N.W.T. and Nunavut have highest 5-year-average injury fatality rate in Canada

N.W.T. and Nunavut rate of on-the-job injury fatalities is a concern, says author of report.

6 workplace deaths in 2018 in the 2 territories

Robbie and Renee Vinnicombe at the grave of their son David who was killed in a workplace accident in Inuvik in 2016. They remain unsatisfied with any changes in workplace safety since his death. (Submitted by the Vinnicombe family)

The rate of deaths in the workplace in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut over the past five years is the highest in the country, according to a new study from the University of Regina.

The report focused on workplace fatality and injury rates throughout Canada. It shows that the two territories have a combined five-year average injury-related fatality rate of 7.7 per 100,000 people.

"It's of concern," said Sean Tucker, a co-author of the report and associate professor at the University of Regina.

"When I look at this and I compare how Nunavut and the Northwest Territories compare to other jurisdictions … it just stands out," he said, noting that there are limitations in interpreting the data because of the small sample size.

Sean Tucker, co-author of report on workplace injury fatalities, says his findings for Nunavut and N.W.T. are 'of concern.' (Submitted by Sean Tucker )

The working population of the two territories combined is 40,000 people, but 22 people died on the job between 2012-2017, according to data from the Association Of Workers Compensation Boards Of Canada, which was included in Tucker's report.

The data for the two jurisdictions are combined because the two share a common workers' safety and compensation commission, which compiles the data.

There were six workplace deaths in 2018 between the two territories.

"There's something going on," Tucker said. "It's something [that] if the public isn't aware of, they should be and there should be some discussion about why that is."

Yukon has the second-highest rate in Canada, at 6.4 per 100,000 and Saskatchewan is third, with 4.9 per 100,000 people, according to the study.

Tucker said what's striking to him is the numbers appear to be consistent, and noted that "three to five people die a year, and that's a lot for a small jurisdiction."

He said there are peak years where the deaths are about double to triple the average.

The highest number of injury fatalities at the workplace in the past 20 years was in 2011, when there were 18 workplace deaths in Nunavut and the N.W.T.

According to the Nunavut and N.W.T. Workers' Safety and Compensation Commission, that was the year of the First Air plane crash in Resolute, Nunavut, which killed 12 passengers and crew.

There were two other plane crashes that followed that crash within weeks of each other.

David Vinnicombe, 19, was killed in a workplace accident in Inuvik in 2016. The man's parent's want a coroner's inquest. (Submitted by Vinnicombe family)

'1 death is too many'

In 2016, the death of 19-year-old David Vinnicombe was the only workplace death in both territories.

"He went up working with his uncle Ben. And he was having the time of his life… and he just didn't come [home]. When we brought him home we buried him," said Robbie Vinnicombe, David's dad.

"We watch all the other kids growing up around him and they are all getting married and having kids. And our son didn't progress any further … his life was finished in Inuvik."

The young man from Australia was working for Allen Services & Contracting Ltd. in June 2016 when a piece of heavy equipment he was operating rolled and killed him.

Allen Services and a company supervisor originally faced nine charges under the territory's Safety Act, but pleaded guilty in October 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.

It's now been almost three years since David's death, and the Vinnicombes remain unsatisfied with any change in workplace safety since his death.

David's Aunt Jacqui Vinnicombe said "the same incident can happen on the same piece of equipment in the workplace."

"To have David's death be in vain is absolutely heartbreaking, but that's the way it's going," said Robbie Vinnicombe.

Jacqui Vinnicombe said they are in the legal process of asking for a judicial review, with hopes that a coroner's inquest is granted.

The inquest would mean an examination of the causes and circumstances surrounding the death.

Nunavut and N.W.T. unique

The Vinnicombes point out that since David's death, there have been other workplace accidents in and around the community.

Eric Grant, 31, was killed in a Inuvik workplace accident last July, and about two months ago, there was an explosion at one of Bob's Weldings buildings when a welder was working on a fuel tank.

Eric Grant was killed in a workplace accident in Inuvik last year. (Submitted by Jon Wilkie)

There were two workers in the building at the time. Both walked out of the building with no injuries, but both events are being investigated by the Nunavut and N.W.T. Workers' Safety and Compensation Commission (WSCC).

"It obviously raises concerns. Any incidents always raise concerns and we take it seriously," said Judy Kainz, the director of prevention and employer services with the WSCC.

Nunavut and the Northwest Territories are unique because harvesters, hunters and trappers make up a significant part of the working population, Kainz said.

Ten out of 25 deaths related to workplace injury between 2012-2018 were in that group, she said.

She also said they probably weren't aware that the numbers were higher in the N.W.T. and Nunavut compared to other jurisdictions but "we review the number for ourselves each year."

Kainz said she couldn't say how many WSCC investigations are ongoing in the two territories, but said there are "quite a few."

The WSCC is promoting a "culture of safety" among employees and employers, Kainz said.

"That's what's going to reduce the numbers down to zero," she said. "One death is too many."