Workplace safety comes to the forefront

By Michael Joel-Hansen
December 5, 2018 - 3:44pm

Workplace safety has long been a topic of conversation in Saskatchewan given the province’s high rate of injuries which in the workplace.

The issue came back into the public eye in a big way recently when the provincial government announced that the number of workplace fatalities had almost doubled in 2018 from the year previous.

According to the Saskatchewan Workers Compensation Board (WCB), which keeps track of the numbers there was a total of 47 workplace fatalities. The cause of these fatalities range from disease which were caused by exposure to asbestos with 13 people, and four people dying due to suffering heart attacks while at work.

Speaking to media earlier this week, minister of labour relations and workplace safety, Don Morgan, said the fatalities are concerning.

“It’s not a good number,” he said.

The minister said the number of incidents are concerning given the size of the province’s overall population and added the rise in incidents is something the government finds concerning.

“We should be far less,” he added.

The number of workplace deaths was pushed higher in part by the Humboldt Broncos bus tragedy, as six of the deaths in that collision were classified as being workplace fatalities.

Paul Hallen, who serves as president of United Steel Workers 1-184 which represents workers in the Prince Albert area, ranging from forestry to manufacturing, said better enforcement needs to be part of the overall strategy to make workplaces safer.

“We need to have serious penalties for corporations and employers who have unsafe workplaces and who direct the workforce in an unsafe way,” he said.

Hallen added he believes it could be possible that with some steeper fines and consequences, safety could become a bigger priority for some employers.

“If there’s enough of a penalty there that employers would see that as money well spent, in the area of making sure you have a safe workplace,” he said.

Besides potentially higher fines, Hallen said more random inspections of workplaces could help to make safety more of priority as well.

The union president also stressed that education and orientation should be looked at along with enforcement. He stressed it is especially important as more young people come into the workforce.

“(Sometimes) People don’t recognize the danger of equipment, they actually don’t realize it because it’s not their environment to be around it … I’ve personally known of some horrible accidents involving young people,” he said.

Hallen emphasized the importance of prevention as no amount of money can make up for a person losing their life and that the people who witness accidents, himself included, tend to remember them for the rest of their lives.

“There has to be a better way,” he said.

When speaking about enforcement Morgan said the government has seen success with targeted enforcement which focuses on specific industries and sectors where there have been problems.

Morgan added they have contracted with a university professor who has been contracted by the provincial government to study the numbers and see what can be done.

The Minister said he is open to hearing from people and groups on the issue.

“I am prepared to sit down and talk to anybody,” he said.

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