The Road Towards Zero Injuries in Saskatchewan

In 2008, Saskatchewan had the second worst workplace injury rate in Canada. The province’s total workplace injury rate was at 10.21 per 100 workers.

In response, in May 2008, WorkSafe Saskatchewan – the partnership between the Saskatchewan Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) and the Ministry of Labour and Workplace Safety – launched the ambitious goal of Mission: Zero. Mission: Zero is a call to action and culture change for leaders, employers and workers to achieve zero workplace injuries, zero fatalities, and zero suffering.

“It was time to put a stop to injuries happening in the workplace and end the suffering of injured workers and their families,” said Phil Germain, the WCB’s Vice-President of Prevention and Employer Services. “Preventing injuries does more than save lives; it also has a positive impact on the economy and business. Injuries are a significant drain on resources that add no value to workers, customers or businesses. All workplace injuries and deaths are preventable. We need to work together to achieve Mission: Zero. It’s a goal we’re still striving to reach today.”

Since the launch of Mission: Zero, there has been a steady decline in workplace injury claims. Saskatchewan’s 2017 total injury rate is also at its lowest rate in 65 years at 5.25 per cent per 100 workers, a decrease of almost 50 per cent since 2008.

In 2017, for the second year in a row, 88 per cent of Saskatchewan employers achieved Mission: Zero.

“This remarkable achievement is because of the efforts of employers, workers, safety professionals and leaders in our communities,” said Germain. “With so many people leading by example, injuries have been prevented and lives have been saved.”

The Mission: Zero symbol has been adopted as the symbol for injury prevention in the province. It’s a call to action for the people of Saskatchewan to work together to make this province the safest to live, work and play.

“We soon realized, a year after the launch of Mission: Zero, that not only was it important to promote safety in the workplace,” said Germain, “but that we owed it to the people of Saskatchewan to make the entire community free of unintentional injuries and fatalities.”

In 2009, Safe Saskatchewan adopted Mission: Zero as the prevention goal for all injuries – on and off the job.

“Behind all of the statistics on injury rates are fathers, mothers, sons, daughters and the community at large who are suffering every day because of injuries that could have been prevented,” said Gord Moker, CEO of Safe Saskatchewan. “We must stop this. The only acceptable number of workplace injuries or deaths is zero.”

A year later, WorkSafe Saskatchewan and Safe Saskatchewan launched and promoted the Health and Safety Leadership Charter. This Charter exists as a foundation for a cultural shift in the way leaders view injuries and injury prevention.

Since the Charter launched on June 10, 2010, more than 650 companies have signed the Charter, subscribing to seven principles for health and safety.

“Everyone who’s signed the Charter has made a commitment to making Mission: Zero a reality in this province,” said Germain. “Together, we can make sure everyone returns home from work safely to be with their families.”

Justin Ellis

One of the many companies who signed the Charter is Humboldt Electric of Saskatoon. Not only are the leaders at Humboldt Electric committed to Mission: Zero, but so are their employees. A prime example is employee Justin Ellis, who introduced the use of Safety Opportunity Cards so that employees could contribute to health and safety on a regular basis. Workers identify unsafe acts and recognize employees who were properly adhering to safety protocols. Cards with negative observations don’t include names, but positive observations recognize individual and team efforts.

Employees must also identify immediate solutions, highlighting that it is every individual’s responsibility to correct unsafe acts. Justin’s Safety Opportunity cards idea was implemented in 2016 and is an ongoing component of the company’s Safety Management System. It also earned him the 2018 Safe Employer award, presented by WorkSafe Saskatchewan this past spring.

Another organization committed to living Mission: Zero, and recipient of WorkSafe’s 2018 Safe Employer award, is the R.M. of Wilton No. 472, located near Marshall, SK.  The R.M. measures its Safety Management System through field level risk assessments, site, equipment and personal protective equipment inspections, training sessions, job safety analyses and emergency response procedure drills. Workers are responsible for contributing to the safety program and safety is part of every worker’s annual evaluation.

