‘Terrible odds’ for Yukon workers in 2011

Preliminary results of the investigation into the death of Denis Chabot at a Whitehorse tire shop in November were released by the Yukon Workers' Compensation, Health and Safety Board this week.

Preliminary results of the investigation into the death of Denis Chabot at a Whitehorse tire shop in November were released by the Yukon Workers’ Compensation, Health and Safety Board this week.

Chabot was killed at Integra Tire while he was working on a tri-axle transport truck, the board’s Kurt Dieckmann told a news conference Thursday.

He was taking the tires off and siping them – cutting thin slits along the rubber which improves traction. When he finished, he told his supervisor the vehicle was ready for pickup and went to give it a final check.

The owner of the vehicle, North 60 Petro Ltd., was notified and an employee was sent to pick it up.

When the employee arrived around 3:30 p.m., he found the vehicle idling, jumped in and drove away.

Chabot, who had been working underneath the vehicle on the passenger side where he could not be seen, was crushed beneath the tires.

The 34-year-old was taken to Whitehorse General Hospital but was pronounced dead on arrival.

“We hope that by releasing these preliminary findings that we can prevent something like this from happening in another Yukon workplace,” said board president Valerie Royle.

“It doesn’t have to be a mechanic shop. There are things to be learned from it that could apply to many workplaces in the territory.”

The fact that the vehicle had not been locked out or secured against movement while Chabot was working caused his death, the board concluded.

The driver from North 60 also failed to do a complete inspection of the vehicle before driving away.

Drivers of all large vehicles, like transport trucks, are required to do a full walk around to ensure the equipment is safe to operate.

The investigation into the fatality is still ongoing, and won’t likely be complete for the next few months. It’s not yet known if charges will laid.

Chabot was the fourth Yukon worker who died in 2011. Two workers died in 2010.

“That’s a horrific number,” said Royle. “That’s one out of every 5,000 workers, which are terrible odds.”

Pilot Bradley Chambers, 34, died in a plane crash near Mayo in March. A Transport Canada investigation into the crash is still underway.

In July, Mount Lorne NDP MLA Steve Cardiff died “during the course of his employment” in a head-on collision on the Carcross Road.

“We haven’t finalized the investigation yet, but we’ll never know really what happened in that one,” said Royle.

The third workplace fatality was Kurt Gantner, the fire chief in Tagish. Gantner had helped put out a major house fire on the night of Aug. 22. The blaze was finally out early the next morning.

After some sleep, Gantner took some family members to the airport and was on his way to a meeting with the fire marshal. He never made it. His fire station pickup crashed and he was found slumped over the steering wheel.

The cause of death was a heart attack, said Royle. Under new legislation passed last July, if a firefighter suffers a heart attack within 24 hours of fighting a fire, it’s presumed to be work-related.

In addition to the deaths, there were also 1,780 workers injured on the job in 2011. That was up from 1,541 in 2010.

Royle said the jump is due to the increase in the number of people working.

“We’re seeing about 600 more employers this year, which is huge for us. That’s a big increase in one year,” she said.

“The majority of the new employers are in mining, exploration and construction related to mining. These are also higher-risk professions.”

Despite this increase in high-risk jobs, there wasn’t a huge increase in the rate of injury.

The number of workers went up by 11 per cent, while the number of claims went up by about 13 per cent.

But some of these claims are fairly insignificant injuries.

The health and safety board uses what’s known as the “lost-time rate” to measure serious injuries in the territory. It measures how many workers have to take time off from work, beyond the day of the injury.

Royle predicts this rate will be about the same as last year: 2.2 per cent.

“We saw more workers out there, but we do expect our lost-time rate to be about the same, so when you look at it as a percentage it should work out to be about the same as 2010,” she said. “If we have 20,000 workers that means 220 of them were so injured they couldn’t return to work the next day.”

This rate is about middle-of-the-pack when compared to other jurisdictions in Canada, “but average is not what we’re aiming for,” she said.

Because of a $14.7-million operating surplus, rates for Yukon businesses will go down across all industries.

Surprisingly, the rates for construction have been going down faster than any other industry.

Construction companies will pay 22 per cent less this year than they did in 2011.

This decrease is likely due to an increase in safety regulations and certification programs, said Royle.

Contact Chris Oke at chriso@yukon-news.com