Workplace safety is not improved by reducing enforcement of health and safety regulations, said David Doran, president of the North Okanagan Labour Council. With the annual Day of Mourning in memory of workers killed and injured on the job coming up on April 28, injuries and deaths on the job remain far too common, said Doran.
The North Okanagan Labour Council will mark the Day of Mourning with ceremonies in Kelowna and Vernon.
In Kelowna, mourners will gather at Ben Lee Park at 4 p.m. The ceremony will take place near the fountain, where the NOLC dedicated a tree in 2000 as a memorial to workers who died or were injured in the line of duty.
In Vernon, a ceremony will be held at City Hall (next to the main entrance) at 6:15 p.m. Okanagan Vernon NDP candidate Juliette Cunningham will speak.
According to WCB statistics, in 2003, 170 people in B.C. died as a result of illness or injury suffered on the job. As well, 5,292 workers had permanent injuries, and nine workers between 15 and 24 were killed in B.C. In 2002, 232 workers were killed on the job, including five workers between 15 and 24, and 5,000 suffered permanent injuries.
"In the past few months in B.C., a gas attendant in Maple Ridge lost his life trying to prevent a theft, a worker at the Trail smelter died on the job, a 46-year-old man was crushed and killed by a vehicle on the job at a Richmond towing company, a worker lost his life at a log sort operation near Crofton and four loggers and a float plane pilot lost their lives on their way to work at Quadra Island," said Doran. "Last October, a worker was electrocuted at a construction site near Oliver."
While the Canadian Labour Congress is using the Day of Mourning to point out that health and safety regulations are meaningless without proper enforcement, the situation in B.C. is worse, where we're suffering from cuts in both regulations and enforcement, said Doran.
"In the past four years, the government cut more than 500 jobs at the Workers' Compensation Board and closed many rural offices, including Vernon's. As a result, workplace inspections are down, employers are being issued fewer warnings and injured workers can't get the services and assistance they need," said Doran.
Legislation also reduced benefits and made it harder for workers to appeal WCB decisions, said Doran.
"The WCB's own statistics show that there has been less enforcement activity," said Doran. "The WCB now largely relies on employers to ensure the workplace is safe -- and the result is workplaces are not getting safer."
Cutting health-and-safety regulations in the name of reducing red tape is another dangerous development, said Doran.
"Getting rid of regulations in the guise of reducing red tape and increasing flexibility does not protect workers," said Doran. "It's not red tape to guarantee people a safe place to work."
Doran suggested the B.C. government should look elsewhere in the country where governments are strengthening health-and-safety regulations and improving enforcement.
Ontario, after a similar period of ideological regulation slashing, recently announced a dramatic plan to improve workplace safety.
As part of a government goal to cut workplace injuries by 20 per cent by 2008, Ontario has hired more health and safety inspectors, promised more frequent workplace inspections and given thousands of companies a "last chance" to voluntarily improve their health and safety records.
The government will use a combination of education, assistance and enforcement to improve workplace safety.
"The Ontario government has determined that improving safety is good for business," said Doran.
It determined that the average lost-time accident costs a business $58,000. Workplace costs include such items as management time spent on injury/illness related issues, employee replacement costs, injury investigations, overtime for other employees, production delays, equipment repair, compliance with government orders and possible fines.
As well, the campaign to reduce workplace injuries will help honest businesses by rooting out those who do not comply with the law to gain an unfair advantage over their competitors.
"We should follow Ontario's example, instead of trying to emulate Third World sweatshops," said Doran.