Creating a culture of workplace safety

 

Range of initiatives paying dividends across the province

KATHY JOHNSON
The Chronicle Herald – November 3, 2015 Edition

From CEOs to entry level employees, there’s a cultural movement afoot in Nova Scotia towards workplace safety that is starting to pay dividends.

Workplace injuries statistics fell to a 10 year low in 2014, and so far in 2015, great gains are being made in the development and delivery of the province’s Workplace Safety Strategy five year plan (2013-2017).

‟There’s a lot of really great initiatives coming down the pipe,” said Stuart MacLean CEO of the Nova Scotia Worker’s Compensation Board (WCB). This includes everything from stepped up inspection and enforcement activities, to educational initiatives and the development of toolkits to help small and medium sized businesses. ‟There’s a lot happening with the safety strategy,” he said.

Together with the provincial Department of Labour and Advanced Education, industry and labour leaders, employers and employees, the Occupational Health and Safety Advisory Council, as well as other partners in safety, MacLean said it is a collective effort that is working towards the six pillars of the safety strategy: Leadership, Safety Culture, Education and Training, Small and Medium Enterprises, Inspection and Enforcement, Performance Management and Measurement.

‟Leadership is a key component in the workplace strategy,” said MacLean, and is one of the initiat­ives that was put over the top when 30 top executives from across Nova Scotia signed the Nova Scotia Health and Safety Leadership Charter on Oct. 8, committing them to reducing injuries in their workplaces. The Charter is the first of its kind in Nova Scotia and stands as a public declaration by the CEOs to do better on health and safety.

‟I think we are working and focusing on a lot of the right things,” said MacLean. ‟We have industry led organizations like the Nova Scotia Construction Safety Association and the Fisheries Safety Association of Nova Scotia providing training and awareness to their industries and we’ve seen big progress in those sectors when you look at the incident and injury rates.” Safety improvements in the fishing industry have led to a 19 per cent decrease in the employer worker’s compensation rate for 2016, the lowest industry rate in 12 years.

‟We can’t afford as a province to pay high worker’s compensation,” said MacLean. ‟We need a strong workforce that works safely. If we want a system that costs less, we have to do things differently to get to the next level. It’s one thing to know the rules, it’s another to care. We need a culture where health and safety are top priorities.” On the educational and enforcement front, the Department of Labour and Advanced Education has stepped up initiatives including a safety education blitz by occupational health and safety officers at 109 retail, service, and fast food businesses across the province in late October, where they targeted workers between the ages of 18 and 30 to explain their rights and responsibilities under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. During the blitz, occupational health and safety officers also delivered sessions to more than 260 young workers as well as several student groups at Saint Mary’s University.

‟Within the Department, we’re trying to be strategic how we use our resources,” said Scott Nauss, senior director of Occupational Health and Safety, focusing on high risk employers and industries. Since Jan. 1, occupational health and safety officers have conducted more than 944 targeted inspections of 714 businesses issuing a total of 1,146 orders and 1,476 warnings.

Looking ahead to 2016, both Nauss and MacLean said reducing injuries in the health care sector is the next big challenge. ‟The health care system has one of the highest risk injury rates in the province,” said Nauss. ‟We will be starting a health care blitz in 2016 that focuses on patient lifting,” which accounts for numerous back injuries, sprains, strains and soft tissue injuries that can keep people out of the workforce for years.

Nauss said the Department will also be continuing to focus on educating youth early in their career to make sure they understand their rights and responsibilities under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. ‟It will pay dividends throughout their careers,” he said. 

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