WorkSafe Sask. hosts annual workshop in Prince Albert aimed at collaborating to reduce serious injuries

Jayda Taylor/Daily Herald Occupational health officer Chad Parenteau speaks to around 130 people who attended the regional WorkSafe Saskatchewan workshop in Prince Albert on Oct. 5, 2023.

WorkSafe Saskatchewan is hoping its regional workshop in Prince Albert brings various industries together to collaborate on solutions to common safety issues.

WorkSafe Saskatchewan is a partnership between the Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) and the Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety. Every year, it hosts a workshop in a smaller community to collaborate with frontline workers, committees, business owners and government.

“We have to have the involvement of the workers on the frontline that do the job. We have to involve them in solutions, we have to involve them in understanding the problems better,” said Jonathan Sherman, WCB’s director of prevention.

“If we do that, as a whole, regardless of what kind of safety issues we’re trying to solve, we’re going to have better success.”

The one-day event, held on Thursday, began with a presentation by vice-president of prevention and employer services Kevin Mooney.

He spoke about WorkSafe Saskatchewan’s new five-year strategy launched in March. The overall goal, he said, is to reduce the approximately 2,400 workers in the province who are seriously injured per year.

It focuses on three industries – health care, transportation and construction – and addresses the root causes of serious injuries.

“We had a number of transit operators approach us talking about the increasing violence that they’re seeing on transit buses,” said Mooney.

“Some of the things that were brought up in that discussion were things like fare collection and de-escalation techniques.”

Mooney also spoke from his personal experience working at a retail liquor store. When someone would attempt to steal, workers’ first reactions would be to block the door, putting them in danger.

In reality, Mooney said, many of these criminals were known to police and could be caught after the fact.

Mooney added that WorkSafe Saskatchewan is collaborating with experts in Australia on safety solutions in the health care industry.

In its previous three-year strategy, it did a similar collaboration with an expert in Ohio to address the risk of cancer in firefighters. A firefighter himself, the expert conducted a prevention audit at halls across Saskatchewan.

“(Prevention) was quite low, just because we didn’t have that awareness, then we really bridged the gap there and a lot of our fire departments have taken really good action.”

Alex Paul, deputy chief of the Prince Albert Fire Department, said the audit likely benefited volunteer departments the most.

“It’s good to see that they’ve taken a very serious stance when it comes to firefighter cancers,” he said.

Mooney said firefighters can reduce up to 80 per cent of carcinogens by scrubbing their gear with soap and water prior to getting back in the truck.

WorkSafe Saskatchewan is still exploring how to reduce carcinogens in the wintertime by using a foam rather than water. Paul added that some of the department’s new units have hot water dispensers, so that firefighters can still hose down in freezing temperatures.

“Decontamination has probably become very high on our priority list over the last three to five years. We wear gear that protects us from heat and smoke and flame, but what hadn’t been taken into account prior to that was the toxins that are seeping into your body,” said Paul.

In the construction industry, added Mooney, asbestos is a huge safety risk. Between 2010 and 2021, 94 per cent of occupational disease fatalities were asbestos-related, according to WorkSafe Saskatchewan.

WorkSafe Saskatchewan hosts a similar event each year, alternating between Regina and Saskatoon. This year is the first since 2019 that the regional workshop has gone ahead.

Sherman said around 130 people registered, which is about capacity. @JournalistJayda