“Today is an important day to commemorate the workers who have lost their lives, but it’s also kind of a stark reminder to us [of] the tragic consequence of situations in which safety lapses when we’re not thinking about what could be the consequence,” says regional prevention manger with WorkSafeBC Budd Phillips. “We also need to think about the families and the broader impact.”
The underlying factors of workplace fatalities, according to Phillips, are often twofold. The first goes to the general road safety of an employee.
“The biggest thing about driving is you control your vehicle – you know, not taking that temptation to drive beyond the speed limits; beyond even weather conditions in those situations,” explains Phillips.
Phillips says the Ministry of Transportation, in conjunction with other regional agencies and employers, conducted an extensive survey in South Peace on hazards associated with the Alaska Highway.
“They developed a Safety Corridor Plan for upgrades, and to improve that signage and a whole bunch of issues there,” Phillips goes on to explain. “That process is now expanding into the North Peace. So as the activities expand up into the Sikanni area, they’re planning to do the same thing with the North Peace to improve safety – especially with the amount of traffic that’s on the road and in light of the continued development in that area too.”
The second factor goes to hazardous chemicals and materials used by industry – particularly the oil and gas sector and the use of silica.
“The oil and gas industry uses a lot of chemicals as well, too, so the potential for exposure to hazardous products is a key risk in working out there, and workers need to be aware of what are the risks and if they’re not being told – they need to ask.”
Phillip says if an employee is not satisfied with the orientation and information provided by their employer, they have the right to refuse work and report the incident to WorkSafeBC.
He says another problem is the prior extensive use of asbestos within industry.
“The dilemma with that is the things that are causing their deaths today were because of exposures 20 – 30 years ago, and it’s difficult to predict exactly how many workers were exposed 20 – 30 years ago,” says Phillips. “It will eventually dwindle down because of all the safeguards that have been put in place and the restrictions around the use of asbestos, but the challenge is trying to predict how long that will take – I don’t think we really know yet how long it will take.”
Mayor Lori Ackerman made a brief speech on the importance of looking out for locals working with industry.
“When I talk about the need for skilled workers in this region – the recruiting and retaining – keeping them alive is first and foremost,” a choked up Mayor Ackerman said.
“It’s important to work together to reach a goal of zero fatalities – it’s vital to have a safe community.”
Phillips says a total of seven workplace fatalities occurred in 2014 in the Peace Region – five a result of vehicle collisions and two from traumatic injury on a worksite.
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