Promoting a safe work environment for workers and employers in New Brunswick

Whether it’s sitting at an office desk or carrying out physically demanding tasks on a construction site, the fundamental requirement on any job should not be how quickly a project can be completed or the money that can be saved. First and foremost, the focus must always be on worker safety.

Each provincial and territorial region has a governing body that oversees the process of ensuring workplace safety is always paramount. In New Brunswick, that governing body is WorkSafeNB, a Crown corporation charged with overseeing the implementation and application of New Brunswick’s Occupational Health and Safety Act, the Workers’ Compensation Act of New Brunswick, the Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission Act of New Brunswick, and the Firefighters’ Compensation Act.

The modern concept of workers’ compensation began in Canada in the early 1910s. The no-fault system is based upon the Meredith Principles, one of which states that injured workers receive compensation regardless how an injury happened while employers are protected from liability. The system is funded solely by employer assessments.
WorkSafeNB has a staff of about 450 and operates from six locations throughout the province. The organization is committed to preventing workplace injuries and illness through education and the enforcement of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The Canadian Business Journal spoke with WorkSafeNB president and CEO Gerard Adams about the organization and some of its pivotal safety platforms either now in place or being added as a means of continuously improving the overall mandate.

The full legal name of the Crown corporation is the Workplace Health and Safety Compensation Commission, but that can get a bit unwieldy at times. So the organization adapted the title of WorkSafeNB about seven years ago. The shorter name was primarily a conscientious decision to focus more on the organization’s prevention mandate and less on compensation.

“We believe the best benefit we can give to any injured worker in New Brunswick is to not have them get hurt in the first place,” Adams states.

WorkSafeNB has adapted a number of crucial safety platforms and initiatives, and continues to tweak those as well as bring new ones online as the workplace environment evolves throughout the province.

“We just launched the Careful campaign, which is a public awareness platform,” Adams says. “We wanted to use one word that would sum up the purpose of WorkSafeNB – trying to keep people safe. It’s ‘Careful’ in English and ‘Attention’ en Français. We are officially the only bilingual province in the country so we do all our work in both English and French.”

The Careful message is intended to convey that cautioning whisper inside your head that lets you know when things have the potential to go wrong. It’s the voice that reminds you to be mindful and not to rush. But the one simple word is also meant to be a constant reminder that WorkSafeNB cares about the safety of New Brunswickers.

“We really believe people can get that attitude of having a safe culture in their everyday life both at work and at home. With this campaign, we’re going to have online, radio and television ads to remind New Brunswickers that what we do doesn’t just affect us, but those around us – our co-workers, family and friends,” Adams continues.

Another important platform that tends not to garner much attention when it comes to unsafe work environments is waste collection. According to statistics, waste collection personnel are three times more likely to be hurt on the job than the average New Brunswick worker. There have been four fatalities in this industry in the past dozen years, which, as Adams points out, is four too many.

“The curb or the sidewalk where we put our garbage is where these people work,” he says. “We’ve launched an initiative that has four components. This includes increased education, not just for the workforce, but also for the people who are putting their garbage out.”

A focus on compliance activities, education and training, recommendations to require safety policies and procedures in the waste collection tendering process, along with public awareness and engagement, are all part of the program being driven by WorkSafeNB. As Adams says, if somebody leaves a 75-pound garbage container or unsafe chemicals at the curb, another person should not be expected to move it.

“This campaign is geared toward making that industry safer and the way to do that is by educating both the workers and the public,” Adams says.

Proof the mandate is moving in the proper direction, WorkSafeNB’s board of directors recently approved more resources for occupational health and safety prevention. The agency is hiring seven additional health and safety officers throughout the province. This, in turn, will allow the organization to reach more businesses and increase the number of safety inspections. More employers will receive the support they need, and these measures will assuredly play a role in reducing the number of workplace injuries.

When it comes to having proper safety knowledge, there are several core components, but education is critical.
“If we can get people to buy into safety as a culture and value and less as a cost, then people will recognize the benefits. Unfortunately, there are always some who will fall into our compliance regime and we will have to clamp down on them and force them to improve. However, we are finding the culture in New Brunswick is very much moving toward safety. The compliance activities are designed to ensure the workplaces meet minimum requirements, but we can always improve,” Adams says.

WorkSafeNB’s Rehabilitation Centre

WorkSafeNB’s workers’ rehabilitation centre is a facility that employs a multidisciplinary approach to help people get people back to work safely after a workplace injury or occupational disease. Almost all the research one can find on injured workers indicates that the best outcome is to get the worker safely back to the profession they enjoy. The centre in Grand Bay-Westfield, which is about 15 minutes west of Saint John, is an accredited facility that helps about 600 clients each year.

“It incorporates a functional restorative program with cognitive behavioural therapy and work simulation, and it gives people an opportunity to find out what they can do if they can’t return to their previous occupation,” Adams says.

Research shows this type of program is extremely effective for injured workers because it focuses squarely on the client’s recovery. WorkSafeNB employs numerous professionals, including doctors, occupational therapists, dieticians, ergonomist consultants, physiotherapists and social workers, to help workers in the return-to-work process.

“The workers’ rehab centre is where we’re really seeing great improvements. People are getting safely back to work and contributing again to the economy. It’s good for everyone,” Adams says.

