Workplace safety

Preventative action on injuries is working: labour department

Better training, awareness is helping lower the number of workplace injuries, legislative committee told

Lunenburg, NS waterfront
Lunenburg, N.S., waterfront   Ashley Corbett

Provincial bureaucrats say the number of injuries in the fishing industry have continued to decline this year and have been declining since 2013. The upcoming 2015 Workers’ Compensation Board of Nova Scotia report will show these numbers, according to a presentation by labour department officials to the legislature’s Human Resources Standing Committee.

In 2013, the Nova Scotia fishing industry injury and fatality rate reached its highest point, due to the eight lives lost that year to fishing tragedies. Since then, the province and the board have taken measures to promote safety in the industry and in high-risk workplaces as a whole.

Lora MacEachern, associate deputy minister of labour, said the fishing industry remains one of the four high-risk workplace safety sectors, alongside construction, agriculture and health. The fishing industry is the most difficult to inspect for safety, she said. The department is making preventative safety training, such as emergency drills and education about essential PFD equipment, a priority now, she added.

Although this year’s annual report has not yet been released, MacEachern, who works in collaboration with the board, said injury rates overall are down. This is continuing last year’s trend — 2014 saw a “new low” of 1.82 out of 100 workers who lost time at work due to an injury, according to the 2014 report.

MacEachern attributes this partly to an increase in educational training produced by a new occupational health and safety crown attorney, who was hired last summer.

In addition, the Safe at Sea Alliance, a collaboration of fishermen, government, industry and community members, recently launched Fishing Safety Now, an effort to develop safety toolkits, more awareness of safety requirements and more training and safety drills.

“Boots on the ground”

The Department of Labour operates a 1-800 phone hotline, through which 2,500 incident reports and workplace safety complaints are made a year. MacEachern said the department is “stepping up their efforts” on preventative target inspections, especially in high-risk area workplaces.

“We’re actually starting to see that shift this year,” said Christine Penney, senior executive director of safety. “We actually have more targeted inspections — so boots on the ground versus responding to complaints. So that’s a good thing to us, that we’re actually getting out unprompted.”

Last February, there were 17 new employees hired in the safety branch, said Penney. The main focus of those resources was on preventative education of workplace safety.

There are 41 acting safety officers in the province, including investigators and inspectors. In Halifax, there are about 14.