Tag Archive for: healthy workplace


Returning to Work after Illness or Injury: OT Can Help

Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)

In 2011, Statistics Canada reported that 5.9% of full-time employees were absent from work due to illness or disability. The costs associated with workplace injuries are vast.  Studies have shown that the duration of work disability, as well as costs, are significantly reduced when the workplace has contact with a health care provider coordinating return to work interventions. In fact, well-designed return to work programs are now recognized as the best practice to reduce costs associated with worker’s compensation.

Occupational therapy is a cost-effective strategy to accelerate the client’s recovery and rate of returning to work. With an effective return to work plan coordinated by an occupational therapist, injured or ill employees can recover quicker and return to work faster, significantly reducing employer costs associated with workplace injuries.

In the following video from our OT-V series, we will discuss how occupational therapists can help to support the critical transition back to the workplace following an interruption of work duties due to physical or mental health issues.

For more information on promoting employee wellness in the workplace visit our Healthy Workplace blog page.


O-Tip of the Week: Ways to Prevent Sitting Disease

Our O-Tip of the week series we will be providing valuable “OT-Approved Life Hacks” to provide you with simple and helpful solutions for living. 

This week’s O-Tip of the Week focuses on ways to get you moving throughout the day in order to keep a healthy lifestyle and prevent sitting disease.

Bring a pair of running shoes with you to work and take a walk on your lunch and/or breaks.  Walking is great for cardiovascular and bone health and will help to prevent the negative effects of sitting all day.

Learn more ways to combat the negative effects of sitting disease in our post, Solutions to Stop Sitting Disease.


Stand Up for Good Health

We’ve spoken a lot on our blog about the negative effects of our sedentary lifestyles and sitting disease.  Unfortunately, for many, our jobs require us to spend long hours at a desk, in front of a screen without much movement.  Making time for movement throughout the day is extremely important to help battle these negative effects.  Learn more about the benefits of building movement breaks into your day in the following from Participaction.

Participaction:  This is how standing up more often can change your entire workday


Mental Health at Work: How to Seek Help

While minor accidents are common in the workplace and quickly addressed, higher instances of stress, mental illness, and workplace bullying are being seen across all industries.  If you are suffering where do you go to get help?  If you see signs of mental distress in a fellow employee, how can you help?  The following from The Globe and Mail discusses how and where to seek help if you are concerned.

The Globe and Mail:  Where to get help when you’re concerned with your mental health

Learn more about strategies to improve mental health in the workplace in the following episode from our OT-V series:


Simple Stretches to Improve Health and Productivity

Humans are not made for immobility. Even if you take a healthy joint and put it in a cast for even a few days, when you remove this the movement of the joint will be decreased, pain will appear, and muscles that surround the joint will have started to atrophy. So, how does this translate to jobs that require us to sit all day, being immobile at a computer, in a car, or at a desk?

It’s important for your physical and mental health to involve frequent movement into your day.  Not only will this help you combat the negative effects of “sitting disease,” it can help you to become more productive.  Take a look at the following from Positive Health Wellness for some tips and simple stretches to incorporate into your work day.

Positive Health Wellness: 12 Quick Stretches to Boost Day-time Productivity

To learn more about Sitting Disease and how you can prevent the negative effects, take a look at our previous post, “Solutions To Stop Sitting Disease.


How To Improve Mental Health at Work

When it comes to health and safety in the workplace, we are often quick to think of work-related musculoskeletal disorders and other physical injuries, but just as with health in general, we also need to make mental health in the workplace a priority. Nearly half of all Canadians experience some form of mental health concerns at work. Mental health issues are the number one cause of short term and long term disability leave.

The following video from our OT-V series discusses the ways an Occupational Therapist can work with employees, employers and medical teams to help employees overcome mental health stressors at work in order to be more productive and miss less time from work.



Flexible Work Arrangements: No Longer Working “9 to 5”

Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)

Co-written by Occupational Therapy student Carolyn Rocca

I have several commutes.  If I bring my laptop home, one commute is to my dining room table.  If I leave my laptop at the office, I have a seven-minute drive (eight in traffic) before I am sitting at my desk.  If I am required to be in Toronto for 8:30am, my commute starts at 6:00am for a drive that in “good traffic” would only take me 50 minutes.

With more and more people living away from work so they can afford more sizable housing, more property, or even perhaps a desire or need to stay close to extended family and child care, Flexible Work Schedules are becoming more valued, and dare I say, necessary.

Flexible work schedules are arrangements that allow employees the opportunity to better juggle their family and personal responsibilities that typically conflict with the traditional Monday-to-Friday, 9-to-5 work week. These arrangements can take several forms, including: working a set number of hours with flexible and agreed upon start and end times, working longer days in exchange for a day off, or requesting time off for personal reasons and offering to make it up by working longer hours on another day.

