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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 19, Number 3, Nov./Dec. 2006

Health and safety:
WorkSafeBC in schools

by Mark Keelan

There is a common misconception among many workers, including BCTF members, that the Workers’ Compensation Board, WorkSafeBC, is interested only in denying compensation claims and is not particularly concerned about workplace health and safety. These workers believe that there is no point in calling a WorkSafeBC officer about a health and safety problem because the officer will not do anything about it. This is simply not true. While Work-SafeBC officers are short-staffed and overworked, they write thousands of inspection reports each year that include thousands of orders requiring employers to live up to their health and safety obligations.

British Columbia school districts are not exempt from WorkSafeBC scrutiny. From January to June of 2006, BC school districts were presented with 94 inspection reports that included 114 orders.

The orders provide an excellent overview of WorkSafeBC’s expectations for the health and safety of workers in British Columbia schools. The following verbatim excerpts from the orders are some of those expectations.

General health and safety

  • The occupational health and safety program must be designed to prevent injuries and occupational diseases, and without limiting the generality of the foregoing, the program must include appropriate written instructions, available for reference by all workers... Examples of such written instructions include violence in the workplace, investigation of accidents, spill clean up and WHMIS. 
  • Without undue delay, ensure that workplace conditions that are hazardous to the health or safety of workers are remedied.

Investigations and inspections

  • An employer must immediately undertake an investigation into the cause of any accident or other incident that resulted in injury to a worker requiring medical treatment. 
  • Every employer must ensure that regular inspections are made of all workplaces, including buildings, structures, grounds, excavations, tools, equipment, machinery and work methods and practices, at intervals that will prevent the development of unsafe working conditions.

Ergonomics

  • The employer must identify factors in the workplace that may expose workers to a risk of musculoskeletal injury (MSI).

Indoor air quality

  • The employer must ensure that temperature and humidity levels within the indoor work environment are maintained within acceptable comfort ranges, as far as is practicable. 
  • The ventilation system must be balanced to ensure that each space within the building receives an adequate allotment of outdoor air.

Hazardous materials

  • The employer is ordered to ensure that general WHMIS education, as it pertains to the workplace, is provided to workers on how to access current MSDS information, the content required on MSDS, and the significance of this information.

First aid

  • This officer directs this school to conduct a first-aid assessment to determine and implement adequate first-aid supplies and services.

Violence

  • A risk assessment must be performed in any workplace in which a risk of injury to workers from violence arising out of their employment may be present. 
  • Incidents of workplace violence as defined on OHS Reg. Section 4.27 require investigation if the workers are subjected to violence or have reasonable cause to believe there is risk of injury. 
  • An employer must inform workers who may be exposed to the risk of violence of the nature and extent of the risk.

The Workers Compensation Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation contain many significant protections for workers. But, they are just words on a page unless they are enforced. BCTF members should ensure that each workplace has a functioning and effective joint health and safety committee. And when the employer throws roadblocks in front of the joint committee, call WorkSafeBC and ask an officer to write orders.

Mark Keelan is the BCTF’s health and safety officer for prevention.


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