NOTE: The following is an op-ed piece by Labi Kousoulis, Minister of Labour and Advanced Education.
Twenty-five years ago, the world watched while tragedy unfolded at the Westray Mine in Pictou County. It is a time that is permanently etched in our collective memory and was the impetus for making significant changes in workplace safety in Nova Scotia.
Friday, Dec. 1, marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Justice Peter Richards’ Westray Mine Public Inquiry report. This report set this province on the path to important change. Employers, unions, workers, the Workers’ Compensation Board, political leaders and all Nova Scotians took that path together. The results are clear. Nova Scotia now has stronger laws and safer workplaces.
For its part, during the past two decades, government has made many changes to better protect employees and help employers understand their roles and responsibilities.
The Criminal Code of Canada was amended in March 2004 to address workplace criminal investigations. In fact, Nova Scotia’s first workplace criminal negligence case causing death is now before the Nova Scotia Supreme Court.
We’ve enhanced Nova Scotia’s Occupational Health and Safety Act. The foundation of the act is now based on the idea that the primary responsibility for occupational health and safety is shared by everyone connected with that workplace, including employers, employees, contractors, owners and suppliers. Employers and employees who do not comply with safety laws are being held accountable. Occupational health and safety offences have also resulted in jail time.
We’re also holding high-risk employers to account. We have recently made changes to our legislation to be tougher on those who break safety laws again and again. And we’re working closely with our partners to enforce the legislation.
A greater emphasis on education has helped ensure more Nova Scotians know about workplace safety and their own rights.
The safety of all workers is paramount to any economic or business goals. Employers are recognizing the need to invest in worker safety as much as they do to their bottom line. As a result, workplace practices are changing and more high-risk industries are becoming safer. Over the past 10 years, Nova Scotia has seen a decrease in workplace injury rates and the number of acute workplace fatalities per year.
Today, we reflect on our shared commitment, not just to reducing workplace injuries and fatalities, but to eliminating them.
Nova Scotia workers deserve to be safe at work. Families deserve to have their loved ones come home safely.
We have come a long way since the Westray tragedy. We recognize the momentum already created and are committed to making the kinds of changes needed to keep people safe.