Occupational Health & Safety Failure at Yukon Government

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A recent review of documents obtained through ATIPP and provided anonymously to YEU makes it clear that the Public Service Commission of the Yukon Government has consistently failed to provide meaningful leadership in the arena of health and safety.

How many Health & Safety audits has the Government of Yukon performed in their workplaces over the last decade? From the documents we have reviewed, the answer is zero. Not a single government-wide health & safety audit has been performed by the Public Service Commission, despite their legislated obligation to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that

(a)the workplace, machinery, equipment, and processes under the employer’s control are safe and without risks to health. 

(b) work techniques and procedures are adopted and used that will prevent or reduce the risk of occupational injury; and

(c) workers are given necessary instruction and training and are adequately supervised, taking into account the nature of the work and the abilities of the workers.

The Government of Yukon’s General Administration Manual (GAM) outlines the employer’s duty to protect health and safety in the workplace. Although many guiding documents and policies apportion responsibility widely, it is the irrefutable obligation of the Public Service Commission to “monitor and audit the government’s performance in health and safety, reporting on that performance to the Health & Safety Leadership Committee” (HSLC).   And while acknowledging the strategic role of the HSLC, the GAM is clear that ultimate accountability lies with the Public Service Commission.

According to both the ATIPP records provided to YEU and the response letter penned by the Public Service Commission’s Director of Health, Safety and Wellbeing Jeananne Nicloux, the PSC has performed no government-wide health and safety audits. In fact, they have not adopted a standard process to perform audits. Some small-scale audits have been conducted in some workplaces as part of the COR Certification process or in response to orders from the YWCHSB.

In the GAM, much of the procedural OH&S accountability rests with the Deputy Ministers. A comprehensive list of responsibilities in the GAM requires DMs to provide leadership, to engage the workforce, to set health and safety performance measures for their departments, and to ensure those measures align with corporate direction. Deputy Ministers are also required to report on their department’s performance to the HSLC, providing information as requested by the PSC to monitor and audit government OH&S performance.

In a review of HSLC meeting minutes for the last year and more, we can find no reference whatsoever to the submission of reports from Deputy Ministers on the outcomes of their efforts. No reports, no analyses, no performance metrics, no plans. The overseeing body acting as liaison between the workplace and the Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission seems to have overlooked their obligation to collect critical safety data from its deputies. Without the baseline data produced by a full audit, OH&S policies and plans are based on assumptions rather than facts.

Reports from the Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health & Safety Board show quite static workplace injury numbers from 2016 to 2020, suggesting little to no improvement in any department with high injury rates. Average claims government-wide from 2016 to 2020 ranged from 224 to 249 per year, averaging 239 Yukon Government workers hurt on the job every year. The department showing the highest rate of workplace injury was Health & Social Services, averaging 87 accepted claims annually with a peak of 102 in 2020. The Department of Highways & Public Works was close behind, averaging 49 accepted claims per year, peaking at 59 in 2019. These numbers are too high.

Yukon Employees' Union believes the number of workplace injuries within Yukon Government departments would drop if proper baseline health & safety audits were performed, recommendations made, and progress monitored. It is incomprehensible that these numbers can remain consistent year over year if appropriate measures are truly being taken to protect workers from injury.

If departmental Deputy Ministers are responsible for the overall health and safety in their workplaces then clearly the Ministers of those departments hold final accountability. And if the Public Service Commission holds ultimate responsibility within the bureaucracy, then the full and final obligation to keep workers safe belongs to the Minister Responsible for the Public Service Commission.

For the last several years, that title has been held by Richard Mostyn. Of note, Mr. Mostyn was employed by the Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health & Safety Board prior to his election in 2016.