To ensure that workers stay informed about safety and keep it top of mind, digital displays are used in lunchrooms to highlight safe work practices and procedures, provide safety reminders and recognize workers for safety excellence. This initiative aligns to the three basic rights that workers have on the job – the right to know the hazards at work, the right to participate in health and safety and the right to refuse dangerous work.

More work needs to be done

RM of Wilton

While the total injury rate decreased in 2017, the 2017 Time Loss injury rate – which measures the number of workers hurt badly enough to have time off work for at least one day beyond the day of injury – stayed constant from 2016 at 1.86 per cent per 100 of Saskatchewan’s 423,527 workers. This is the first time in 14 years that the Time Loss injury rate has not decreased.

“It’s disappointing that our Time Loss injury rate did not keep trending downward,” said Germain. “We all need to keep working in tandem to prevent workplace injuries. Complacency is not an option.”

Lots of work still needs to be done for every employer in this province to achieve Mission: Zero 100 per cent of the time.

While Saskatchewan’s total injury rate is no longer second worst in the country, unfortunately the same cannot be said about the fatality rate. Saskatchewan has the worst workplace fatality rate in Canada.

During the past 15 years, Saskatchewan has seen an average of 37 workplace-related deaths per year. Last year was the lowest year in the past 15 years at 27 deaths. Sadly, as of Sept. 30, 2018, the WCB has accepted 40 claims for workplace deaths. The leading causes of death for these 40 workers are motor vehicle crashes and occupational diseases, such as lung diseases and cancer. Of the 40 deaths in 2018 so far, 43 per cent were related to occupational diseases and 57 per cent were traumatic deaths like motor vehicle crashes, falls and electrocutions.

“There are too many workers not going home at the end of the day,” said Germain. “This is not acceptable.”

Developing research and trends suggest that building a culture of health and safety, both on and off the job, will have a positive impact on workplace injuries and fatalities. The Saskatchewan WCB is beginning to shift prevention initiatives in this direction. The WCB has taken steps to define serious injuries and is currently completing an analysis. The Saskatchewan WCB’s serious injury definition includes claims that meet specific criteria and include claim characteristics that are both life threatening (fatalities and contact with high-energy sources) and life altering (amputations and loss of mobility).

“We applaud the efforts that have reduced the province’s total injury rate by close to 50 per cent in the last 10 years. These efforts have not gone unnoticed, however, we’re now looking to place a renewed focus on understanding the causal factors related to serious injuries and fatalities and in turn, gain new prevention insights,” said Kevin Mooney, the WCB’s Director of Prevention.

“Our preliminary analysis points to a consistent pocket of serious injuries in Saskatchewan and research points to the positive effects that the reduction of serious injuries has on a jurisdiction’s overall fatality rate and total injury rate. We’ve got a real opportunity here. Achieving Mission: Zero is the collective efforts of multiple parties working together – from individuals to organizations to leaders,” continued Mooney.

WorkSafe is partnering with organizations like the University of Regina and the University of Saskatchewan on a series of workplace fatality studies. In addition, WorkSafe is continuing to educate employers and workers to eliminate workplace deaths. WorkSafe uses a targeted approach to help industries and employers improve workplace health and safety.

“By focusing on preventing serious injuries, we are increasing the overall level of safety in our province,” said Germain.  “We need to remain focused on the activities at work and at home that are causing these serious workplace injuries and fatalities.”

WorkSafe is introducing a number of awareness campaigns and resources, including psychological health and safety, violence in the workplace, asbestos exposure and residential construction worker safety. All of these initiatives share a common goal of helping all Saskatchewan employers achieve Mission: Zero.

“Our families and our children deserve to live and work in a safer province. That’s really what Mission: Zero is about,” said Germain. “Since Mission: Zero launched in 2008, it’s clear that we have made progress, but we have much more work to do. “At the end of the day, this is going to take a deep commitment from all of us to change the current trend and create safer workplaces everywhere in our province.”

To learn more about Mission: Zero, preventing injuries away from work, and the Health and Safety Leadership Charter, visit www.safesask.com.

For resources on how to prevent workplace injuries, employers and workers can reach out to their industry safety association or by visiting the WorkSafe Saskatchewan website at www.worksafesask.ca for practical steps to prevent workplace injuries and deaths.