Saskatchewan experiencing workplace ‘fatalities and injuries crisis’: Union

SFL wants incident reports published online, young worker course delivered in-person

Saskatchewan experiencing workplace ‘fatalities and injuries crisis’: Union

The Saskatchewan Federation of Labour (SFL) says the province is in the midst of a “workplace fatalities and injuries crisis,” and is calling on the government to take action.


“We owe it to the 48 workers who lost their lives in Saskatchewan last year, and the many more that were injured at work, to keep fighting for safer workplaces,” said SFL president Lori Johb. “We are in the middle of a crisis, and there are a number of things the provincial government can do immediately to help protect workers and save lives.”


The Saskatchewan Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) confirmed that workplace fatalities increased in 2018. One of the leading causes of workplace fatalities continues to be occupational diseases, responsible for more than 40 per cent of cases.


And while injury rates have been declining since 2008 when the rate was 10.21 per cent, there was a year-over-year increase in 2018 with the injury rate increasing from 5.25 per cent to 5.44 per cent.


“It was concerning to see the injury rate go up in 2018 after several years of improvement,” said Jen Toews, communications consultant for the Government of Saskatchewan. “Any workplace injury, illness or fatality is unacceptable.”


The SFL has issued several recommendations to government to improve workplace safety. The first is requiring all safety committees in the province to file minutes with the government’s OHS division, a practice that was previously in place up until 2014.


But Toews said government inspectors look at safety committee minutes when they conduct site inspections, adding that work site visits have more than doubled since 2014.


The SFL is also recommending that the government update and expand the Young Worker Readiness Certificate course and move it from online to delivered and tested in-person.


Toews said the course content is reviewed regularly and it is delivered online to ensure young workers have “equal and easy access” to the materials, regardless of their location.


“They can review the materials at their own pace and access it from home, school, a library or anywhere else they have Internet access,” she said.


The SFL is also recommending that the government expand fundamental workplace rights to include the right to refuse unsafe work on behalf of someone else. But Toews says this should remain an individual right — similar to all other Canadian jurisdictions — as work that can safely be performed by one person may not be safely performed by another. This variability is based on training, experience or physical capabilities of the worker.


“It is important that each employee understand their individual right to refuse unusually dangerous work and that they are able to exercise that right and not face repercussions,” said Toews.


The SFL initially launched its campaign against injuries and fatalities last December, and while Johb said “much more needs to be done,” she did acknowledge that some positive steps had been taken.


For example, the SFL called for the publishing of all incident reports in an accessible online format, as is done in British Columbia, and Toews said the government is reviewing the possibility of publishing fatality investigation reports online. 


The SFL had also called for the development of a comprehensive Worker Fatalities Crisis Strategy, including a roundtable with workers, unions, the WCB and other stakeholders. Toews said that WorkSafe Saskatchewan, a partnership between the Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety and the WCB, has been working with stakeholders to develop a fatalities and serious injuries strategy. The strategy is expected to be publicly available by the end of this year.