News Release from Mary Shortall, President of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour

On behalf of the 70,000 members of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour (NLFL), I want to congratulate Chief Joe Boland and the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary (RNC), for undertaking a training session for their officers in investigating workplace serious injuries and fatalities (SIFs), and applying amendments to Canada’s Criminal Code – C45 (The Westray Act).

Everyone who goes to work each day plans to return home.  Yet too many workers die as a result of their livelihood.  Statistics tell us that on average, 1000 workers a year die in work-related incidents in Canada, either as a result of occupational disease or by a traumatic event.  A significant number of these workplace fatalities are young workers under the age of 25.  Overall Canada ranks as the 5th worst country in the OECD for serious injuries and fatalities (SIFs).

Occupational health and safety is a very serious issue for the NLFL.  Our members work in every single community in our province, and in every sector of our economy.  Many of the jobs they do have obvious safety risks.  We know only too well that serious injuries and fatalities happen across all occupations.  We also know that there are far too many of them, and that they are all preventable.

Clearly more needs to be done to make workplaces safer for all workers.  The key is prevention which ultimately starts at the top.  Employers, especially executives and owners, have a duty and responsibility to ensure their workplace is safe and that worker safety is a priority.  It is also important that any workplace fatality or serious injury be properly investigated for any criminal negligence.

Following a long, nation-wide campaign led by the labour movement, amendments to the Criminal Code were finally proclaimed in 2004; in recognition of the 26 miners who died tragically at Westray Mines in Pictou, NS in 1992.  Bill C-45 introduced amendments to the Criminal Code of Canada, whereby police are given authority to charge companies and their owners/executives for criminal negligence, in the case of serious injury or death.

The NLFL applauds this move by Chief Boland and the RNC, the second police force in Canada to formally sign a memorandum of understanding with government (OHS) around this issue.  It’s time for employers to understand that they can be held criminally responsible for the safety of their employees, and if they are found to be criminally negligent in a workers’ death, then they will very likely go to jail.

We agree, however, that enforcement of the Westray Act is not about putting people in jail.  It’s about creating an impetus for change.  Hopefully, this message will act as a deterrent to all employers, and significantly reduce the number of workplace-related serious injuries and fatalities in our province.  After all, as the safety trainer stated, employers don’t hire stupid or suicidal workers, they create them.  That’s the change that this legislation is meant to evoke.

Last year, 36 workers died in our province due to workplace accidents and illnesses.  Last week, there were two work related fatalities in Newfoundland & Labrador (NL).  At the same time, law enforcement in British Columbia laid charges against a major multinational company for criminal negligence in the death of a young twenty-four old worker.

Similar legislation was enacted in the U.K. in 2007, (the “Corporate Manslaughter Act”).  Unlike Canada, the UK has enforced their legislation.  This has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of serious injuries in that country.

Canada needs to follow a similar path.  More police forces, Crown Attorneys, and Crown Prosecutors across the Country should commit to similar training and enforcement.  After all – one workplace death is one too many.

In the meantime, as we move to eliminate workplace fatalities, every worker who is seriously injured deserves to know the incident is being fully investigated.  Every family deserves to know the possible cause of a loved one’s work-related death.  Every employer must never forget that they have the ultimate responsibility to ensure that all workers make it home to their families, healthy and safe, at the end of their work day.

PDF Version: Op-Ed- RNC Investigation Training on Workplace Fatalities