(Canadian OH&S News) — A new report from the Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission (WHSCC) of Newfoundland and Labrador has offered both good and bad news about oh&s in the province. On one hand, last year’s lost-time incidence rate of 1.6 (meaning 1.6 incidents per 100 workers), the same as the rate for 2012, was the lowest calculated in the WHSCC’s history. The rate has steadily declined over the past 13 years, the commission claimed in a press release about the report on April 24.
But the report also noted that of the 30 work-related fatalities that had occurred in 2013, 25 of them resulted from occupational illness. This was an increase from 20 occupational disease deaths in 2012.
The province has also seen a rise in the average number of occupational disease fatalities per year over the past decade, according to Leslie Galway, the WHSCC’s chief executive officer. From 2004 to 2008, the annual average number of deaths from occupational disease was 13; over the subsequent five years, the annual average was 21.
“We’ve been tracking occupational disease and the fatality aspects as one part of that for a long while,” said Galway. “In a working population of this size, we would be concerned with these outcomes.”
Galway defined occupational disease as illness that results from constant exposure to irritants at work over a long period of time. Common examples of irritants include dust from asbestos or silica, toxic fumes from chemicals and loud noise. The latter can seriously affect hearing over the long run.
As for how the overall rate of workplace injuries and deaths could decline while occupational disease increased, Galway explained that occupational disease is a long-term development. “So if you think of something like asbestos or silica dust, it’s usually over a career, and it can be that the exposure took place between 10 or 15 years followed by another 20 years of latency while the disease actually develops,” she said. “So it takes quite a period of time before you actually see this demonstrated as a disease and a claim to the commission.”