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Hockey players and workplace health and safety

Image: stock.xchng|aklepsteen

Hockey players get paid to be hit. The reverse is also true; many hockey players are paid to hit. For hockey players, violence is part of the job. This job has clearly been taken up a notch this year for the playoffs. Even Sid “the Kid” was renamed “Vicious Sid” in a recent headline. Editorial cartoonist Gary Clement also took notice in his April 18 editorial cartoon.

In most other workplaces, it is the employer’s responsibility to conduct a risk assessment and to eliminate violence in the workplace. There is an internal responsibility system in which employees, supervisors and employers all work together to improve health and safety in the workplace. In a functioning system, the main responsibility starts with a commitment from management for the health and safety of employees. Employees who disregard safety can be disciplined up to and including fines and termination.

On April 18, CBC radio business reporter Michael Hlinka jumped into the sports discussion that occurred before his business commentary. He put it out there that the hockey clubs have the power to stop the violence; all they need to do is to enforce higher standards by “hitting” players where it hurts: in their pocketbooks. There was dead silence for a few moments—and then disagreement.

Employers (outside of the NHL) have an obligation to provide a safe workplace. If they cannot provide a completely violence-free workplace, they must ensure there are policies and procedures in place to minimize the risk of violence. This includes a strong and enforced disciplinary procedure.

I would disagree with Michael Hlinka in part, because it is not only the players who need to be fined or disciplined, it is also the coaches, the general managers and the owners of the teams who need to be made to pay for the system to really change. When the Ministry of Labour levies fines or even presses criminal charges, it targets all parties: the employee, the supervisor and the employer. Even if the employee is engaging in unsafe behaviour, for example pulling out a fuse with metal pliers, it is the employer who is fined for not ensuring that the worker performed the work safely.

Ministry of Labour safety blitzes sometimes focus on new and young workers. These hockey players are young—24-year-old Sid “the Kid” has received concussions that have threatened to end a hockey career that is just getting started.

Yes, the equipment or the personal protective equipment (PPE) is getting better, but as any health and safety professional will tell you, in the hierarchy of hazard controls, PPE is the least effective way to protect workers. Consider this hierarchy of hazard controls, from most effective to least:

1. Elimination
2. Substitution
3. Engineering Controls (Safeguarding Technology)
4. Administrative Controls (Training and Procedures)
5. Personal Protective Equipment

Can the internal responsibility system in hockey leagues be fixed? Yes, but the commitment has to come from the top, and GMs, coaches, managers and other officials must enforce the standards, while players need to experience and see standards being enforced in a consistent and highly visible manner. Hockey will never be without physical contact, but when deliberate intent to hurt results in critical and life-threatening injuries, something needs to change fast.

Safety shouldn’t have to take a back seat at work, even in the playoffs!

Marcia Scheffler, M.A., CHRP Candidate
Human Resources Generalist

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Marcia Scheffler

Human Resources Generalist at Wawel Villa
Marcia Scheffler, M.A., CHRP Candidate is a Human Resources Generalist with M.A. working full-time as a Senior HR Officer. She is interested in the intersection of human resources theory and current best practices in HR. Read more
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One thought on “Hockey players and workplace health and safety
  • Adam Gorley says:

    This is really an interesting issue Marcia, and Clement’s cartoon adds another dimension. Why, if we are so obsessed with safe and healthy workplaces, do we pretend that professional sports are different?

    Certainly, some jobs carry an inherent risk of injury, violence and other health and safety hazards, namely police officers and firefighters. And moderate-to-high impact pro sports—like hockey, football, soccer, basketball—also carry some of these risks, but intentional violence (and that is surely what many, if not most, hockey “hits” are) surely has no place in the modern workplace.

    What type of example does this set for other workplaces? I’m not suggesting that workers are actively emulating professional athletes and throwing body checks at work, or that workers can’t distinguish between the arena and the workplace, but some people surely take away from pro sports that an aggressive style or attitude of work can help get the job done.

    (Of course, this list of sports doesn’t include boxing, mixed martial arts/UFC, and other fighting events. When your job is to fight, well, we can only assume that you know what hazards you’re expecting.)

    The violence in hockey is one reason I don’t pay attention to the NHL much at the moment.