By Phil Germain
In 2008, Saskatchewan had the second worst workplace total injury rate in the country. For every 100 full-time workers, more than 10 workers were injured on the job. Fast forward to today and the province’s workplace Time Loss injury rate has dropped to the fifth highest in Canada.
Impressive as this shift is, it doesn’t merit a gold star. However, it does suggest that Saskatchewan is moving in the right direction.
Pivotal on our path has been our ambitious goal of Mission: Zero — zero injuries, zero fatalities, and zero suffering. Launched in 2008 by WorkSafe Saskatchewan — the partnership between the Saskatchewan Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) and the Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety — Mission: Zero was initially a call to action for employers and workers to prevent injuries and save lives on the job. In 2009, Mission: Zero was adopted by Safe Saskatchewan (the organization that co-ordinates injury prevention efforts in the province) as a prevention goal for everyone to pursue — both on and off the job.
To foster safer behaviour, Mission: Zero reached out to leaders who could model it. “We knew we had to transform the provincial culture so we turned to champions who were successfully aligning health and safety with the other values of their organizations,” says Gord Moker, CEO of Safe Saskatchewan. Consequently, in 2010, WorkSafe Saskatchewan and Safe Saskatchewan introduced the Health & Safety Leadership Charter.
The Charter features seven principles, two of which extend to the community at large. Leaders are expected to uphold and communicate the principles in ways that best fit their organizations. To date, more than 690 business, government, union, and community leaders have signed the Charter.
Nigel Jones is one of the 34 leaders who has signed the Charter in 2019. Jones is CEO of Väderstad Industries Inc., a farm machinery manufacturer with 165 employees in Langbank, a southern Saskatchewan hamlet. Being part of the Charter group, he says, gives Väderstad access to expert guidance and peer support. It also helps the company get its safety message out to the community to which it’s so closely tied. “We rely on six or seven local communities for our workforce,” says Jones.
No time for complacency
By 2017, Saskatchewan’s total injury rate (TIR) had steadily decreased to the lowest it had been in 65 years — 5.25 per 100 workers — a drop of almost 50 per cent since 2008. But there was no time for complacency. By 2018, our TIR had increased slightly and our workplace Time Loss injury rate had jumped by almost seven per cent. (Time Loss measures the number of workers hurt badly enough to be off work for at least one day beyond the day of injury.) Most disheartening, however, were the 48 lives cut short in workplace fatalities last year — a disturbing increase over the 27 fatalities in 2017.
While one year’s statistics do not suggest a trend, they underscored the need for WorkSafe to review its approach to injury prevention and determine a new course toward Mission: Zero. As a result, we’ve launched a three-year strategy that will help our partners better understand and address the root causes of serious injuries and fatalities. The strategy focuses on work-related fatalities from working from heights, motor vehicle crashes, and exposure to asbestos and firefighter-related cancers. It also prioritizes industries in which so many serious injuries occur — manufacturing, health care, construction, first responders, and transportation.
In advance of the strategy, the Saskatchewan WCB developed a new and more comprehensive definition of “serious injury.” Because about 2,400 injuries annually fall under that definition, WorkSafe is now in a better position to understand their root causes and provide targeted awareness and education campaigns. The broadened definition may even help reduce Saskatchewan’s TIR. According to evidence from the International Social Security Association, prevention of serious injuries and fatalities increases the overall level of safety in a workplace.
Reducing serious injuries in manufacturing
One of the objectives of WorkSafe Saskatchewan’s strategy is to work with industry and labour to reduce serious injuries in the manufacturing sector by five per cent by December 31, 2021. Hand injuries alone in that sector account for more than 500 total injuries annually and WCB data show that hands are the most injured part of the body, contributing to about 20 per cent of claims accepted by the WCB.
WorkSafe will be assessing the effectiveness of personal protective equipment (PPE) at facilities where serious hand injuries occur most often. We also have plans to co-brand the Ansell Guardian® PPE program, as well as adopt or develop a machine guarding assessment protocol with the Saskatchewan Association for Safety in Manufacturing.
Working together to achieve the possible
Last year, 88 per cent of Saskatchewan workplaces achieved Mission: Zero. They had zero injuries and zero fatalities. As a result of their tenacious health and safety efforts, there was less of a drain on their organizational re sources, on the Saskatchewan health care system, and on our economy. But more important, fewer people — mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, and the greater community — suffered because of a preventable injury or death.
As we continue to work with our partners to reduce workplace injuries and fatalities, we’re confident that that remaining 12 per cent is not beyond Saskatchewan’s grasp.
For more information about injury prevention in Saskatchewan, visit
http://www.worksafesask.ca and www.safesask.com.
Phil Germain is CEO of the Saskatchewan Workers’ Compensation Board.