(Canadian OH&S News) — First Nations workers in Saskatchewan now have an association lobbying for their right to be safe on the job, as the new Saskatchewan First Nation Safety Association (SFNSA) officially launched earlier this month.
Founded by Toby Desnomie, the nonprofit association’s CEO and the former head of First Nations-centred safety-training firm TGD Training & Consulting, the SFNSA’s goal is to reduce First Nations’ workplace injuries and fatalities through its five guiding principles of education, advice, advocacy, training and management.
“Our mission at the Association is to empower First Nations communities to live injury-free,” Desnomie told COHSN. “One of our priorities is to develop a public safety-awareness campaign around employers, employees, community members engaging in work, family and play activity, that will in turn reduce human and financial losses.”
Desnomie, a veteran of the occupational health and safety field who has also worked with First Nations communities for 20 years, was inspired to create the association by his previous work as a trainer for National Safety Construction Officers, during which he observed the lack of protections for First Nations by the Saskatchewan Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB).
“I had noticed that there was an underdeveloped service to First Nations with respect to occupational health,” he explained. “First Nations in Canada are exempt from the actual WCB codes. First Nations are exempt from WCB insurance as well, I do believe,” he added, referring to minimum insurance policies that employers pay into for the support of injured workers.
Based in Fort Qu’Appelle, the SFNSA is still in its early stages, but it already has a nine-month engagement strategy in the works. “We’re going out to every First Nation here in Saskatchewan or at their events and seeing what exactly their needs are,” said Desnomie. “We’re putting this needs assessment together and then going out and talking with respected leadership, as well as administration and management staff, and seeing exactly how can we help.”
Although new to Saskatchewan, Desnomie’s group is not the first such organization in Canada. The First Nations Safety Council of B.C. has similar principles and goals to the SFNSA, in terms of developing resources and training for workplace safety.
Desnomie was confident that other provinces will set up First Nations safety organizations in the future, calling occupational health and safety “an under-resourced sector” for his people.
“After we set the model up, I think it will be a lot easier for other provinces to start to engage,” he said, referring to his association as “a beginning stage for a lot of First Nations to engage in occupational health, management strategies, as well as risk strategies for their workers, as well as for the general public.”
The SFNSA is in the process of seeking affiliations with other organizations. Desnomie has already established a partnership with the Saskatchewan Construction Safety Association through his previous work with TGD.
“One thing that we First Nations appreciate is the bridging of resources from either the province or the federal government, or even different industry sectors,” he said. “First Nations are moving towards a lot of new economic-development partnerships. And with those partnerships come some responsibilities with respect to legal liabilities, as well as operations for the occupational health and safety management programs.”
The association aims to develop and implement strategies “to have the main mission of injury-free workplace on First Nations.”