When is Enough, Enough?


What is an acceptable number of workplace fatalities? Is there ever an acceptable number of workplace fatalities? Most of us would say no, but do we even know what the current fatality statistics are in Canada? Again, most of us would say no.

For the last 10 years in Canada, an average of 1000 workers a year have been killed in the workplace. The most current data we have is from the Associations of Workers’ Compensation Board of Canada (AWCBC), which revealed 951 workers died on the job in 2017.

Recently, it was also reported that the US saw the highest number of workplace deaths since 2008, which was recorded at 5250 deaths in 2018. Doing some simple analysis, 5000 workplace deaths is a larger number than 1000, but does this lead to the conclusion that it is more unsafe for workers in the US than in Canada?

When we compare workplace fatalities between Canada and the US, we can agree on the following numbers:

  • Canada: 951 deaths in 2017
  • US: 5250 deaths in 2018

Discounting the issue of different reporting years, it does not take a scientist to realize that something is not right.

Canada’s workplace fatalities rate is much higher, because Canada has a much smaller population of approximately 35 million people compared to the US’s approximate population of 327 million. For the ease of math, one could argue that the US’s population is 10 times that of Canada’s. Therefore, if Canada had 10 times the population than it does currently, our workplace fatalities would be at approximately 9510 a year.

What this means is, on a roughly per capita basis, workers in Canada are dying at twice the rate, compared to workers in the US.

This is not acceptable. When is enough, enough?

Canadian employers and provincial and federal governments must take note of this alarming statistic and develop a national campaign to combat this terrible workplace reality, with the ultimate goal of eliminating workplace fatalities.

Every worker has the right to come home every night.

Discussion Question:

What can an HR department do to increase awareness about workplace fatalities in Canada? Develop an awareness campaign that could be implemented at a large manufacturing company that has plants all over Canada.

Should Fiera Food Still be in Business?

When should a company lose its right to exist? 

When it runs out of money? When it damages the environment? How about when it murders 5 of its workers? Yes, you read that correctly. In a period of 20 years, 5 temporary workers were killed in workplace accidents, which could have been prevented, at Fiera Foods. It was a blatant lack of adequate training of these temporary workers that caused their deaths.

All 5 of these deaths were horrible workplace murders:

  • In 1999, a 17-year-old worker was crushed by a bread-making machine
  • In 2011, a worker got crushed by machinery while on the job
  • In 2016, a 23-year-old refugee worker was strangled after her head scarf got caught in equipment
  • In 2018, another worker got crushed by machinery while working
  • The details of the latest fatality have not been released yet, but it sounded like the worker was also crushed by machinery

Click here to watch a CityNews report detailing these workplace fatalities.

It seems like Fiera Foods is not being held accountable for its workplace safety records, even though the company should be shut down by the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development of Ontario (MOL), until it can prove it has all the elements of a safety program in place to ensure the health and safety of all of its workers. The law is very clear on this matter: 25(2)(h) of the OHSA states that the employer is required to “take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker.”

It is obvious if you are killing workers at your plant, you are not taking every precaution reasonable.

Does this mean the OHSA laws in Ontario are inadequate? No, but the political and social will is. We can all do better—the government, the MOL, and society at large, which should not accept that 5 souls have left this earth because business is worth more than workers’ safety.

Discussion Questions:

1. Research Bill C-45, also known as the Westray Bill. Prepare a summary of Bill C-45, its purpose, and its penalties. Reflect on the Fiera Foods case, and assess if they should be charged under this legislation.

2. Research how the use of temporary agencies has contributed to workplace deaths. Review the following CBC video link. Imagine your VP of HR has asked you to investigate the benefits and detriments of using temporary agencies to fill your labour gap. What would you tell them about both?

Is it a health and safety inspection or investigation?


For most, it is difficult to know the difference between a safety inspection and a workplace safety investigation. It is vital that all HR and safety professionals know the distinction between the two.

When a Ministry Safety Officer enters your place of business, do you always wonder what the purpose of their visit is? Is it an inspection or is it an investigation?

Cynthia Sefton, a legal partner with Aird & Berlis LLP in Toronto, explains the vital differences. “An inspection is not an investigation, although it can lead to one,” she says. “The inspector comes to see if there is compliance. The decision to investigate a possible offence comes later.”

Click here to read the complete article

Typically, safety inspections come first, with an investigation following the inspection if the safety officer deems it necessary. In addition, there may be certain events that trigger an investigation right away, such as a critical injury that occurs in the workplace as defined by legislation.

It’s fundamental to understand the concept of compliance and due diligence. All Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) legislation in Canada works on the principles of general duties, minimal standards and due diligence. All workplaces that are covered by OHS legislation must ensure they meet the minimal safety standard that is outlined in the legislation. Those standards must be reasonably achieved in all circumstances.

If you are not meeting the minimal standards you are by default not in compliance with the OHS legislation. The main purpose of ministry safety inspections is to identify if an organization complying. When they do that, the inspector can decide how to proceed.

Every year most provincial health and safety jurisdictions pick a combination of specific industries or safety hazards on which to focus. For example, the MOL of Ontario for 2019 have safety inspection blitzes in construction, health care and mining services planned.

