Some of you will no doubt remember the Westray mining tragedy. For those of who may not be familiar with Westray, the accident occurred on 9 May 1992 when methane gas and then coal dust exploded in a Nova Scotia coal mine, killing 26 workers. Since that tragic event, a lot has happened in Nova Scotia and in Canada to improve safety in the workplace. Yet, still too many Canadians die as a result of job-related incidents. (According to statistics from the Association of Workers’ Compensation Board of Canada, there were 1014 work-related death in Canada in 2010.)
As a consequence of Westray, the Canadian Criminal Code was amended in 2004 to make it possible to hold a company or individual guilty of criminal negligence for failing to fulfill the duty to protect a person doing work if the failure to protect was the result of wanton or reckless disregard for life or safety and caused death or serious bodily harm to the worker or a person affected by the work. In Nova Scotia the Occupational Health and Safety Act established the Internal Responsibility System based on the principle that occupational health and safety is a shared responsibility. Employees, employers, contractors, suppliers, architects, professional engineers have specific responsibilities to ensure a safe work environment.
The first week of May is also the North American Occupational Safety and Health Week. It was first launched in 1997, marked by an agreement between Canada, the United States and Mexico. Since then, the first week of each May is set aside, to focus employers, employees, partners and the public on occupational health and safety. NAOSHW brings awareness to the importance of preventing injury and illness – in the workplace, at home and in the community. This year, NOASHW will run from 6-12 May.
If you are not familiar with NAOSHW, it is an excellent opportunity to reiterate legislated safety policies and programming including:
o your Corporate Safety Statement
o the function and composition of your Joint Occupational Health & Safety Committee (JOHS)
o the importance of accident / incident / near miss reporting and your Accident Investigation program
o your Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System program
o your Housekeeping Inspection program
o your Prevention of Violence in the Workplace program
The NOASHW provides an excellent opportunity to focus attention on workplace safety that should be maintained all year! On the 20th anniversary of Westray, we should all make an extra effort.