2009 a year with too many workplace deaths

Lana
Lana Payne
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

2009 will forever be etched in our collective memory as the year a staggering and heart-breaking number of workers in Newfoundland and Labrador lost their lives as a result of their work - 46 in total and double the number from the previous year.
It will not be remembered as the year in which there was the lowest number of reported workplace injuries in 50 years, as was highlighted and somewhat celebrated in a recent news release by the Workplace, Health, Safety and Compensation Commission (WHSCC).
There is nothing to celebrate in a year when 46 people are either killed on the job or die from their work. There is nothing to celebrate when thousands of workers are still being injured in the workplace.
In addition to the 17 people who lost their lives when Cougar Flight 491 crashed in March of last year, another 12 workers died from workplace accidents and 17 died from occupational disease.
Since 2002, a stunning 204 workers in our province have died as a result of their work, including 112 from occupational disease.
It is by all accounts a devastating number of lives lost. But one life is one too many.
Families have had to deal with the shattering aftermath of losing a loved one. Children are growing up fatherless or motherless. Parents must deal with the incredible pain of burying a child. Brothers and sisters have lost siblings. All of their lives have forever been changed.
Next week on April 28, families will gather at National Day of Mourning ceremonies across our province and country to remember those workers who were killed on the job or who have been injured or became ill because of their work.
These families deserve that in honour of their loved ones that we - employers, governments, unions - collectively do what we can to prevent further tragedy.
It means accepting that in the world in which we live sometimes, and sadly more often than not, profit or production does come before safety.
This is an unfortunate reality, but a reality nonetheless and as a counter-balance to that reality, we put in place the proper laws, prevention and regime of rights and inspectorate powers to counteract the inherent inequality between employees and employers.

Real safety standards
It means moving from paper safety to activating the rights workers have under our occupational, health and safety laws - the right to work safely, the right to refuse unsafe work, the right to participate in occupational, health and safety (OHS) committees, and the right to know.
As was pointed out during the Wells Inquiry into helicopter safety in the offshore, some workers feared reprisal if they complained and it certainly appears as if their right to know was violated.
It means understanding how democratic models in our workplaces can make a difference. It means viewing workers as more than a means to production, but having them at the table as true and real partners in OHS prevention measures, not as tokens because the law requires it.
To say that there have not been great strides made to improve safety would be unfair and inaccurate.
Mandatory workplace occupational, health and safety committees or representatives, depending on the size of the workplace, and mandatory training have helped to raise safety awareness and the rights of workers.
But basic training on the rights and role of OHS committees is just a first step. We must also consider the long-term benefits of more in-depth safety training and education.
The province has just introduced a new set of occupational, health and safety regulations.
They represent a huge improvement in our ability to advance occupational, health and safety, but laws alone, no matter how progressive, are not the single answer.
They are part of the answer.
They must also be accompanied by adequate inspections and enforcement, broad-based workplace education and awareness and structures that bring workers and their unions to the table.
For example, the WHSCC's sector council initiative is designed to result in industry-based safety practices and programs. This process includes workers and their unions and is a practical example of what can be done to enhance occupational, health and safety in our workplaces and industries.
The more informed and knowledgeable a workforce is with respect to workplace OHS rights, the better. To give the province credit, there has been a massive increase in monitoring, enforcement and inspections by the OHS division of government since 2000. And it has been making a difference - including an astounding 1,000 per cent increase in stop-work orders over the past decade.
With 46 deaths and still over 6,300 reported injuries in 2009, there is much work to be done and we have a long way to go in our province before we can celebrate.
The milestone worth commemorating will be the year no worker dies from their work and no family is left devastated by the loss or injury of a loved one.

Lana Payne is president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour. She can be reached by e-mail at lanapayne@nl.rogers.com. Her column returns May 8.

Organizations: WHSCC, Safety and Compensation Commission, Wells Inquiry OHS division of government Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page

Comments

Comments

Recent comments

  • allan
    July 02, 2010 - 13:25

    Lana is so right.. there is nothing to celebrate when you look at those statistics and those numbers, 46 people that is stagering and far to many to loose their lives in the name of trying to provide a living for themselves and their famalies... what april 28 does do is give us an opportunity to raise those statistics publically and create more awarness of the need to continue to improve conditions in our workplaces, as well as remember all those who have made the supreme sacrafice... Great Job on the Colum as usual--- Allan

  • allan
    July 01, 2010 - 20:11

    Lana is so right.. there is nothing to celebrate when you look at those statistics and those numbers, 46 people that is stagering and far to many to loose their lives in the name of trying to provide a living for themselves and their famalies... what april 28 does do is give us an opportunity to raise those statistics publically and create more awarness of the need to continue to improve conditions in our workplaces, as well as remember all those who have made the supreme sacrafice... Great Job on the Colum as usual--- Allan