Every Workplace Safety and Health tripled after the start of pandemic





After the longest shutdown many companies will have experienced, opening the shop doors, or starting up the machinery, is not necessarily straightforward.

Will staff have to wear masks? How do surfaces get disinfected? Will Worksafe prosecute if an employee gets Covid-19 from the workplace?

Health and safety expert Greg Dearsly, president of the NZ Institute of Safety Management and managing director of First4Safety, joined Stuff earlier on Wednesday to answer questions about how to return to work safely.

You can catch up on the discussion below.

a man and a woman sitting at a desk: Workers at menswear retailer Harry Rosen don masks after reopening for the first time since the pandemic was declared, © Trevor Brine/CBC Workers at menswear retailer Harry Rosen don masks after reopening for the first time since the pandemic was declared,
Manitobans concerned about COVID-19 are flooding the province's Workplace Safety and Health office with tips about unsafe work.

Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union safety specialist Blaine Duncan says the spike in calls was to be expected in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. He says workers, employers and members of the public need guidance for safety and health tips


"Employers are struggling. Workers are fearful," said Duncan. 


Duncan wants WSH officers to start enforcing the Public Health Act alongside the Workplace Health and Safety Act. That responsibility primarily rests with public health inspectors who have oversight over restaurants, grocery stores and esthetic services like nail salons. 



Duncan says WSH officers have done some work in health-care settings during the start of the pandemic but now they are ready to do more.


A spokesperson from the department says workplace safety laws already require employers to put reasonable controls in place to reduce risks including infectious illness. 

a man looking at the camera: Manitoba Federation of Labour President Kevin Rebeck wants increased funding to the Workplace Safety and Health branch to deal with COVID-19 concerns. © Jeff Stapleton/CBC Manitoba Federation of Labour President Kevin Rebeck wants increased funding to the Workplace Safety and Health branch to deal with COVID-19 concerns.


"As [COVID-19 infections] started heating up, we've been calling for enhanced investments in health and safety," said Rebeck, whose organization called on the government to restore more than $500,000 in cuts made to the Workplace Safety and Health branch in this year's budget. 

In March, the government carved away $539,000 from the branch whose officers inspect, educate and conduct enforcement of workplace safety rules.

Finance Minister Scott Fielding says the decrease was not a cut, rather, it was decrease due to a one-time cost to set up a new IT system in 2019.

"The change is not attributable to staffing or operational changes," wrote Fielding in a letter given to CBC News by his press secretary. 

Funding to WSH has decreased from $9.3 million in 2016-17 to $8.6 million in 2020-21, according to budget documents. Staffing has gone down from 87 full-time employees to 79 during the same period. 

In addition, the branch under-spent its $9.8-million budget by $2.1 million in 2018-19, $1.8 million in 2017-18 and $1.4 million in 2016-2017 for a total of $5.3 million. More than $3 million of that total was attributed to salary savings due to vacant positions. 

A  departmental spokesperson says salary savings are the result of vacancies for sick leaves and parental leave not being filled and the number of positions on paper have remained the same from 2018-19 to the current budget. 

                               safety and health tips

Workers in Manitoba have the right to refuse unsafe work and WSH officers step in when there is a dispute.

Safety officers have investigated five work refusals related to COVID-19. In three of the cases, the worker was able to return to work safely. The other two were resolved without needing an officer to make a determination.

a group of people in a room: John Graham, a spokesperson for the Retail Council of Canada, says industry is playing a strong role to ensure worker safety.© Jeff Stapleton/CBC John Graham, a spokesperson for the Retail Council of Canada, says industry is playing a strong role to ensure worker safety.
John Graham of the Retail Council of Canada says he has no basis to know what the optimal ratio of provincial inspectors to businesses ought to be. . 


He says government has a role to play in communicating best safety practices but he adds it's not the only way to keep workers safe. 

They want to be committed to doing the right thing for their employees and be perceived as being leaders for customers," said Graham.

Every Workplace Safety and Health tripled after the start of pandemic Every Workplace Safety and Health tripled after the start of pandemic Reviewed by Debyendu Bhunia on May 10, 2020 Rating: 5

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