Accident Prevention

WorkSafeNB has special prevention programs for some of the higher-risk industries, with the waste collection initiative being a prime example. It’s an integral message that needs to be embraced by company ownership, management, supervisors and front-line workers.

“Over the years, we’ve helped workers in nursing homes, which can be a difficult environment from an injury point of view. In forestry and construction, we’ve helped to establish safety associations and we serve on the boards of those associations in an advisory capacity. We try to help those industries to identify why they are at high risk and try to find ways to mitigate those risks,” Adams says.

Another key focus is young workers and educating them about safety procedures. Younger, less experienced workers may have a feeling of invincibility. Adams says some of the reliance is on co-workers to mentor and take younger workers under their wing.

“In fact, the young worker tends to get hurt a bit more than the average worker,” Adams says. “They may be doing temporary work and don’t have as much experience. Another thing we find is that many young people don’t know their rights. They all have the right to refuse something they feel is unsafe. But when it’s your first job, you may not want to rock the boat. A lot of our work is trying to instill confidence in these young workers and encourage them to speak up if they are concerned about a safety issue.”

Compliance is always a last resort. Adams and WorkSafeNB would always prefer people picked up on the safety culture on their own.

“One of the things we do is investigate any major accidents that occur, regardless of whether there is a death or not. We determine what could have been done to prevent it. All accidents are preventable. We try to bank that knowledge to prevent similar situational accidents from happening,” Adams says.

In extreme cases, one of the necessary roles of WorkSafeNB under the Occupational Health and Safety Act is to recommend charges in cases where it’s believed there has been negligence.

Partners and Stakeholders

In addition to partnering with various associations, WorkSafeNB has also teamed up with several universities to research the effects of safety leadership training. One of the many projects being pursued aims to instill safety as a value at the very top of organizations. If the leaders buy in, the rank and file will tend to follow.

WorkSafeNB has also formed a partnership with the charitable organization Threads of Life, which provides support for surviving families and friends of workers who have died or experienced a very serious workplace injury.
“We promote the group’s Steps for Life Walk, its largest annual fundraising event, every May,” Adams says.

And WorkSafeNB partners with organizations, provincially and regionally, to develop and implement return-to-work programs.

“We have a very strong partnership with the other three Atlantic provinces’ workers’ compensation organizations,” Adams adds.

When an injured worker safely returns to work, it is a success story.

Individuals as Leaders

WorkSafeNB believes every worker can and should be a health and safety leader. Responsibility must be shared by everyone.

“We just finished our annual three-day Health and Safety Conference, which was our 35th year hosting. More than 500 delegates attended in Fredericton where the theme was ‘there is a safety leader in every one of us,’” Adams says. “If you’re looking out for yourself, you’re by default looking out for everybody when looking for hazards. It benefits everybody who works near you.”

“We are one of the safest provinces to work in, but we can’t be complacent. We want to keep improving,” Adams says.
Another challenge is ensuring newcomers to Canada are aware of New Brunswick’s health and safety rules and regulations in the workplace.

“Like young workers, newcomers may also be reluctant to speak up in a new job in a new country,” Adams says. “We are monitoring it and developing strategies around it at this time.”

Meanwhile, technology is further helping WorkSafeNB convey workplace health and safety messages to New Brunswickers.
Prevention and compliance information is now available through an online portal, The site can be accessed on mobile devices, such as tablets and smartphones, and hosts critical information on several safety topics. The organization partnered with the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety to develop the portal.
“It’s new and we’re still in the process of getting feedback on whether or not there are things we can improve. It’s user-friendly and it will be the delivery vehicle for many of our educational programs in the future,” Adams says.
WorkSafeNB employees work closely with various associations to focus on industry-specific solutions. A concern for one organization might be frequency of accidents while another could be severity of injuries.

For the past couple of years, a tremendous amount of Adams’s time has been spent working with government officials and leaders to move additional safety legislation into law. WorkSafeNB follows the guidelines of four key legislative Acts.

“We undertook a three-year legislative review back in 2012,” he says. “The biggest and most frequently accessed is the Workers’ Compensation Act. It came into effect in 1993, and hadn’t really been looked at in a comprehensive manner since then, so we’re dealing with a 22-year-old piece of legislation.”

Phase one included a full review of the appeals function and tribunal. From this review, the Appeals Tribunal was moved from an internal body to an external organization. Phase two examines the governance of WorkSafeNB and a wordy section of the Act that details how benefits to injured workers are calculated. A third aspect addresses advocacy programs. Workers’ advocates and employer advocates are housed within government, and are available to help people navigate the workers’ compensation process.

Looking to the Future

In a general sense, Adams says he would like to see more emphasis on the responsibility of both the worker and the employer to make the workplace safer. WorkSafeNB can’t be everywhere, every day.

Much like other regions in Canada, New Brunswick is dealing with an aging demographic, with many people now working well past the age of 65. Workers are still entering the workforce as young as 16, creating an even wider age range than in the past.

The province has three major cities, but the economy as a whole would be characterized as rural, with the majority of citizens living in small towns and working for small businesses. The challenge for WorkSafeNB is being able to reach those people with the safety message. Adams pledges it can – and will.

“No matter where they work in New Brunswick, they have the same rights and responsibilities, and we’re there to help.”