According to Statistics Canada, in 2014 69% of couple families with at least one child were dual-earner families, representing quite an increase from 36% in 1976. As the number of dual-earner families continues to rise, the option of flexible work schedules will become increasingly enticing for such families who struggle to get their kids on the school bus in time for their lengthy commute. In 2012, an estimated 36% of Canadian employees with caregiving responsibilities had flexible hours, and this value will likely continue to rise. As they say, times have changed, and this seems to be a change for the better.

Canada’s 2012 General Social Survey reports that having a flexible schedule that allows employees to choose when their work day starts and ends was associated with slightly greater satisfaction. In fact, 79% of employees with a flexible work schedule reported that they were satisfied or very satisfied with their work–life balance, compared to 73% of those whose schedule was not flexible.

More specifically, studies that have explored the benefits of flexible work schedules for employees suggest that they improve overall work-life balance, reduce workplace stress and health-related symptoms, and increase job satisfaction and organizational commitment, ultimately maintaining their connection to the labor market. These advantages go both ways, as these arrangements benefit employers by enhancing recruitment and retention, reducing absenteeism, and increasing productivity, naturally leading to reduced costs.

So what does this shift towards flexible work options mean for you if you have a disability, and me as an occupational therapist?  If you need to return to work following injury or illness, an occupational therapist is well-equipped to help you and your employer devise workplace accommodations to gradually resume your full-time duties, and flexible hours makes this transition more feasible and likely to be successful.  For example, if sitting for long periods is challenging, but sitting is a necessary part of your job, then we don’t want your “sitting clock” to be “ticking” while you are stuck in traffic.  If flexible work hours can get you at your desk faster, allowing you more time to work and less time to aggravate your symptoms in the car, then a supportive employer should see the benefit of that – for you and them.  Also, if as part of your recovery you continue to require medical oversight or treatment by other providers, a flexible work schedule will allow you the freedom to maintain your treatment schedule, while still gradually resuming job duties.

If flexible work hours can benefit both employer and employee, both within and outside of a rehabilitation process, then I say “just ask for it”….and work with your employer to develop a program and schedule that works for both of you.


Solutions To Stop Sitting Disease

The negative health effects of sitting for extended periods of time, coined as “sitting disease” has been a hot topic recently. Studies show that sitting for extended periods of time, as many of us do at work, while commuting, and even while watching television or reading, can lead to increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and a decreased lifespan. But while we need to work, how do we combat these negative effects?

Ergonomics addresses well-being and performance in relation to one’s job, equipment, tools and environment, with an overall goal to improve health, safety and efficiency of the worker and workplace. While the concept of ergonomics is no longer new, it involves much more than making sure your office chair is of the latest style. Due to the many different components involved in utilizing ergonomics to promote wellness and safety at work, some find it overwhelming and don’t know where to start. We’ve combined some of the most important and effective ergonomic tips together to make a quick reference guide for those looking for a starting point or those looking to brush up on their current strategies.

1.      Take frequent breaks: We’ve said it before and we will say it again. Regardless of the job and job demands, humans were not meant to remain in static positions for long periods of time. Taking regular, brief breaks throughout the day allows us to avoid maintaining static positions, awkward postures and repetitive motions that lead to injuries. It is also important in terms of our cognition as this allows us to recharge and refocus to maintain productivity. Consider taking a 2-3 minute break for every 30 minutes of work.

2.      Follow the rule of 90s: For those who are required to maintain sitting positions for long periods of time at their workstation, the rule of 90 degrees should be followed. This means that while sitting at a desk, a person’s knees, hips and elbows should each be resting at 90 degrees. This angle falls in line with our natural body proportions and biomechanics, and helps support proper posture and body positioning.

3.      Seating matters: In a similar manner, seating is a key component when looking to support ergonomics. Chair height should be adjustable such that the back is firmly supported, thighs remain parallel to the floor and the feet are able to rest flat on the floor or a foot rest. The chair itself should have a sturdy support base and wheels, to allow easy mobility over flooring as well as the ability to swivel 360 degrees to avoid twisting, reaching and bending to access other items around the workstation.  The more adjustable the chair the more you can fit it to YOU.

4.      Change positions regularly: Just as with taking frequent breaks, regular position changes are important to avoid injuries. Whether it be taking a break to walk to the filing cabinet, or standing while having a phone conversation, make sure that regular changes in body position occur over the course of the day. Some companies are moving towards installing mobile workstations, which can be transferred from sitting to standing height to allow employees to alternate between periods of sitting and standing to complete work tasks, making regular position changes a habit is an effective and free way to avoid injury.

