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No ‘substantive’ changes to workplace regulations

Peter Jenkins’ last official act before leaving cabinet in November was approving the occupational health and safety regulations that had…

Peter Jenkins’ last official act before leaving cabinet in November was approving the occupational health and safety regulations that had languished on his desk for more than three years.

They’re finally ready.

The Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board is meeting today to discuss the proposed regulations package with president Valerie Royle, worker’s advocate Mike Travill and minister Brad Cathers, who was promoted after Jenkins left cabinet and the Yukon Party.

“In 1999 and again in 2000, drafts of the general safety regulations, the blasting regulations and mine-safety regulations were taken to most Yukon communities,” board chair Craig Tuton said in a document obtained by The News.

“Feedback was incorporated and, upon the board of director’s approval, the regulations were presented to the minister for consideration in 2002.”

That minister was Jenkins, newly arrived on the wings of the Yukon Party’s 2002 victory.

Jenkins proclaimed the documents too cumbersome, and sat on them.

He eventually ordered a review.

The workers’ compensation board contracted an “international expert” to review the documents and “ensure they reflected current standards and were reflective of regulations in other Canadian jurisdictions,” said Tuton.

“The expert endorsed the package and we then contracted with a local consultant to ensure the regulations were presented in plain language.”

The workers’ compensation board paid $13,800 to Ralph McGinn, an expert from British Columbia, who completed his recommendations in summer 2005.

The two reviews that Jenkins ordered are now complete, and “there are no substantive changes from the 2002 regulation package,” said Tuton.

There were more than 2,000 workplace injuries in the Yukon between 2002 and 2003.

And 1,108 workplace injuries in 2004 that cost about $10 million in compensation, Tuton said in a previous interview.

Preliminary estimates indicate about 1,140 reported injuries in 2005.

It’s not as though the regulations would have necessarily prevented any of those injuries from happening.

But there was no good reason to delay their implementation, said Yukon Federation of Labour president Doug Rody.

“I haven’t gone over them with a fine-tooth comb to compare them with the last draft that I saw, but it looks pretty much the same,” Rody said in an interview Friday.

“I find it ironic that Peter Jenkins had the file for three years and nothing happened. Brad Cathers got the file — how long has he been minister? — and the regs are about to pass.

“Isn’t that interesting? Peter sat on them for three years.”

The changes made between 2002 and 2006 simplify the regulations by converting some workplace aspects into “codes of practice,” he said.

For example, the number of washrooms required on a work site was taken out of the regulations practice and made a code of practice, said Rody.

“They wanted flexibility for road jobs, which was understandable.

“They still need to get a safety officer’s permission to vary, but that’s done on a job-by-job basis.

“The other thing that they put in a code practice was rigging and hand signals.

“Those are pretty standard — they’ve been standard for a couple of decades — but they wanted the opportunity to change those if the industry standard changes, without having to back into the regs.”

Codes of practice are not necessarily enforceable, whereas regulations are established under law, he added.

The current regulations were drafted in 1986.

Many workplace standards have changed since then.

For example, the pump-jack scaffold wasn’t invented in 1986.

And the new regs require crane operators to get training from recognized authorities, where no formal training was previously required.

Many Yukon workplace regulations — the old and the new — were pulled from other jurisdictions in Canada, said Rody.

“Some of the regs that we’re operating under now are over 30 years old. They’re just not up to date.

“And the ones that are waiting for cabinet approval are not cutting edge.

“In the process of developing them, WCB culled them out of various other jurisdictions, as they did last time, and maybe adapted them somewhat to the Yukon.

“What we’re doing is bringing things up to date.”

In a previous interview, an official with the workers’ compensation board said the regulations should be in effect by May 2006, in time for the major construction season.

The workers’ compensation board plans to begin updating the regulations for occupational health, commercial diving, first aid, hazardous materials and radiation protection in 2006.