All posts by Jeff Cottrill

Agricultural Safety Week invites farm workers to “Be the Difference”

NATIONAL – The annual Canadian Agricultural Safety Week (CASW) is back this year, from March 15 to 21, courtesy of the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association (CASA) and the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA). CASW is a yearly campaign to educate the public on the importance of farming safety; the theme for 2015, “Be the Difference”, is a call to Canada’s agricultural workers to become “farm safety champions” by making a positive difference to agricultural workplaces, according to a Feb. 20 press release from CASA. “We need to engage with all Canadians to make farms safer places to work and live,” said CASA executive director Marcel Hacault, as quoted in the release. “Healthcare providers, teachers, agri-business leaders, community members and farmers all play an important role in promoting farm safety.” CASW events across the country include interactive prevention workshops, school safety-themed days and a trade show, as well as a March 16 launch event in Charlottetown. More information is available at

Municipal, provincial governments fined for 2011 road fatality

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. – The City of St. John’s and the Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Transportation and Works have each been ordered to pay a fine of $60,000 for breaking oh&s laws, violations that led to the death of a government inspector and injuries to two other workers on a St. John’s highway on July 5, 2011. That day, a group of employees of the City, the Department and Irving Oil Commercial GP were inspecting pavement on the TransCanada Highway when an SUV swerved into another lane, lost control and collided with the workers (COHSN, July 11, 2011). Department employee Joseph English, 51, was killed. On Sept. 2 of last year, a Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officer testified in court that a lack of warning signs on the road was largely to blame for the accident (COHSN, Sept. 15). “The employers failed to establish that they had taken all reasonable care and that the defence of due diligence had not been proven on a balance of probabilities,” Provincial Court Judge Mark T. Linehan concluded in court documents from the trial, dated Dec. 9. The two $60,000 fines were announced on Feb. 27.

One dead, one injured in window-frame accident in aluminum plant

A male worker has died, and a second male was sent to the hospital with life-threatening injuries, following an industrial accident at an aluminum plant in Vaughan, Ont. on the afternoon of March 1.

According to information from the Ontario Ministry of Labour (MOL), a rack containing window frames came loose and fell onto the two workers at Toro Aluminum, which manufactures window walls and doors for office buildings, condominiums and hotels.

Emergency medical services were dispatched to the scene immediately and tried to revive one of the men, but were unsuccessful, and he was pronounced dead at the scene. The other man was airlifted to a Toronto hospital with critical injuries.

York Regional Police (YRP) responded to the incident at about 4:45 p.m. that day, according to a YRP press release, which described both men’s injuries as “serious and crushing injuries.” Fire responders also attended the accident scene, the police added, as did a coroner later on.

The MOL received notification of the incident at about 5:30, noted William Lin, media representative with the ministry. “Our ministry dispatched an inspector to the scene immediately and issued a requirement to Toro Aluminum not to disturb the scene,” said Lin. “Our investigation is currently ongoing.”

The names and ages of the victims have not been released publicly, as is standard practice. But media reports have stated the hospitalized employee’s age as being in the 50s.

Lin could not ascertain whether this sort of accident was a common or typical danger at plants such as Toro’s. “I don’t want to characterize it in any way,” he said, adding that it was up to the MOL’s investigation to determine what had caused the incident.

Toro Aluminum was founded in 1979 and now has offices in British Columbia and Oregon as well as in Ontario. The company produces aluminum products for buildings across Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.

New federal laws, regulations for rail transportation of dangerous goods

Transport Canada (TC) has introduced new legislation designed to make railway companies more accountable for accidents involving transportation of dangerous goods. It has also initiated new regulations for railways’ Safety Management Systems (SMS), or their self-developed safety standards.

Federal transport minister Lisa Raitt announced new amendments to the Canada Transportation Act and Railway Safety Act in the House of Commons on Feb. 20. The Safe and Accountable Rail Act creates a new liability and compensation system for federally regulated railways; this includes minimum insurance requirements, a compensation fund financed by levies on crude-oil shippers, increased provisions regarding information sharing and added oversight by TC inspectors.

