Fishing Safety Now, to help make workplaces in the nursing and home care sectors safer.

“This will raise the awareness at every level and make sure health and safety is number one. And if that happens, we’ll have fewer staff injured and more healthy and productive workplaces.”
— Susan Dempsey, Executive Director, AWARE-NS