Say “Yes” to Westray Act, councillor urges

Tyler
Tyler Clarke
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Coun. Don Cody is keen on city council approving a resolution endorsing the Westray act, which serves to hold company executives, directors and managers criminally responsible for workplace deaths. 

There’s a problem out there when it comes to occupational health and safety, Coun. Don Cody said -- a problem everyone has a role in improving.

 

At Monday’s city council meeting, Cody plans on urging city council to endorse the Westray Act -- a piece of federal legislation borne from the deaths of 26 Nova Scotia miners on May 9, 1992.

The act serves to hold corporate executives, directors and managers criminally responsible for workplace deaths.

“People work in some pretty dangerous places throughout the country, whether it’s in mines or high on poles or steel rigging or whatever the case may be,” Cody said.

“Some of that work is dangerous, so why not have the act that they brought in invoked so that it can help the workers.”

The city’s endorsement of the Westray Act would be a positive thing, Saskatchewan Federation of Labour president Larry Hubich said -- particularly since it would show the city’s dedication to occupational health and safety.

“If they take it one step further and maybe don’t do business with companies that are found guilty of causing workplace death, then that would be even better,” he said.

City council endorsing the Westray Act appears odd at face value, Hubich said, noting that the act has been federally legislated since 2004.

However, since that time, the United Steelworkers Union has noted that although approximately 10,000 Canadians have been killed on the job since that time, no corporate executives have faced jail time.

The act may have appeared nice in 2004, the lack of enforcement proves that it was nothing but window dressing Hubich said.

“It’s politically motivated to get the heat off of them when they had no intention whatsoever of enacting it or enforcing it,” he summarized.

“Politicians, particularly politicians right of centre, think that workers’ lives are expendable.

“I know they’ll protest to the contrary, but they seem to be more interested in doing whatever they can to remove what they determine are barriers to business -- making a profit.”

It’s a sad commentary when calculations are made to determine whether it’s more cost effective to put in necessary health and safety regulations or whether companies absorb the small fine if someone gets killed, he said.

“I don’t know how you do a cost benefit analysis when you’re talking about someone’s life.”

Happy to lend whatever small hand he can by endorsing the Westray Act -- and by extension encouraging its enactment -- Cody said that he expects to see the balance of council endorse it on Monday.

If they take it one step further and maybe don’t do business with companies that are found guilty of causing workplace death, then that would be even better Larry Hubich

“I don’t see why it wouldn’t. Let’s face it -- I don’t think anyone wants to see workers killed on the job, or worker injured.”

 

Statistics show improvement

There’s plenty of room for improvement, but Workers Compensation Board vice president of prevention and employer services Phil Germain said that things are improving.

“We have more workers working, and slowly but surely fewer injuries happening,” he summarized.

“Overall, we’re seeing a greater emphasis on health and safety in the work place. Not in every workplace, but in a general theme, overall.”

Even though there were almost 50,000 more full-time equivalent workers in Saskatchewan in 2013 than in 2009, the number of injuries is down.

Of the 398,774 workers covered by the Saskatchewan Workers’ Compensation Board in 2013, there were 37,731 claims reported.

Of these claims, 10,116 were time loss (more than a day off work). Both of these figures are down from 2009’s 39,558 total claims and 12,141 time loss claims.

Fatalities remain high, Germain noted, with between 32 and 56 per year between 2009 and 2013.

The No. 1 cause of death is occupational disease – primarily asbestos-related, he said.

Secondary to occupational disease are motor vehicle-related incidents, he said.

“Sadly, today … you could still find workplaces where employers really don’t care about the health and safety of their workers, discourage safe work habits (or) provide no safety training or support,” Germain said.

What’s the difference between employers disregarding known safety hazard and shooting people with a gun, he asked, noting both have the same end result.

It’s refreshing to see a city councillor take notice of the Westray Act to help usher in further improvements, Germain said.

“It’s important for community leaders as a whole -- leaders of the communities as a whole to stand up and say; ‘We all take the health and safety of our workers seriously, and if you don’t do that you should be punished by the full extent of the law.’”

Organizations: Saskatchewan Federation of Labour, United Steelworkers Union, Workers Compensation Board Saskatchewan Workers

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan

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