December 6, 2008


By Stephen Von Sychowski

In 2005, the Campbell Liberal government changed the working name of
the Workers Compensation Board of British Columbia to "Worksafe BC",
claiming that it was "a name that more accurately reflects our focus
on prevention, customer service, and return to work." The move was
largely rejected by labour and progressive movements, including the
Communist Party and Young Communist League, as a ploy to place the
bulk of responsibility and blame on the victims of workplace injury
rather than on employers who provide insufficient or nonexistent
training and unsafe or unsanitary conditions.

The focus of the WCB's message to the workers of B.C. was clear
"be careful at work, or it'll be your own fault". But one can only be
careful within the conditions provided, which too often include speed
ups, lack of training, and exposure to unnecessary risks. Workers are
sometimes too afraid to exercise their right to refuse unsafe work,
because this often leads to reprimand and even firing.

Young workers have abnormally high levels of injury especially
considering that, if anything, they should logically be the most
healthy and agile. But the reality is that many employers see youth as
nothing but cheap, dispensable labour for their low paying, non union,
insecure and unsafe jobs. Young workers face intimidation and ageism
from bosses who want to save a buck by cutting corners and bending

The number of young workers injured on the job in 2007 was up to
11,540 from 10,980 in 2006; part of an overall picture that saw
173,538 total reported injuries, up from 172,874 the year before and
156,770 in 2004, the year before WCB was re‑named and re-programmed as
"Worksafe" by the Liberals. Amongst these there were 228 fatalities,
up from 223 in 2004.

Yet almost 4,000 more health and safety inspections were carried
out by the WCB, over 5,000 orders were written and almost three times
as many penalties were imposed on employers all according to WCB's
2007 annual report. So, isn't "Worksafe" working?

While these numbers are a positive improvement from the dismal
ones of the year before, the numbers of injured workers prove that
these activities have been ineffective.

Some improvement should be seen with the enactment of legislation
promoting safe workplaces. "Grant's Law" was won by the BC Federation
of Labour and the De Patie family after a young worker, Grant De
Patie, was killed on the job at the gas station where he worked. He
was chasing a car which was attempting a "gas and go". His employer
had illegally told him that if he did not stop "gas and go's" he would
have to pay for them out of his own cheque.

But unfortunately, laws like this are only one part of the
solution. As always under capitalism, profits have been put before
people. No more parents should have to live with the pain of their
daughter or son being disabled or killed at work. No more workers and
no more families should be crippled by workplace "accidents".

With a provincial election around the corner, it's time for
workers in B.C. to ask the parties vying for their support what they
are prepared to do about this epidemic.

A tough stance is needed to get results and ensure that there are
no more Grant De Paties's in this province. This should include the
introduction of further legislation similar to Grant's Law, protecting
workers who work after dark or in isolated conditions in all sectors
of the economy. It should include a WCB focused on prevention through
training, education and strict enforcement of health and safety
standards, not just putting the onus on workers and placing the blame
on the victims. It should include stiffer penalties for employers who
put their workers at risk, including more and higher fines, more
inspections and financial, legal and criminal liability for injuries
on worksites.

It also means an end to "Worksafe" and a return to the WCB,
programmed around creating and enforcing safe and healthy work
environments, ensuring training is provided by employers and so on. It
won't be popular with those in power. They will say it's radical, or
impossible. But one has to wonder what those 228 workers who are no
longer with us would say.

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