“The Government of Canada continues to make the safety and security of Canadians a top priority,” Raitt said in a Feb. 20 press release. “This new legislation will improve railway safety and strengthen oversight, while protecting taxpayers and making industry more accountable to communities.”

On Feb. 25, the Railway Safety Management System (SMS) Regulations, 2015 were published in Canada Gazette, Part II. These updated regulations, which go into effect on April 1, are a response to recommendations in the Auditor General’s report from November 2013. Among the changes: a provision to deal with scheduling and employee fatigue; and one that allows workers to report safety concerns to superiors without fear of reprisal.

NDP MP Hoang Mai, federal opposition critic for transport, told COHSN that the updated legislation and regulations were a step in the right direction, but that more needed to be done to ensure that railways and their employees would follow these rules.

“Some of the regulations were long overdue,” said Mai, “in terms of improving SMS systems, especially when we looked at keeping the railway companies accountable.” But while railway companies now had more obligations, nothing was in place to guarantee that TC would enforce them via competent inspectors and auditors, he added. “Rails are not being inspected properly, and that’s a concern that we have regarding inspections. Does Transport Canada have enough resources to make sure that inspections are being done?”

Another key issue is the use of CTC-111A tank cars (also known as DOT-111), which have been deemed inadequate for carrying dangerous goods, due to their tendency to puncture during derailments. Last year, TC issued a protective direction to phase out all CTC-111A cars built before January 2014, but the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) deemed the new standards insufficient.

TC introduced the Safe and Accountable Rail Act less than a week after a freight train carrying crude oil derailed and burst into flames near Gogama, Ontario. The TSB’s ongoing investigation has revealed that the train’s 100 CTC-111A tankers met the new TC standard, but still “performed similarly” to those involved in the Lac-Mégantic disaster in July 2013.

“DOT-111 tankers are still not safe enough, and we’ve seen it with accidents happening. So there is a big concern on that front,” said Mai.

In a press release following Raitt’s announcement, the Railway Association of Canada (RAC) stated that it supported the government’s intentions to have more stakeholders share responsibility for rail accidents involving dangerous goods such as crude oil, but expressed concern that these changes didn’t cover goods that could cause the most damage.

“We are pleased with the government’s efforts to ensure that victims are compensated,” said RAC President and CEO Michael Bourque in the release. “However, the regime can be improved by including other dangerous goods – such as chlorine – in the compensation fund right away.”

The RAC added that the Canadian rail sector had made efforts to improve safety, transparency and emergency preparedness since Lac-Mégantic, while working with governments and other relevant parties to develop new safety regulations.

The revised SMS Regulations are viewable online at

B.C. Nurses’ Union vows to press charges for violent incidents

The president of the B.C. Nurses’ Union (BCNU), British Columbia’s largest nursing organization, has said that the union plans to start pursuing legal action whenever a nurse is injured by a patient while on the job, as long as the victim authorizes the action.

At the annual BCNU convention in Vancouver on Feb. 24, Gayle Duteil announced to hundreds of attendees that the union would press charges against attackers as well as healthcare facilities. BCNU has also developed a new policy that will provide support for nurses who experience physical or psychological injury at work, she revealed.

“We have to change society’s expectation that just because you are unwell and in a healthcare facility, that it is okay to assault a nurse, to hit or pinch or spit or bite or verbally yell at them,” BCNU vice president Christine Sorensen told COHSN. “We can’t continue to allow that to happen.”

BCNU’s intention, Sorensen added, was to get B.C. healthcare authorities to respond properly to violence against healthcare workers. “They, unfortunately, seem more interested in downplaying or covering up the violence against our nurses instead of protecting our nurses,” she charged. “And we want them to fully investigate and provide solutions that are going to reduce it.”

Sorensen cited a recent violent assault that healthcare authorities had neglected until BCNU’s intervention. “Our member reported it to WorkSafeBC,” she explained, “who had not been informed of the event and felt it was an urgent matter and, in fact, went out to the site immediately to follow up.” If it weren’t for this report, the police would not have been informed and no investigation would have been conducted, she said.

