A rising number of work-related deaths have reached a crisis level, according to University of Regina associate professor Sean Tucker.
Thirty-seven people have been victims of work fatalities from January to the end of August 2018. That’s up from 27 for all of 2017 and 31 in 2016.
In 2012, the number of workplace deaths hit a high of 60. Since then, the numbers have been steadily declining- until this year.
Meanwhile, Alberta and Manitoba are both seeing much lower fatal injury rates during the same time period, though it should be noted Manitoba uses a different reporting system for vehicle-related incidents.
This year, the leading causes of workplace fatalities in Saskatchewan are occupational disease and motor vehicle-related incidents. It’s a shift from 2017 when the leading causes were occupational diseases and acute injuries.
According to the Worker’s Compensation Board, occupational disease-related fatalities are often diagnosed years after a workplace exposure.
The group expects occupational disease-related deaths will continue as workers in the province are often exposed to asbestos, putting them at risk of disease or death decades into the future.
The stats don’t always reflect the faces, families and stories of those who were lost, but Tucker said there are concrete steps that can be taken to reverse the dangerous trend.
“It doesn’t have to be this way in Saskatchewan,” Tucker said. “Serious injury and fatalities are preventable – and actually quite easily preventable.”
He’s calling for enhanced occupational health officer training, increased police knowledge of occupational health and safety criminal charges and a greater awareness of workplace safety inspections.
Tucker would also like to see more safety materials for workers who have learned English as a second language, and more education about basic rights in the workplace.
All workers have the right to know about hazards in the workplace, participate in the control of hazards in the workplace and be part of an occupational health and safety committee, and refuse work that is usually dangerous without repercussions.
Tucker wants to see new provisions added to existing legislation that would allow workers to refuse work they believe is dangerous on behalf of their younger, more vulnerable colleagues.
The Saskatchewan Workers’ Compensation board also said it’s changing some of its approaches in hopes of keeping more people safe.
“All workplace fatalities are preventable,” vice-president of prevention Phil Germain said. “We all need to step up to make our workplaces safer. All organizations, no matter their size, should be investing in their own safety programs and make safety a key part of their culture. Safety belongs to each of us individually as much as it is a collective concern. Working safely is just smart business and it’s the right thing to do.”
It’s a long road ahead, but Tucker is optimistic things could start moving in the right direction if action is taken.