Tuesday, May 9, 2017 (Halifax, NS) – Today marks a very sad day in the history of Nova Scotia workplace safety.
Twenty-five years ago, 26 miners went to work at an underground mine in Plymouth, N.S., but never came home. It was a devastating reminder to employers across the province that employee safety has to be paramount.
The Westray tragedy led to fundamental changes in occupational health and safety laws nationally and provincially. It also changed how Halifax Regional Fire & Emergency (HRFE) thinks about worker safety.
In 2004, the Criminal Code was amended so that anyone who has authority to direct how another person does a task now has a legal duty to protect that person. For HRFE, that means always having a higher ranking officer at a fire ground whenever there’s a need for supervision.
The Criminal Code provisions are not limited to paid employees. Anyone who works, or directs the work of others – including volunteers – is responsible to ensure safety.
“Safety is always top of mind in our job,” said HRFE Deputy Fire Chief Roy Hollett. “I want the families of those who lost loved ones at Westray to know we adopted stricter rules governing firefighter safety as a direct result of what was learned from the mine disaster.”
Examples of some changes at HRFE since Westray:
· Improved safety training for firefighters & supervisors
· Higher recruitment and training standards for new firefighters, equipment operators, and supervisors
· Incident management practices at fires and other emergencies that place firefighter safety up front as part of decision making
· Safe work procedures for working on highways and at heights
· More rigorous accident investigation policies and procedures
· Formal polices to facilitate the reporting and correction of safety concerns brought forward by firefighters
Hollett pointed out the efforts to protect and enhance firefighter safety continue, and will never be finished. “We understand that no property has more value than the health or life of a firefighter.”