PEI

Labour group calls for WCB to give more details about P.E.I. workplace deaths

Two workplace-related deaths on Prince Edward Island in 2020 triggered compensation payouts, according to the latest annual report from the Workers Compensation Board of P.E.I.

Board says 2 people died on P.E.I. in 2020 due to 'latent occupational disease'

Carl Pursey, the president of the P.E.I. Federation of Labour, says the lack of information about workplace deaths raises major questions about whether problems are being addressed. (CBC)

Two workplace-related deaths on Prince Edward Island in 2020 triggered compensation payouts, according to the latest annual report from the Workers Compensation Board of P.E.I.

But nowhere in the report will you find any details on how those workers died, what industries employed them, or what follow-up, if any, took place to try to prevent similar deaths in future.

P.E.I. Federation of Labour president Carl Pursey says the federation has long been pushing the province to release more information about workplace deaths.

"They tell us… that it's confidential information, and you can't have any information about it," Pursey said of the response his group has received from the province in the past.

"It's just not right… we need to know what's taken place so we can try and make workplaces safer, so that we can prevent workplace accidents."

When contacted by CBC News, the Workers Compensation Board provided minimal information about the deaths in 2020, saying only that they were a result of "latent occupational disease" and no workplace investigations took place.

The memorial for Prince Edward Island workers injured or killed in the line of duty can be found on Richmond Street in downtown Charlottetown. (Kerry Campbell/CBC)

Beyond that, the WCB said it could "not provide additional identifiable information about individual cases because the number is so small and we need to protect the privacy of our clients and their families."

The board also clarified that the figure represents only those deaths that triggered a compensation payout, and more workplace deaths could have occurred in 2020 that did not trigger payouts.

Workplaces must notify province

Under P.E.I.'s Occupational Health and Safety Act, which is administered by the board, employers are required to notify the province within 24 hours of any workplace accident "in which a worker is seriously injured in a manner which causes or may cause a fatality, suffers a loss of limb, unconsciousness, substantial loss of blood, a fracture, an amputation of a leg, arm, hand, or foot, a burn to a major portion of the body, or the loss of sight in an eye."

A board of inquiry can be created to recommend remedial action, but the results of any investigation are considered confidential under the legislation.

CBC News reached out to the provincial Information and Privacy Commissioner's Office asking whether WCB or any other government entity could be allowed to release some details about workplace deaths with the goal of improving public safety.

"It's an interesting question but it raises complex issues," a spokesperson for the commissioner replied. "We have not turned our minds to it and have not formulated an opinion."

Different levels of detail elsewhere

Other provinces are more forthcoming with information about workplace deaths. 

  • Alberta publishes some workplace investigation reports. 
  • British Columbia, Quebec and New Brunswick have searchable online databases that include a brief description of the circumstances that led to a worker being injured or killed, as well as the date, type of job they were doing and their industry.
  • Several other provinces list summaries of individual incidents in annual reports.

The Workers Compensation Board of P.E.I. told CBC New it uses information from case files to issue bulletins and alerts with the goal of preventing future accidents and illnesses.

"These types of resources are important because they explain how an injury or fatality happened and how future accidents can be prevented," a board spokesperson said in an email.

Request for a wreath

Pursey said he learned about one workplace fatality that occurred on P.E.I. in 2020 only after the worker's widow contacted him, asking him to lay a wreath on her husband's behalf during the annual National Day of Mourning to commemorate those killed or injured on the job.

When it's not made public, someone else could die from the same injury at work, if no one knows what happened.- Carl Pursey

"When it's not made public, someone else could die from the same injury at work, if no one knows what happened," Pursey pointed out.

"We need to make them all public so we know what happened [and] where it happened, and a proper investigation needs to be done to see what really did cause it."

Pursey said he plans to raise the issue during a meeting with P.E.I. Minister of Economic Growth Matthew MacKay planned for the fall.

More from CBC P.E.I.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kerry Campbell

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Kerry Campbell is the provincial affairs reporter for CBC P.E.I., covering politics and the provincial legislature. kerry.campbell@cbc.ca

With files from Elizabeth McMillan

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