Each year, thousands of newly minted college graduates cross convocation stages, proudly receive congratulations from faculty, family and friends, and prepare to enter or return to the workforce. They are confident that the skills and knowledge they’ve worked so hard to attain have positioned them well for successful careers and futures. That confidence is well-placed.
Amin Yazdani and his team are focused on new research that will protect individuals and enhance workplace productivity
Ontario college graduates have an enviable record of employment achievement. Almost 86 per cent of new graduates last year attained work within six months of completing their studies: for new Conestoga graduates, the employment rate exceeded 89 per cent.
But for many individuals, the path through a successful career and into a happy and healthy retirement is interrupted by work-related injuries and disabilities that impede full participation in the workforce and detract from the quality of life they had envisioned.
In Canada alone, an estimated 20 per cent of adults -- more than 6.2 million individuals -- suffer from disabilities that limit their ability to participate in the workforce. The costs of disability take a staggering toll on workers and their families, as well as on employers and taxpayers.
Analysts suggest that the total economic burden resulting from musculoskeletal disorders and mental health conditions exceeds $75 billion in Canada each year: almost $20 billion of that total results from productivity losses.
A new applied research institute recently launched at Conestoga is committed to reducing the social and economic costs of workforce disability and positioning Canada as a global leader in workplace health and safety that will protect workers while empowering businesses to adapt and thrive in an increasingly competitive economy.
The Canadian Institute for Safety, Wellness and Performance is based in Conestoga’s School of Business, but is truly global in perspective, working in collaboration with an extensive network of partners and stakeholders across the college, throughout Canada and around the world.
The centre is led by Dr. Amin Yazdani, who holds a PhD in Kinesiology (Work and Health) from the University of Waterloo, and joined Conestoga in 2015 as a faculty member and later as coordinator for the college’s Occupational Health, Safety and Wellness graduate certificate program. He continues to serve as an adjunct faculty member at both the University of Waterloo and McMaster University, and was recently named as the 2018 recipient of the Young Leader Award by the Standards Council of Canada for his extensive research focused on innovative approaches to improving workplace health and safety through standardization. His leadership has resulted in the development of a number of Canadian standards aimed to optimize work and health.
Dr. Yazdani’s interest in improving workforce productivity and sustainability through innovative health and safety strategies dates back to his days as a practitioner in the field, when he recognized how often people’s expectations for productive careers followed by transition into a healthy retirement were overturned by injuries, illnesses or disabilities.
“I realized that much needs to be done in terms of developing policies, practices and resources to make sure that workers are protected and that businesses can perform and stay competitive in the global economy,” Yazdani said.
“The new institute will focus not only on innovative, transdisciplinary research, but also on transferring that knowledge into practice and training the next generation of leaders to integrate injury and disability prevention into productive and sustainable business models,” Yazdani continued.
The institute will embrace a range of overarching research themes, from reducing the risk of the musculoskeletal disorders that account for more than 44 per cent of all lost-time work days in Ontario, to identifying effective strategies for the prevention, early detection, intervention and management of mental illness, now the leading cause of disability in Canada.
One area of particular focus is protecting the safety and well-being of first responders. More than 50 per cent of Canada’s paramedics suffer from musculoskeletal disorders and injuries that often result from the challenges associated with patient handling, care and transport. With support from Defence Research Development Canada, the institute is collaborating with organizations across the country for the development of a series of standards to improve the safety, wellness and performance of paramedics.
First responders are also at high risk of suffering from post-traumatic stress injury (PTSI) as well as fatigue. The institute’s leadership in developing national, evidence-informed standards to manage those risks will further prevent workplace disabilities and provide an added measure of safety not just for emergency personnel, but also for all of those who depend on first responders in emergency situations.
Although the projects are focused on the development of national standards for Canada, they have attracted substantial attention from researchers and policy makers in Europe as well.
Dr. Yazdani is now focused on building a research team to develop the Canadian Institute for Safety, Wellness and Performance as an international leader in both research and education for productive and sustainable work. Two research scientists with ergonomics and public health experience have been hired to date, and the team is expected to grow further.
It’s an ambitious vision, but clearly one that is already on its way to being realized. In the summer of 2019 alone, Yazdani travelled to Italy, Denmark and Belgium as well as across Canada to present his research findings at a number of national and international scientific conferences and meetings.
And while he may no longer have day-to-day responsibilities in the classroom, Yazdani will continue to contribute to the education and development of Conestoga students, providing student research opportunities, maintaining connections with the Occupational Health and Safety grad certificate program, and integrating new research findings into curriculum development.
For Gary Hallam, executive dean of the School of Business, the new institute is a microcosm of Conestoga itself, with a strongly applied focus on improving the workforce and increasing business productivity to build stronger, more prosperous communities.
“In addition to the moral and ethical imperative around protecting and supporting individuals in the workplace, there’s also a tremendous productivity incentive for reducing workforce disabilities," said Hallam.
“For all types of businesses, as well as for government, the financial impact resulting from injuries and disabilities is staggering,” Hallam continued. “Reducing those costs through improved health and safety standards will provide a long-term boost to our economic competitiveness.”
Conestoga is currently developing a series of online courses and microcredentials to increase access to occupational health and safety training for businesses and individuals across Canada and beyond.
This article originally appeared in the fall 2019 edition of Conestoga’s Connections: Building Communities and Careers. The magazine includes profiles of new and expanded campus facilities and initiatives, while highlighting some of the outstanding students, employees and friends who contribute to the success of the college and the broader community.