Reducing injuries for health-care workers focus of new safety organization

Adrian Dix

THE Province is taking action to make work safer for health-care workers by committing $8.5 million over three years for a new organization that will address workplace safety.

The new agency will tackle high rates of injuries in the health-care sector by identifying and promoting best practices that make working in the industry safer.

“Health-care providers are there for us when we need them most – they deserve safe and healthy workplaces,” said Adrian Dix, Minister of Health, on Sunday. “That’s why we are bringing employee and employer groups together and creating a dedicated and independent organization with a strong mandate to address the challenges they face. This new organization represents a significant consensus by all stakeholders that we must do more to protect the health and safety of the skilled health-care workers that all British Columbians depend on. Thank you to everyone who has worked to make this possible.”

Workplace injuries are on the rise in the health-care and social services sectors. According to WorkSafeBC, 2018 injury-claim costs were more than $107 million, an increase of about $11 million from the previous year.

The agreement for a new agency was reached in the most recent round of public sector collective bargaining and includes the participation of all health sector bargaining associations, the Doctors of BC, the Health Employers Association of British Columbia (HEABC) and the Ministry of Health.

A working group of these stakeholders – including representatives from HEABC, the Hospital Employees’ Union, the BC Nurses’ Union (BCNU), the Health Sciences Association, and the Doctors of BC – recently presented its report and recommendations for the new organization to government and health authority executives.

“This is an important step forward in reducing injuries and promoting safe workplaces in the health-care sector,” said Jennifer Whiteside, secretary-business manager at the Hospital Employees’ Union and co-chair of the working group. “A focus on safety in health care will improve the lives of workers while improving the quality of care.”

Michael McMillan, president and CEO of HEABC, who also co-chaired the working group, said, “Making our health-care sector safer for the people who work in it is important for everyone. When we reduce time loss and injury – it means health-care workers can better provide care to those who need it. This organization presents an important new opportunity for us all to work together to make real progress on workplace safety.”

The non-profit organization will be jointly governed by all health sector bargaining associations, health employers and the provincial government.

Harry Bains, Minister of Labour, said: “Our government has listened to the needs of workers in the health-care sector and is taking action to improve health and safety in the workplace. I look forward to the initiatives that the new organization will implement, together with its stakeholders, to improve occupational safety in B.C.’s health sector.”

Val Avery, President, Health Sciences Association, said: “Health science professionals often face unique and challenging working conditions. This new health and safety organization ensures all members of the health-care team are working together to ensure safe and healthy workplaces while providing exceptional care. Workers and patients both win when workplace safety is top of mind.”

Stephanie Smith, President, BC Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU), said: “The BCGEU represents thousands of front-line health-care workers who too often risk their own health and safety in the course of their work. This new agency will change that, and it’s just one more example of how this government is making life better for working people.”

Christine Sorensen, President, BC Nurses’ Union, said: “BCNU is pleased to see the establishment of this new organization, and we look forward to working with all partner unions and the Ministry of Health to develop a consistent approach to the way health and safety standards are implemented, maintained and adhered to provincewide. We have identified 22 high-risk worksites around the province and look forward to working together with the new organization to properly protect nurses and their patients by increasing safety in our places of work.”