5.      Inspect your screen: Many jobs today require long periods of screen time. If this is the case for your workstation, make sure that there is an arm’s length distance between your eyes and the screen. Also make sure that the top of the monitor or screen is level with your forehead. This allows for the head and neck to remain in a neutral position by avoiding continued periods of looking up or down. If a job requires frequent paper reading or phone use alongside computer use, consider a document holder or headset.

6.      Keep tools and frequently used items close to your body: Whether it be having your chair tucked in close to your desk, or the location of your keyboard and other frequently used items like the mouse and telephone, ensure that these items remain close to the body. This allows you to avoid reaching, twisting at the trunk or adopting other awkward postures to obtain and use these items.

7.      Stretch: This tip goes hand in hand with the use of regular breaks and position changes. Engaging in gentle stretching on a regular basis over the course of the day can address body stiffness and muscle tension in areas like the neck, shoulders and back. It also serves as a preventative strategy to keep the body moving and avoid injury before it happens.  Grab a list of some simple stretches for your neck, shoulders, wrists and back and do these a few times a day.

8.      Keep wrists neutral: Whether it be for keyboarding, use of a mouse or desk work, it is important that wrists are maintained in a neutral posture. This avoids potential for overuse and injury due to fixed postures of flexion. Try altering positions or using equipment such as a wrist rest to support the forearms.

9.      Lighting matters: Improper lighting at a workstation can lead to glare, visual strain, headaches and reduced concentration. Make sure that lighting is neither too bright nor too low and that the location and angle is appropriate for the specific work task.

10.  Ask for help: These tips are basic in nature and are meant to serve as general information. However, if you have more specific questions related to implementing ergonomics in your workplace, for a specific job or employee, seek the services of an Occupational Therapist. An OT can provide more thorough assessments and recommendations to maximize safety, health and efficiency at work.

Keep these principles in mind anytime you are in a static posture and are using a computer or workstation.  Prevention is always the best medicine to avoiding injury and lost work time that can be so disruptive for you and your employer.

Check out our free e-book “Cost Effective Ergonomics Solutions” for more ergonomic solutions.


Help for Your Hands

In today’s world technology is something we cannot live without.  Although technology can make life simpler in many ways, it is also making things more difficult.  For instance, the stress these always available devices place on our hands and wrists.  Repetitive movements, such as texting and typing, can lead to pain and musculoskeletal disorders that can have long-term consequences.  So how can you enjoy the conveniences the digital world has to offer while avoiding long-term damage?  Take a look at the following handout from Advance for Physical Therapy and Rehab Medicine to learn about some helpful techniques and check out our previous post, “Don’t Wrist Injury—Positioning and Stretching Can Help.”

Advance: Protect Hands From Digital Distress


The Work-Life Balance Myth

What is your impression of work-life balance? A lot of people find it a completely unrealistic goal that is impossible to achieve. Many people find life demands are simply keeping them too busy to take time to relax. As we talked about in a previous episode, stress can cause heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and immunity issues. Statistics Canada says that 1 in 4 adults reported high stress in 2013, and high stress means that your mental and physical health are declining.

The good news is that this is preventable. For a lot of people, their expectation of work-life balance is NOT realistic. You can’t expect to go to the gym 7 days a week, get 8 hours of sleep every night, meet every work deadline, and have the time to home-cook every meal. A common misconception of work-life balance is that it needs to happen every day, and that simply isn’t realistic. A more realistic goal may be to try to have a balanced week or month of work and leisure; it doesn’t need to happen all in one day.

We also need to change the way we think about work; instead of work-life balance we’ll be using the term stress-life balance. People that are unemployed by choice, students, and caregivers still experience stress-life balance, so we can’t attribute all stress to work even though it’s a common stressor for many.

One of the strategies OT’s use to make stress-life balance possible is to set SMART goals. A good goal should be:

  • Specific
  • Measureable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound

First, figure out what stresses you. This may seem simple, but get really specific. Does your job stress you out? What ABOUT your job stresses you out? When do your kids stress you out most? Make a list of what can be changed, and what can’t. Don’t say that nothing can be changed!

Next, understand what helps you de-stress. This is different for everyone. Some people need passive or relaxing leisure where they can shut their brains off; common examples of passive leisure are watching television, yoga, or going to the theatre. Some people need active leisure to de-stress, like going for a run, socializing with friends, or reading a favourite book.

Lastly, make a plan for how you can integrate more of those de-stressors into your life on a weekly or monthly basis. Also make a plan for how to reduce your stressors. Make sure this plan is a SMART plan, and you should be on your way to improving your mental and physical health. Occupational therapists know the evidence behind de-stressing, and which activities give you the most bang for your buck when you’re low on time.