A classroom at CSSC Mercier in Whitehorse is seen on November 9, 2020. A storage closet doubles as a whiteboard. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

A classroom at CSSC Mercier in Whitehorse is seen on November 9, 2020. A storage closet doubles as a whiteboard. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Yukon Education department flunks health and safety inspection

Workers’ Health and Safety Board has given the department until Oct. 7 to take corrective actions

The Yukon’s Education department is being ordered to fix its failure to uphold health and safety programs in schools as a result of a workplace health and safety inspection report.

The inspection report by the Yukon Workers’ Safety and Compensation Board shows the Education department is failing to meet legislation that requires health and safety committee programs in schools. Those programs are legislatively mandated in 18 of the territory’s 36 schools.

The date of the inspection was Aug. 22. The inspection report, which was issued Aug. 26 and obtained by the News, evaluates the department’s health and safety committee program.

The evaluation has found inconsistencies in the frequency and functionality of the program.

In the report, data provided to the board “clearly indicates” the department’s program failed to ensure that monthly meetings were being held. Eight schools held one or no meetings in 2021. No meetings have been held for the past three years at Hidden Valley Elementary School in Whitehorse and Tantalus School in Carmacks.

The evaluation has found the program did not have a clear system in place that would allow committee members to track and follow through on health and safety recommendations brought forward to the committee in a timely way.

In some cases, there were indications that steps were being taken.

“However, in other cases, there was no way to define whether the recommendations were actually mitigated, extended or remained outstanding,” the report states.

Without being provided any information about rules of procedures that explain the duties, terms of reference and composition of a health and safety committee, the report indicates that the evaluation could not be complete and thus it has determined that all schools lacked the proper rules for workers.

In terms of committee training, although some workers had completed training, it was not clear what types of training had been received and what committee each worker represented. Since no information was provided about individual training records, the evaluation determined that required orientation and training among committee members are lacking.

The evaluation also found inconsistencies in the department’s health and safety committee workplace inspections program.

“Information pertaining to workplace health and safety inspections was received from [the department of Education] however, the information was lacking in the amount of inspections that were provided for each of the Yukon schools,” reads the report.

“This made it difficult to determine if health and safety inspections were actually occurring at each of the Yukon schools on regular intervals. The lack of data provided indicates that workplace inspections are not being conducted at regular intervals as legislatively required.”

The report found that some inspection reports did not clearly identify the school where the actual inspection took place, while other reports omitted the names of inspectors.

“These examples indicate a lack of consistency and knowledge of committee duties amongst the various [health and safety committee] members and health and safety representatives,” the report states.

“A more robust system of tracking deliverables is required to ensure the hazards brought forth during the monthly inspections are tracked and mitigated in a timely manner, by the person responsible for actioning the hazard.”

The board is ordering the department to follow nine orders and take eight corrective measures by Oct. 7. The measures are directed at deputy minister of Education Nicole Morgan.

In the report, anyone who fails to comply with the Workers’ Safety and Compensation Act, regulations or an order made by a board officer may be subject to administrative penalty, prosecution or further orders.

The report “must be posted in a conspicuous place at the workplace where it is most likely to come to the attention of workers.”

Richard Mostyn is the minister responsible for the workers’ compensation board. He told the News by phone on Aug. 29 that this type of investigation is “not something to take lightly.”

“I have every confidence that any employer faced with an investigation and orders stemming from an investigation will comply with the act, and certainly the Yukon government is no exception to that,” he said.

Mostyn said he expects the department to triage their response, dealing with the most important orders first.

The Yukon government takes the health and safety of all Yukon workers “very seriously,” Mostyn said, adding that joint health and safety committees are made up of representatives from labour and the employer.

“We take that responsibility very seriously, and joint health and safety committees are an important part of that work, so I expect the department of Education will work to bolster their health and safety committees,” he said.

Mostyn said this type of widespread investigation into health and safety concerning the Yukon government could set a precedent. The Yukon Employees Union prompted the investigation last year.

“I’m glad that this investigation has happened,” Mostyn said.

“It will point out gaps and places where we can improve our systems and make the workplace safer for all Yukon employees.”

Despite the findings, president Ted Hupé of the Yukon Association of Education Professionals, which represents educators across the territory, said by phone on Aug. 29 that he believes that schools have been holding these meetings.

Hupé said the association has been working on information gathering and the sharing of health and safety committee minutes and information for the past two years with the department of Education and the Yukon government.

He wonders “where are we at with the information gathering and information sharing because I think that is the crux of this.”

In an Aug. 29 email statement, the Workers’ Safety and Compensation board said it monitors compliance of the act and regulations for “all employers equally.”

“Joint health and safety committees are an important part of the internal responsibility system and help ensure everyone is aware of their workplace health and safety roles and responsibilities,” the board said.

“We continue to identify and work with workplaces where joint health and safety committees are not fully functioning.”

In the statement, safety officers rely on voluntary compliance to prevent health and safety violations, but they “will use enforcement measures if matters are not resolved within a specific timeline.”

Contact Dana Hatherly at dana.hatherly@yukon-news.com