Following Duteil’s announcement, Terry Lake, the B.C. Minister of Health, told reporters at the provincial legislature in Victoria that the ministry was already working with healthcare professionals to reduce occupational violence as much as possible.

“Health authorities have a lot of programs in place to reduce violence and deescalate with training,” Lake told the reporters on Feb. 24. “If someone is assaulted, then often, I think it’s appropriate to have that looked at if there’s criminal behaviour involved.”

In the case of assailants with mental illnesses, Lake said that it was up to the legal system to determine whether they were criminally responsible for their actions. “Often, there’s a lack of awareness on the part of the patient,” he noted. “Fortunately, we have very well-trained nurses, psychiatrists and people who work in the mental-health system. They know how to deescalate behaviour.”

Sorensen said that BCNU was also planning to create a phone line, through which healthcare professionals could report violent incidents, by June 11. “So we want to have our hotline up and running, so that we can find out more of what’s going on with our members,” she said.

She added that security, training and staffing were woefully inadequate in B.C. healthcare facilities. “Nurses do not go to nursing school to learn takedowns, to learn how to deal with violent patients.”

Lake acknowledged that nursing on the frontline could be a dangerous job. “When people are ill, whether they have physical ailments or mental illness, they can react in a surprising way that can be violent,” he said. “We’ve seen that happen, where the patient does become violent and people get hurt.”

Asked whether the BCNU’s plans were a broadside against the Ministry of Health, Lake replied that he intended to assist healthcare unions in making their workplaces safer.

“Their members deserve to have a safe workplace,” he said, adding that when people are mentally or physically ill, “their behaviour can be unpredictable. We need to make sure nurses are well-trained, that personnel are available to deescalate and to manage any potentially violent situation.

“The safety of the workplace is extremely important to us,” Lake said.

CUPE rep: WorkSafeNB rehab centre has “culture of fear”

A representative of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) has spoken out to the media about allegedly poor conditions at WorkSafeNB’s Rehabilitation Centre in Grand Bay-Westfield, New Brunswick – saying that the facility has a “culture of fear.”

National CUPE rep Michael Davidson told CBC News on Feb. 26 that employees at the Centre were afraid to speak out on behalf of injured workers. “There’s a culture of fear in there, that you’ll lose your job if you speak out against the organization, or if you’re critical of the organization, or if you talk about changes that need to be made,” he told the CBC.

There were also safety concerns at the Centre, Davidson added, citing a recent incident in which local police had arrested a man there for possessing a weapon and issuing threats to staff at the facility. There had been no investigation of the incident since its occurrence, he said.

Davidson said that he was basing these observations on talks with members of CUPE Local 946, a branch of the national union representing employees of both the rehab centre and the main WorkSafeNB office in Saint John.

Davidson did not respond to COHSN by press time. But WorkSafeNB president and CEO Gerard Adams said that the organization did not support Davidson’s claims. “Nor do we believe the majority of our employees support these allegations,” he added.

“A 2014 exit survey with clients at our rehabilitation centre indicated an overall satisfaction level of 86.4 per cent,” Adams continued. “In our 2014 staff-satisfaction survey, which is anonymous and administered by an external agency, staff engagement rated at 95 per cent, with 91 per cent of respondents saying they felt comfortable and safe at their workplace. Overall satisfaction − ‘I feel WorkSafeNB is a good place to work’ − was also at 91 per cent.”

Adams added that WorkSafeNB always sought feedback from all of its employees on all aspects of its business. “We count on their expertise and respect it. Their input results in continuous improvements to our benefits, programs and services.”

Davidson has not been the first party to cast a critical eye on the Rehabilitation Centre. A March 2014 report from the Support Team for Injured Workers and Families (STIWF), Collaborative Group Process Report, claimed that the facility had a poor reputation.

“It appears that there is a pervasive and quite negative perception of the Grand Bay rehabilitation centre itself, amongst many injured workers,” the report read. “Some injured workers even went to the extreme of comparing Grand Bay to Fort Knox and concentration camps… Some shared with us that they had suicidal thoughts as a result of their stay there.”

