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‘Big Daddy’s watching’ — chamber

The Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board will investigate businesses that don’t co-operate with its safety programs.

The Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board will investigate businesses that don’t co-operate with its safety programs.

The move to target companies that don’t sign on to the board’s safety and return-to-work program, known as CHOICES, comes after a near-record year for workplace injuries, said Valerie Royle, the board’s president and CEO.

“The number on the sign (in front of the board’s building at Strickland and Fourth) at the end of the year was 1,960,” said Royle at a media briefing Thursday.

“What that means is 12.9 per cent of Yukoners were injured on the job.

“Thirteen per cent is a horrific injury rate for a territory of this size.”

Statistically, 65 per cent of reported injuries will become claims the board has to pay out on and 40 per cent will result in lost work time, she added.

In 2006, there were a record 1,984 reported injuries.

“What’s dramatic is there’s nothing different. Based on that, 2008 could be the same,” she said.

Yukon employers have until February 28 to sign up for the voluntary CHOICES program, which offers a chance for employers to make their workplaces safer and gives cash rebates to companies to sign on, said Royle.

CHOICES will help them make their workplaces safer by helping them to develop better safety practices and get in line with workplace health and safety laws, she said.

Those companies that don’t sign on will be more likely to see safety inspectors at their doors because without signing on, the board has no indication that safety is being taken seriously, she said.

Businesses found to be non-compliant could be made to make changes to their business operations, receive orders from the health and safety board or, in more serious situations, face fines or be shut down until the problem is fixed, added Royle.

The business community is interpreting that as a threat.

Telling businesses they’re likely to be targeted if they don’t join a voluntary safety initiative is ridiculous, said Rick Karp, president of the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce.

“Is this how you get businesses to sign on to a voluntary program, by making threats?” said Karp.

“It’s supposed to be a voluntary thing; now, all of a sudden, it’s a requirement with penalties.

“It’s almost like Big Bother, Big Daddy’s watching.”

Employers and employees in the territory are the clients of the compensation board and deserve good customer service, not threats, said Karp.

The 2007 figure of 1,960 injuries is misleading because it’s the number of reported injuries and not accepted claims.

That is, it doesn’t represent claims the compensation board pays out on, he added.

“Why not wait until the real numbers are in? Sixty-five per cent of 1,960 is like 1,274; those are the accepted claims.

“How many reported injuries in things like the retail sector were actual claims?

“It’s misleading just to throw numbers around,” said Karp.

In 2007, the retail sector had more reported injuries at 149 than the construction industry did at 146, according to the compensation board.

The retail sector’s figures were up by three from 2006 while the construction industry had dropped by 35.

Reported injuries in 2007 in other sectors include 470 for the Yukon government, 80 in diamond drilling, 73 in exploration, 73 for First Nations, 69 in hotels, 63 in restaurants, 42 in children’s and seniors’ homes and 35 in lumberyards.

The majority of reported injuries, 751, were a result of people coming into contact with equipment or objects, followed by over exertion, 655, slips and falls, 275, and exposure to harmful substances or environments at 118, according to the board.

People aged 45 to 54 had the highest rate of injuries at 509.

Yukoners, aged 25 and under, had 332 reported injuries.