Sask. occupational health and safety review will look at right to refuse dangerous work

·3 min read
The province begins a review of the occupational health and safety provisions of The Saskatchewan Employment Act, which hasn't been amended 2012.  (Occupational Health and Safety - image credit)
The province begins a review of the occupational health and safety provisions of The Saskatchewan Employment Act, which hasn't been amended 2012. (Occupational Health and Safety - image credit)

Would you be in favour of only being able to pay at the pump for your gas late at night?

That's one of the ideas being looked at as the province begins a review of the occupational health and safety provisions of The Saskatchewan Employment Act, which hasn't been amended since 2012.

The province said the review focuses on several aspects of the occupational health and safety part of the act, including violence and prevention programs, the right to refuse unusually dangerous work, and roles of occupational health committees. It is looking for the public's input.

Opposition NDP labour critic Carla Beck said there is much more the government should be reviewing when it comes to worker safety.

"So much has changed in the last two decades with regard to the nature of work and how we work, where the risks come from," Beck said.

"How do we keep employees who are vulnerable, potentially working alone in those workplaces, the right to refuse unsafe work?"

She said it is still hard for workers to speak up when they feel work is unsafe.

"I think that we need to look at ways not only to have those provisions, but ensure that workers are actually able to to enjoy the benefit of of those provisions."

Bryan Eneas/CBC
Bryan Eneas/CBC

Beck said there has been a rise in contract workers and — more recently because of the pandemic — people working from home.

"Unfortunately, what we've seen as well during the pandemic is violence doesn't just happen in a certain number of workplaces," Beck said. "We've seen front line grocery workers assaulted, for example."

Newly retired NDP MLA David Forbes, who was the minister of labour in 2006-07 and introduced Jimmy's Law in 2011 to help protect workers' physical safety during late-night shifts, said the long-term health effects of COVID-19 should be taken into consideration in this review.

"If the cashier at a Safeway store or Co-op got COVID … and there's a reasonable belief she could have got it at work and she's going to be a long-hauler, this is a really, really major issue," Forbes said.

"I think it's just going to be really incumbent that the government really addresses the COVID-19 long-haulers … and what happens with them in terms of long term disabilities and that type of thing."

Forbes said he'd also like the review to look at the opioid crisis, in particular workers who become addicted after being prescribed opioids for chronic pain.

"We have in our mind what we might think of typical drug addicts, but we find out these are working people, and this is really tragic."

CBC
CBC

Forbes said Saskatchewan has one of the highest rates of domestic violence in Canada and the province needs to provide paid workplace leave so people, particularly women, can find support.

"It's hard after work if they have a spouse that is violent and the only time they really are free (to get help) is during the work hours."

The provincial government said there was no one available for an interview.

"We want to ensure that the legislation we have supports both employers and employees, which is why we are asking the people of Saskatchewan to provide input on the occupational health and safety provisions of the Act," said Labour Relations and Workplace Safety Minister Don Morgan in a news release.

The province said in a statement that the review process has just begun and it is too soon to say what amendments to the legislation may be considered.

Beck said changes are long overdue.

"We unfortunately still have a very high rate of catastrophic injury among workers in Saskatchewan, and that's something that I think is not acceptable to anyone."

The public can provide feedback from now until Oct. 18 by emailing labourlegislationLRWS@gov.sk.ca.

A discussion paper is available on www.saskatchewan.ca/government/public-consultations.

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