Looking back 30 years, ahead to a safer workplace (May 9/22)

The opinion editorial below from Ava Czapalay, deputy minister, Nova Scotia Department of Labour, Skills and Immigration, and Stuart MacLean, CEO, WCB Nova Scotia, appeared in Saltwire publications today.

There are some things in life that you notice most for their absence.

Workplace safety is one of them. When a workplace safety program is not in place, we all know the tragic outcomes that can occur.

Last week was Safety and Health Week, a time when we highlight the importance of bringing safety talks into the public light as a matter of routine practice.

The first week of May is set aside to focus on workplace health and safety, and renew our commitment. You’ll see, from the statistics released this year, that while we have made progress, we still have work to do.

Together, we challenge Nova Scotians to make workplace health a priority — this past week, and always.

There are two anniversaries that make this year’s health and safety week particularly poignant in Nova Scotia.

On Saturday, May 7, we marked 30 years since the Mcdonald’s murders in Sydney River. Three employees were murdered at work. A fourth suffered a permanent brain injury and has since passed away.

Today, we also mark three decades since the May 9, 1992, explosion at the Westray Mine. As an inquiry would later find, it remains among the greatest failures of workplace safety in Canada’s history, if not the world.

We will honour those men who died in the Westray Mine explosion 30 years ago at a ceremony in Pictou County. We think about the families, first responders, co-workers and communities impacted by these events — and the loss they have felt for decades.

It’s true that we have made significant progress in workplace safety culture across Nova Scotia. But events like the ones we remembered Saturday and today are powerful reminders that our work can never be done.

All of us must be called to continue working to create workplaces that are safe and healthy — where that means not only physically safe, but free of violence, and where workers feel supported psychologically as well.

For while it may be true that the numbers of time-loss injuries suggest safety has improved since 1992, declining injury counts are not comforting to those who today, and always, feel the human impact of workplace tragedy. That never goes away.

As we look forward to the next 30 years, we must continue to do better.

We know that we will face challenges, like safety for an aging workforce, new realities of living with COVID, and the ever-increasing prevalence of creating workplaces that are both mentally and physically safe.

So, as we honour these tragic anniversaries, and as we continue to advocate for safe and healthy workplaces, we must challenge one another to be better.

We must learn from our past, and work together, to ensure a safer, thriving Nova Scotia for tomorrow.