The report elaborated that some injured workers had found their treatments and exercises more hurtful than helpful to them. Workers who refused to undergo painful rehabilitation techniques were considered “uncooperative,” it said.

“We are proud of the work we do at WorkSafeNB on behalf of New Brunswick’s workforce,” Adams said. “We believe our staff are the very best at what they do, and we appreciate their commitment to making our province one of the safest in which to work in Canada.”

Collaborative Group Process Report is available online at

Provincial ministers campaigning to promote healthy eating at work

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. – The government of Newfoundland and Labrador has teamed up with Dietitians of Newfoundland and Labrador to raise awareness of healthier eating habits on the job, in observance of March as Nutrition Month. This year’s theme, Eating 9-5!, intends to highlight common cravings and better choices for the five most challenging times in a typical employee’s workday: rushed mornings; meetings and events; lunch; midday slumps; and the commute home. “As an employer, the provincial government recognizes the importance of living a life that balances home and work,” Ross Wiseman, Minister of Finance and Minister Responsible for the Human Resource Secretariat, said in a March 2 press release. “A major component of that healthy balance is ensuring we eat nutritious foods throughout the day.” The provincial government has also published an e-pamphlet, Putting Health on the Agenda, suggesting healthier snack and beverage options for workplace meetings and other events.

Farm worker survives fall into grain elevator in near miss

GREAT VILLAGE, N.S. – Firefighters rescued a 20-year-old worker who had fallen into a grain elevator and nearly been buried alive in corn on a Colchester County farm on Feb. 23. The man was in the process of clearing a clogged augur in the feed silo at Balamore Farm Ltd. when he became trapped. He retrieved his cell phone and called a co-worker, who turned off the augur and then contacted emergency assistance, according to a press release from the Colchester County RCMP. Emergency personnel from the Great Village and District Fire Brigade arrived at the scene shortly after noon; with help from two other local fire departments and the Special Hazards Response Unit, the Brigade helped the worker out of the silo through the top at about 2:30 p.m. The man was sent to the Colchester East Hants Health Centre with non-life-threatening injuries, and the provincial Department of Labour and Advanced Education placed a stop-work order on Balamore employees entering silos and hoppers.

Fire chief refuses to endanger firefighters for animals falling through ice

KAWARTHA LAKES, Ont. – Kawartha Lakes Fire & Rescue Service has changed its policy regarding rescue of animals that fall through ice into the water in early spring and late fall. In mid-February, firefighters were informed that they were no longer permitted to rescue deer that have fallen through broken ice, nor would they break through ice to rescue trapped animals. Fire Chief Mark Pankhurst told local media on Feb. 23 that the practice was too dangerous for the rescuers; for example, a firefighter in Hanover had recently been swept under ice and killed during an ice-water-rescue training session. Kawartha Lakes firefighters may still attempt rescues of deer that slip on unbroken ice and have difficulty getting up – but only if the ice can support the weight of all the responders.

Food-packaging company fined $150,000 for tractor-trailer fatality

TORONTO, Ont. – A fine of $150,000 was handed down to Marmora Freezing Corporation, a firm that packages food for shipment, in response to the 2011 death of a security guard from a temp agency. The worker was performing a midnight shift on the early morning of Dec. 14 of that year, when he decided to go outside for a smoke break, according to a court bulletin from the Ontario Ministry of Labour. He was wearing dark clothing with no reflective components and would have been difficult to see at night. As the guard was walking along a travel way, a car driven by a departing co-worker hit him and knocked him to the ground; immediately afterwards, he became caught in the mud flap of a tractor-trailer, which pushed him approximately 100 metres. The temp worker died of crush asphyxia; his body was discovered afterwards under a rear wheel of the trailer. On Feb. 23, Judge Peter M. Gettlich fined Marmora for failing, as an employer, to take every reasonable precaution to protect a worker. The court also imposed a 25 per cent victim surcharge on the fine.