Labrador using fly-in, fly-out health and safety inspectors
The provincial government has no Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) officers in Labrador.
There is a single Service NL office in Wabush, where two OHS positions have gone unfilled. Information as to exactly how long was not available as of The Telegram’s deadline.
“They said they were trying to get somebody, but they’re still dragging their heels on it. So, I mean, that could be something you could bring up, because an occupational health and safety officer would take care of every business in this area,” said Ron Thomas, president of United Steelworkers Local 5795, in a recent interview on OHS issues. Thomas represents workers at IOC’s mine in Labrador City, but is also a local resident.
The government’s vacant OHS positions made headlines in May, but the news coverage didn’t change much.
“We currently have two positions in Labrador West. We have gone through several unsuccessful rounds of recruitment to fill these positions; however, we will continue recruitment efforts to fill those positions,” stated a spokeswoman with Service NL, the department responsible for OHS, in an emailed response to questions this past week.
“We’re obviously facing some challenges just like other industries are facing challenges, other government departments are facing challenges in terms of recruitment, because we all know what’s happening up in Labrador,” said Dan Crummell, the minister responsible for OHS.
“We are in the midst of the process now and we’re hopeful, certainly, that we’ll get these positions filled,” he said.
Crummell said the provincial government recognizes there are some high-risk workplaces in Labrador and has a “priority inspection program” for the entire province, aimed at identifying what workplaces are in need of an inspection, follow-ups to previous visits and checks on OHS directives on any given day.
“We have our people on the ground (in Labrador) on a regular basis to make sure we are where we need to be,” he said.
At present, inspectors from other areas of the province are flown into Labrador every two weeks on average, and a spokeswoman for Service NL said it “may be more if there is a need.”
There was a need on Friday. A man from New Brunswick died on the job in Labrador City. The 45-year-old reportedly fell from a height while working on the new Embassy Apartments building on Bartlett Drive.
The new build is a reflection of the economic boom in Labrador — the influx of new mining and heavy industry, new money and construction that is so often touted by the province’s Progressive Conservative government.
In addition to megaprojects — new mines and new hydro — Labrador is boasting growth in its construction subcontractors and its supply and service businesses. New construction is everywhere.
“The investigation is ongoing and the RNC is working in conjunction with Occupational Health and Safety investigators who are expected to attend the scene in daylight tomorrow,” police said on the latest death, in a statement issued in the hours after the man’s passing. His name has not been released.
Accident scenes are secured by police, who begin investigating whether or not criminal charges might result from a case, even before OHS officers arrive.
In addition to investigations into accidents and sudden deaths, OHS officers are expected to check work sites to see if employers have developed and are practising procedures for safety in the workplace.
“Education plays a huge role,” said then-minister Kevin O’Brien, in a speech at an annual health and safety conference in St. John’s in October 2009. “With regards to enforcing the regulations, our (OHS) officers are always trying to educate as well.”
At this point, OHS inspectors visit Labrador roughly bi-weekly, but it does not mean they get to every worksite — even the largest work sites — as often.
The construction site at Muskrat Falls, a multibillion-dollar provincial megaproject, gets a visit every two to three months on average, according to Service NL.
While there are requirements for companies to have their own safety officers and health and safety committees, as dictated by number of employees and type of work, these individuals do not have the same powers as the government OHS officers.
In 2012, the provincial government’s staff issued 15,357 directives to companies to make changes at their worksites related to Occupational Health and Safety, up from roughly 11,750 the year before and just 8,000 in 2008. Government staff completed about 5,000 workplace inspections in 2012.
There were 1,081 stop-work orders — the highest since at least 2008.
Provincewide, Service NL has 28 field staff in its OHS division. That number includes OHS officers, but also industrial hygenists, an ergonomist, engineer and a radiation analyst.