Click here to read more about the Ontario safety blitzes

In addition to inspection blitzes, each jurisdiction gives its health and safety inspectors the power to write orders. There are different types of orders a health and safety inspector can issue. The three most common ones are: 1) stop work, 2) forthwith and 3) a compliance order.

Click here to read about the powers of a safety inspector in Ontario

HR and safety professionals have to be aware of the subtle differences between a safety inspection and a workplace safety investigation, as well as being aware of their rights and their responsibilities under their local OHS laws.  It is a large legal liability that is best addressed with a proactive safety program long before an inspector comes to visit for an inspection or an investigation.

Discussion Questions

Can you identify the powers of the safety inspectors in your jurisdiction?

Review under what circumstances an inspector in your jurisdiction will be required to conduct a workplace investigation.

Identify in your jurisdiction if the governmental safety department has identified any industry or topic specific safety blitzes.



The Deadliest Catch of All

Tabor Chichakly/Shutterstock.

The start of lobster season, known as “Dumping Day,” is traditionally the last Monday in November. It’s the day fishers head out off the southern coast of Nova Scotia and set their traps for a potentially lucrative lobster haul.

It’s a way of life for many easterners, but it also comes with its inherent dangers out on the rough north Atlantic Ocean.

In 2015, a 53-year-old man died after going overboard in his vessel while setting traps, and in a separate incident, two other men went overboard doing the same thing, but were ultimately rescued.

It is always heartbreaking for the family, as well as the community, following a death of a worker.

Unfortunately, the sad reality is, it’s not unusual for fatalities to occur in the workplace in Canada.

According to a Globe and Mail report, the fishing industry is the deadliest sector of all occupations in Canada. It has almost 70 deaths per 100,000 workers (covering a period from 2011 to 2015), which is seven times higher than the fatality rates in construction.

This is unacceptable, and the fishing industry needs to take action to lower that rate.

Another article by the CBC sheds light on the discrepancy in workplace fatality statistics in Canada.

The Association of Workers’ Compensation Board of Canada has the official number at 1,000 deaths per year, but according to a study, the rate is much higher – almost 10,000 fatalities during that same time frame.

The lowball figure occurs because of the way that we collect statistics on workplace fatalities. Our reporting method is way too narrow and should be adjusted to reflect the real toll on workers lives.

What factors are affecting this under-reporting of fatalities in Canada? There are many factors, including:

  • Workplace fatalities where the worker is not covered by a provincial workers compensation system and therefore not counted
  • Fatalities occurring on farms may not be reported
  • Many deaths caused by vehicles may be categorized incorrectly.

HR and safety departments need to ensure that systems are in place that focus on safety prevention. They also need to make certain that their organization does not add one of their workers to the workplace fatality number.

Discussion Questions

What can industries due to help improve the collection of workplace fatality statistics?

What role should the federal and provincial governments play in reducing the number of workplace deaths in Canada?


Heat Stress: We Are all Susceptible!

Employee sweating in a warm office
Minerva Studio/Shutterstock

How to ensure safety in the extreme heat.

May 5, 2016 started out like any other school day in Winnipeg, but something was different, very different, and unusual; actually it was the first time in 90 years that it happened.

What was this unusual activity that occurred on that fateful May 5? It was the temperature! It soared to 34 degrees Celsius in parts of Manitoba. According to the Winnipeg Free Press:

“The province slapped restrictions on activities in the Spruce Woods Provincial Park and the Spruce Woods Provincial Forest …. all back country travel and access to remote cottage areas must be approved by a travel permit issued at the discretion of local conservation officers.”

The provincial government was concerned about high temperatures on that day, so much so that they ordered restrictions on certain activities in provincial parks, however, many of these restrictions were to reduce the risk of forests fires, it certainly was not to warn everyday citizens, or workers about possible risk of death.

To read the complete article click here.

Perhaps not enough thought was put into the possible deadly effects of heat stress, because on that day a 40 year old high school teacher on a field trip to Spruce Woods Provincial Park fainted and died. Although the root cause of her death is still under investigation at the time of this writing, there are reasons to believe that heat stress may have played part in this workplace fatality.

In our workplaces there is a very poor understanding of the possible health effects of extreme temperatures in this case heat. Most workplace H&S legislation in Canada does not specifically address extreme temperatures, but all have a general duty clause where employers must take every reasonable precaution to prevent illness, injury or death of its employees.

In all cases where workers are exposed to extreme temperatures there is a reasonable obligation of employers to conduct a risk assessment to measure the potential health risk. In most cases with respect to heat stress, employers fail to take a proactive position. A heat stress policy and plan is required to make workers aware of the dangers and the control measure of heat stress.

Click here to download WorkSafe Guide to Preventing Heat Stress.

It would be beneficial if workers and employers in Canada took the effects of heat stress seriously and have a heat stress control plan in place in every work setting.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Review your provincial Occupational Health and Safety Act and regulations, does it set out maximum and minimum temperatures limits. If yes what are they?  If no, why not?
  2. Develop a heat stress policy, including what measures and tools you are recommending to measure heat stress, remember to include temperature and humidity.
  3. Research what is a work/rest schedule for heat stress, and comment on why employers may be reluctant to implement one in the workplace.