Excerpt from the OH&S Canada magazine

New Brunswick is moving forward with mandatory inquests for fatalities in a number of specific work environments.

On April 16, 2008, the provincial government announced amendments to the Coroners Act will be tabled to make inquests a must following fatalities at woodland operations, sawmills, processing plants (lumber, food and fish), construction sites and mining operations.

“Mandatory inquests into high-risk workplace deaths will expose unsafe practices in these industries, as well as systemic problems that contribute to an unsafe work environment,” John Foran, solicitor general and public safety minister, says in a statement.

But the move toward mandatory inquests has caught industry groups by surprise. “We didn’t realize there was a problem with coroner inquests. To the best of our knowledge, they’ve always been called at appropriate times,” says Hilary Howes, executive director of the Construction Association of New Brunswick.

Currently, work-related inquests are called at the discretion of the coroner.

Howes questions if inquests are warranted for every workplace death in the targeted categories. “It may be more than is necessary, given that [with] some accidents that take place in high-risk workplaces, the cause is very evident.”

Barbara Svarc, executive director of the New Brunswick Forest Industries Safety Association, is of the view that any sector, even if low-risk, could benefit from inquests. “If they’re going to go that route, then it should be each and every workplace death,” Svarc says.

My opinion

In Ontario, there is a ‘Coroner’s Inquest’ held in all deaths in the ‘Construction’ and ‘Mining’ workplaces. There are no exceptions. The other two major work sectors, ‘Industrial’ and ‘Healthcare’, have it in place that the Coroner can hold an inquest at his/her discretion.

As far as I am concerned, there should not be any complaining about participating in a ‘Coroner’s Inquest’ if the final result commits the province to corrective action to prevent a recurrence. In Ontario, a ‘Coroner’s Inquest’ suggestions are not binding on the company involved or the province. They are suggestions only. If the province intends to adopt any point suggested by the Coroner then action is taken to enact the suggestion into law as soon as possible. As an example, the Ham Commission which stems from a similar ‘Coroner’s Inquest’ issued over 100 recommendations, one being the ‘Internal Responsibility System’ which allows for employees to have a formal say in the health and safety in their workplace through the participation of a certified worker representative on a JHSC. (joint health and safety committee)

The end result is to improve the health and safety in the workplace. The healthcare costs are always going up and the need to reduce workplace injuries is NOW! Allow the ‘Coroner’ to aid in the improvement of the H&S in the workplace. In a few years the numbers should be reduced through enforcement and the need to have a ‘Coroner’s Inquest’ will be unnecessary.

Think about it!

Remember — In Ontario, “ALL Accidents are Preventable”

‘Work’ and ‘Play’ safe.

Daniel L. Beal
CHSEP – Foundation Level
VP & Senior Trainer
HRS Group Inc.

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