SFL, NDP calling on changes to workplace safety due to high deaths

As of Dec. 3, 2018 Saskatchewa has seen 47 workplace related fatalities.
As of Dec. 3, 2018 Saskatchewa has seen 47 workplace related fatalities. Workers' Compensation Board/Supplied

The Opposition NDP and Saskatchewan Federation of Labour (SFL) are calling on the provincial government to do more to curb workplace-related fatalities.

Between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31, 2018, Saskatchewan recorded 37 workplace fatalities. Labour Relations Minister Don Morgan said that figure has grown to 47 as of Dec. 3.

The annual average for workplace fatalities in Saskatchewan is 37 over the past 15 years, according to the Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB).

“I’m not sure there’s a clear-cut answer as to why this year has such a high number,” SFL president Lori Johb said. “But I do think that over the past few years the numbers have been trending up. I think we need to recognize that there’s a lot more that can be done.”

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In Johb’s view, this includes naming companies that receive Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) fines to increase accountability and changing legislation around the right to refuse.

“If co-workers have the ability to refuse unsafe work on behalf of another worker that may help because sometimes there are things that are happening with the workers. There might be language barriers, they might not understand the consequences or maybe there’s intimidation,” Johb said.

She would also like to see better record keeping and easier to access information on contributing factors in workplace deaths.

Saskatchewan does have the highest maximum WCB fines for workplace-related fatalities – $500,000 for an individual and $1.5 million for a corporation.

According to the WCB, the leading causes of workplace deaths are occupational disease (exposure) and motor vehicle collisions/aircraft.

Exposure indicates a worker was exposed to a hazardous material at the workplace and contracted an ultimately fatal illness as a result.

Morgan said he is troubled by the high numbers.

“We’re usually in the thirties, and that’s a high number in a province the size of ours. We continue to try and work with our employers and employees across the province to try and drive the numbers down,” he said.

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The minister said the best success has come in the past with targeted intervention strategies. He said this an area he wants OHS to look into to see what options may be available.

“I can’t say whether it’s a pattern of specific things that are happening, whether it’s motor vehicle accidents or whatever else,” Morgan said.

“We had [the Humboldt Broncos bus crash] this year which was six worker fatalities at once, but even if you took those out it’s still an increase and it’s not acceptable.”

Morgan and Johb had an informal discussion about the issue last week. The two are expected to meet in a more formal setting in the near future.

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