Manufacturing, fish-processing industries have largest incident rate, says WorkplaceNL
'We need to work together to solve the issues in our processing sector,' says worker Doretta Strickland
At the fish plant where she works, Doretta Strickland says one item is more popular in employee lunch boxes than any others: inhalers.
That's because many of the employees — 20 to 30 out of about 120 total, she estimates — have shellfish occupational asthma, a specific type of asthma associated with processing shellfish species. The condition is what required Strickland herself to move from the butchering line to working in other parts of the plant.
"I gets emotional when I talk about it because every year, you're going back to work and you know you're going back into something that could kill you," Strickland told The Broadcast.
We need to work together to solve the issues in our processing sector.- Doretta Strickland
Strickland, who has worked at the Ocean Choice International fish processing plant in Triton for 39 years, said she hopes Tuesday's announcement of the creation of a sub-committee for fish processing as part of a new manufacturing and processing safety council in the province.
WorkplaceNL approved $1.5 million over five years for the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters NL Division to create the council, which WorkplaceNL said aims to bring together both employer and labour representatives in the industry in Newfoundland and Labrador.
It's a commitment to advancing "strong safety culture" in the province, said WorkplaceNL Minister Sherry Gambin-Walsh, ensuring that "every worker has the right to go home safely."
The council will represent employees in an industry that has the highest lost-time incident rate due to workplace injury or illness out of any in the province; incidents in manufacturing are 3.1 per 100 workers, and at 2.1 per 100 workers in fish processing, according to WorkplaceNL CEO Dennis Hogan.
"There's still a lot more work to be done," Hogan said, adding those numbers are "well above" the provincial average of about 1.6 incidents per 100 workers.
In addition to shellfish asthma, which is caused by exposure to airborne materials generated during shellfish processing, soft-tissue injuries due to the repetitive nature of the work are also common in the plant, Strickland said.
It can be difficult for employees to take the time off to address these issues, she said, because their work weeks are so limited and a lost day or two of wages could be the difference between qualifying for employment insurance, and not qualifying.
Strickland said she hopes the new council, and the fish plant subcommittee, give workers like her a chance to provide input to employers on changes that might make their workplaces safer — for example, better ventilation.
"We need to work together to solve the issues in our processing sector," Strickland said.
With files from The Broadcast