North

N.W.T. and Nunavut continue to have highest workplace death rate in country

A ceremony in the N.W.T. would normally mark April 28 as the National Day of Mourning for workers killed and injured in the workplace, but COVID-19 physical distancing guidelines make that impossible this year.

April 28 marks the National Day of Mourning for workers killed and injured in the workplace

David Vinnicombe's memorial in Australia. Vinnicombe died after a workplace accident in Inuvik, N.W.T., in 2016. April 28 marks the National Day of Mourning for workers who've been killed or injured in the workplace. (Submitted by Jacqui Vinnicombe)

A ceremony in the N.W.T. would normally mark April 28 as the National Day of Mourning for workers killed and injured in the workplace, but COVID-19 physical distancing guidelines make that impossible this year.

Instead, the Northern Territories Federation of Labour and the N.W.T. and Nunavut Workers' Safety and Compensation Commission (WSCC) are asking northern residents to have a moment of silence at noon to honour those killed in workplace accidents.

In 2018, 1,027 workers died due to work-related causes in Canada, according to the Association of Workers' Compensation Boards of Canada.

"This year, we remember the four people in 2019 who lost their lives due to a workplace injury in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut and we join in sorrow with their families", said Katrina Nokleby, the minister responsible for the WSCC in the Northwest Territories.

The fatalities last year include Air Tindi pilots Will Hayworth and Zach McKillop, who died in a plane crash in January 2019. That led Air Tindi to make changes to some flight instrumentation, and amend the company's training programs.

In Yukon, three people died in work related incidents in 2019: Jason Keith of Morinville, Alta., drowned in Drury Lake and Shawn Kitchen of Whitehorse and Julia Lane of Vancouver died in an airplane crash. Another 1,187 people were hurt on the job.

A small indoor event commemorating the day of mourning in the main Yukon government building was live-streamed Tuesday on the Yukon Federation of Labour Facebook page.

Sean Tucker, an associate professor at the University of Regina in the department of business administration, said the territories need to do more to prevent fatalities.

He co-authored annual reports on workplace deaths in Canada. The N.W.T. has the highest rate of deaths in the workplace per 100,000 workers over the past five years, as well as for 2018, the final year included in this year's report.

"N.W.T., Nunavut stands out. And this year when we look at the 2018 injury fatality rate, N.W.T. [and] Nunavut is by far the highest rate," said Tucker.

It's absolutely devastating that his life was taken due to a preventable accident.- Jacqui Vinnicombe, David Vinnicombe's aunt

He said the average number of injury fatalities for the last 10 years is 5.1 per year.

N.W.T. and Nunavut had the highest fatality rate in 2018 with 14.2 deaths per 100,000 people — or a total of six deaths from both territories that year. The top fatality rate is followed by Yukon with 8.3 deaths per 100,000 — or a total of three deaths that year.

"N.W.T., Nunavut's been on my radar for a while and I hope that there is some action taken to look at the fatality rate and take some actions to address some of the occupational groups or industries where they're seeing more fatalities," Tucker said.

Tucker added that after decades of the lost-time injury rate decreasing in Canada — a measure of people having to take time off work because of workplace injuries — it's started to increase across the country, including in the N.W.T. and Nunavut.

Tucker said that other than in 2016, the jurisdiction is seeing multiple fatalities per year.

2016 workplace death remembered

David Vinnicombe, a 19-year-old Australian, was working in Inuvik, N.W.T., for Allen Services & Contracting Ltd. in June 2016 when a piece of heavy equipment he was operating rolled and killed him. The four-year anniversary of death will be on June 28.

Allen Services and a company supervisor originally faced nine charges under the territory's Safety Act, but pleaded guilty in October 2017 to one charge: failing to ensure that all workers are sufficiently and competently supervised. As part of the plea deal, the remaining eight charges were withdrawn.

Renee and Robbie Vinnicombe at the grave of their son David who was killed in a workplace accident in 2016. (Submitted by the Vinnicombe family)

"David is missed every minute of every day by his mother and father," said Jacqui Vinnicombe, David's aunt.

Their daily routine is to work, and then visit David's grave to remember their son in the best way they can," said Jacqui.

"It's absolutely devastating that his life was taken due to a preventable accident."

Although the Vinnicombes live in Australia, they continue to advocate for improved safety in the workplace in the N.W.T.  In particular, the family wants to make sure that there are stricter requirements around equipment operators in the North. 

David was in an open-cab machine when he died. The Vinnicombes want enclosed machinery cabins to be required, like it is in other jurisdictions.

"That's the one thing that will stop the next person being killed in a similar accident," Jacqui said.

The family is in the midst of the legal process of requesting a judicial review of the original decision to deny a coroner's inquest into David's death.

They are hopeful it will result in a coroner's inquest, which could "bring to light any of the underlying systemic problems … that have also led and been contributing factors to David's accident," said Jacqui.

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