Safety leaders from Saskatchewan’s health sector are working to make the education sector safer. SEIU-West cautiously supports these efforts, but believes they can’t replace our own work to empower our members on occupational health and safety issues.
Recent statistics from the Saskatchewan Workers Compensation Board (WCB) confirm what these members have known for years: K-12 education can be a dangerous sector to work in, especially when it comes to the risk of being assaulted. The overall injury rate in the sector is above the provincial average, and 12% of all WCB claims from education sector workers (not including teachers) are due to assaults or violent acts – one of the highest rates of any industry.
Unlike high-risk industries such as energy, health care, and heavy construction, the education sector in Saskatchewan does not have its own WCB-funded safety association to promote injury prevention. However the WCB has recently funded and mandated the health sector safety association, the Saskatchewan Association for Safe Workplaces in Health (SASWH), to provide some of these services in the education sector.
At selected workplaces in selected school divisions, SASWH has been introducing tools for identifying and reducing workplace hazards, with a particular focus on violence prevention.
Neil Colmin, Vice-President of SEIU-West, is a worker representative on the SASWH Board of Directors, and has closely watched SASWH’s pilot projects in the education sector. “I’m cautiously optimistic,” he told The Front Line. “These projects are starting to show some positive results. But they can’t do everything. We still need to make sure that all of our workplaces in the sector have an OH&S Committee with a full slate of elected worker reps and that they are appropriately educated in their duties. Ultimately we need to make sure that every single one of our members understands, they have the right to a safe workplace.”