Message to the Department of Labour – Hunt Where There Are Ducks

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Construction worker Shaun McInnis died May 9, 2013, after he fell from a roof. A Halifax business owner and his construction firm were charged in connection with this tragic death.

Labour and Advance Education (LAE) Minister Kelly Regan was quoted in the Chronicle Herald in response to the charges being laid, “We have more than doubled our workplace inspections of high-risk workplaces so I’m anticipating that will have an effect in the future, too.” She went on to say, “And I don’t think we’re going to stop there; we’re going to look further to see what we can do where an employer has had previous incidents.”

LAE enforces the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) regulations but the Workers Compensation Board (WCB) also plays an important role in injury prevention. Following an up-tick in work related injuries WCB (aka WorkSafe) launched a campaign aimed at bringing folks home safe and sound. Their well known ad is professional, slick and tugs at all the right heartstrings. In the 60 second spot, there’s a 2 second flash of a healthcare worker, the other 57 seconds is spent on the lunch-pail guy in his pickup, the iconic fisherman and other service industry folk.

Are fishing and construction dangerous professions? Yes. When there are accidents, do they grab headlines? Yes. Are they the people injuring themselves most often? No.

In fact, as noted in the WCB 2014 Annual Report the greatest “high-risk” sector in this province is health and social services. While fishing and construction injuries or deaths get headlines, the percentage of Time Loss Claims (including Self Insured) in Healthcare and Social Services is more than two-and-a-half times greater than fishing and construction…combined. By every metric in the report, Healthcare and Social Services leads the way in injuries and time lost.

This being the evidence, one might expect provincial inspectors would be crawling all over healthcare facilities. Not so much. In fact, according to the OHS 2013-2014 Annual Report, the vast majority of targeted inspection were at construction sites, manufacturing facilities, the retail trade and the accommodation, food and beverage sector. Only 16 percent of inspections were in the health and social services sector. Almost half of all OHS activities focused on construction whereas health and social services made up a mystifyingly low 4 percent.

So how do we account for this apparent disconnect? One clue might lie in the amount of work actually being carried out. In 2013-14 OHS tracked 2900 field activities carried out by their 37 available full-time employees. If we eliminate vacations, and sick days that amounts to roughly 78 activities per year per officer, in other words only 1.5 activities per inspector, per week. Another might be complaint driven statistics. Construction received 53 percent of complaints, health and social services only 3.3 percent.

Employers and employees both have a huge stake in this. Safety is a critical piece of productivity and growth. An injured employee or, in the worst case a death, is devastating for any organization. That’s why the Office of the Employer Advisor (OEA) has been leading a coalition of employers meeting with LAE on every step of any regulatory development. LAE doesn’t have the expertise for the rapidly changing and highly technical workplaces but employers are committed to make those resources available to ensure everything possible is done to create the safest workplaces possible.

The vast majority of employers place safety as a priority and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to keep it foremost in their company. No industry sector wants to be tarnished by poor safety practices of a few. It isn’t good for industry or the economy of the province.

In 2014, the province saw its lowest number of lost-time injury claims since the statistics have been collected. There were also fewer fatalities compared to the year before. It’s clear the Minister is justified calling for increased inspections. At the same time, employers in Nova Scotia also believe it makes sense for OHS to adjust these inspections ratios to focus on the sector responsible for the highest level of WCB claims. As Winston Churchill said, “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.”


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