Workplace injuries go far beyond the immediate physical harm they cause. They lead to extensive loss of time from work while negatively affecting families, workers, employers, insurance rates and communities. Since 2001, Saskatchewan has been striving for a lofty goal when it comes to reduction of workplace injuries: zero.
Phillip Germain, vice president of prevention and employer services with the Saskatchewan Worker’s Compensation Board (WCB), notes that since 2001, the WCB and Occupational Health Services (OHS) have been working to reduce the province’s record for time-loss work-related injuries.
This was in response to a 2001 finding, that in Saskatchewan, the lost time for work related injury rate was at 4.95 per cent – an extremely high rate, and exceeded only by Manitoba. This effort, done in conjunction with the Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety, was known as WorkSafe.
While striving to continue to drive down a decreasing number of workplace injuries over the years, WorkSafe came up with Mission: Zero, an effort to achieve no injures, no fatalities, and no suffering at the workplace.
“We challenged everyone, employers, workers, unions, employer associations, the media, to get on and help everyone get to zero,” said Germain. “We think of Mission: Zero as the pursuit of perfection, and a way for everyone to be better today than they were yesterday.”
Germain notes that getting to zero requires a lot of changes to behaviour and attitude around the workplace, since the risk-taking that leads to injuries stems mainly from those things.
“It’s like trying to stop smoking. You need to create awareness and eventually through that people start to say ‘Yeah, maybe that is an important issue,’” said Germain. “They’re going to reach out for tools and resources to actually change their behaviour and they’ll get support to do that.”
Recognition of risky behaviour is of paramount importance in workplace injury reduction. Germain noted that one of the biggest challenges in recognizing risky behaviour is the presence of unhealthy ingrained behaviour in workers. He compares risky workplace conduct to dangerous and careless driving practices, like texting and driving or speeding.
“People think, ‘I’ve been doing this for years, and I’ve never been in an accident. I must be better than everyone else,’” said Germain. “Every time you engage in a risky behaviour, the chances of being injured are like putting your money in a slot machine. You don’t know when it’s going to pay off, but the more you play, the more likely it will happen.”
Germain noted the difference between a close call and a fatality situation is as little as a split-second, or a millimetre left or right, and in most cases, pure luck.
“A lot of roofers who fall off roofs aren’t worse roofers than those who don’t fall. People don’t think about the risk they’re taking, thinking since they’ve done it before, nothing will happen,” said Germain. “If people understood what risks they took, a lot fewer would take them. Some people are natural risk-takers, which is why you need rules and companies to say ‘No you’re not going to do that.’”
In an email correspondence with the Mercury, SaskPower operations manager south, Doug McDavid provided some advice on how to reduce workplace injuries. McDavid emphasized how important it is that everyone understands the hazards of their job and take all the necessary control measures to mitigate the risks relating to those hazards.
McDavid is no stranger to potential hazards on the job, with duties that involve the assortment of safety concerns relating to the generation, management and distribution of electricity with SaskPower.
“We work in all areas, completing various work, from construction and maintenance to servicing customers,” said McDavid. “We focus on many areas, and it always varies. One day it could be a crane lift, and the next, an animal concern.”
McDavid described pre-job hazard and risk assessments, as well as meetings related to those assessments involving everyone at the job site as surefire ways to prepare for and avoid risks.