Nova Scotia

'It's a big deal': Workplace-related deaths in N.S. doubled in 2018

Workplace fatalities in Nova Scotia increased in 2018, according to statistics released Wednesday from the Workers Compensation Board and the Department of Labour and Advanced Education.

There were 14 "acute incidents" on the work site resulting in fatalities, compared to 5 in the previous year

The 25th anniversary of the Westray mining disaster was marked in 2017 in Plymouth, N.S. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

Workplace fatalities in Nova Scotia increased in 2018, according to statistics released Wednesday from the Workers' Compensation Board and the Department of Labour and Advanced Education.

Of the 40 reported workplace deaths last year, 14 Nova Scotians died from acute traumatic injuries such as drowning, falls, automobile accidents or were lost at sea.

Another 12 died from occupational diseases such as lung conditions related to coal mining and other work-related cancers. Fourteen more deaths were caused by health-related conditions like heart attacks and strokes.

21 reported workplace deaths in 2017

By comparison, in 2017, eight people died from occupational diseases and eight died at work from health-related conditions.

Five people died from acute incidents the same year.

Workers are shown on the job in B.C. Of the 40 reported workplace deaths last year in Nova Scotia, 14 died from acute traumatic injuries such as drownings, falls, automobile accidents or were lost at sea. (CBC)

Stuart MacLean, CEO of the Workers' Compensation Board, said the board believes the deaths are preventable.

"[In 2016] we had two acute fatalities where last year we had 14," he said. "So it's a big deal that we see these fatalities, and we have to make sure that we're learning from this and that we're going to continue to respond to it."

Fatalities on the water

In 2018, six people drowned or were lost at sea while fishing and three deaths happened in the construction industry.

Last fall, the Labour Department increased its presence at wharves on the South Shore and the Annapolis Valley to promote workplace safety and compliance.

The report also shows claims for psychological injuries, which include post-traumatic stress disorder and other injuries, went up almost 50 per cent over the previous year and more than three times what they were in 2014.

"(In) 2018, we had 101 psychological injuries we'll call them, in 2017 there were 68," MacLean said. "So the number is up. Previous to that it was 40. So you can see the trend is very much on the increase."

Speaking up to prevent deaths

MacLean urges workers to speak up if they see something unsafe in the workplace.

"If your inside voice is saying I'm not sure if I should speak up, then speak up. We need people to care about workplace health and safety," he said.

"These deaths in 2018, you know we need to learn from that. We need to say this is unacceptable. We need things to be different. And the best way to prevent an injury is if you see something that's unsafe you do something about it. You spot the hazard you eliminate it."

There were 24,584 worker compensation claims in 2018, up slightly from 23,952 in 2017. Of the 2018 claims, 5,819 lost time from work due to injuries.

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About the Author

Sherri Borden Colley has been a reporter for more than 20 years. Many of the stories she writes are about social justice, race and culture, human rights and the courts. To get in touch with Sherri email sherri.borden.colley@cbc.ca