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Vancouver Employment Law Blog

Data analysis may prevent but not eliminate workplace injury

Construction work sites are known hazardous areas at which employers are expected to protect the health and safety of employees. However, construction site accidents continue to occur in British Columbia, and safety authorities are looking at ways in which to change this. Almost every workplace injury can be prevented by using common sense. This is the opinion of an executive of the BC Construction Safety Alliance.

Authorities say that along with putting efficient safety systems in place and providing appropriate personal protective equipment, the gathering and analyzing of data can bring about a safety culture that may prevent many injuries and even save lives. It is suggested that workplace safety data of all the provinces and territories are combined and analyzed. Safety authorities say this could uncover risk areas, indicating where to look for causes of injuries rather than giving answers.

Workplace accident: 44 construction workers died in 2017

Safety advocates expressed their concern about the rate of fatalities in the construction industry. At the annual commemoration of a 1981 workplace accident in Vancouver when a construction platform collapsed, surviving family members of four workers who died there came together. However, the alarming truth revealed by the building-trades council is that 1,000 more British Columbia construction workers have been killed in occupational accidents since that tragedy.

Authorities say that, instead of decreasing, the workplace death numbers increase every year. In 2017, the number of fatalities rose at an alarming rate of 42 percent. Several of the 2017 deaths in the construction industry were caused by workers who fell from heights. Some fell from elevated levels on construction sites, while others fell from ladders. Reportedly, one death was caused by electrocution when a ladder on which an employee was standing to repair a gutter made contact with overhead power cables.

Employment law and the validity of harassment allegations

Workplace harassment has been a topic that was the subject of discussion in many British Columbia industries in recent months. Under employment law, employees have the right to safe workplace environments, but employers have the right to protection against groundless accusations of harassment. If bullying or harassment is present in the workplace, the employee must report it to the employer who must take the appropriate steps to address the issue. Both employers and employees may benefit from understanding what constitutes harassment. 

Employment law: Supreme court rules on discrimination

Following a claim of workplace discrimination in British Columbia, the Supreme Court of Canada ultimately ruled that such discrimination is possible even if the accused and the claimant are employees of different entities. According to employment law and human rights legislation, all individuals are protected against discrimination and insults. The case arose from a complaint filed by a civil engineer who worked on a road project who alleged discriminatory remarks were made by an employee of a contractor who was involved in the project.

According to court documents, a foreman who was an employee of a contractor made homophobic and racists comments to the complainant. She reported the incident to her employer, who in turn discussed the matter with the contractor -- who is a separate entity but affiliated with the complainant's employer. The contractor was asked to assign the foreman to another worksite, but the discrimination apparently continued until the foreman was dismissed.

Does workers' compensation cover workplace injury on a film set?

Workers in the film industry -- actors and actresses, dancers, stunt drivers, set workers and others -- face multiple safety risks while working on productions. However, the Occupational Health and Safety laws are not always clear on the status of workers. In British Columbia, some performers are regarded as employees, while others may be classified as independent operators. For this reason, a person who earns income in the entertainment industry will not be automatically eligible for workers' compensation benefits in the event of a workplace injury.

A stunt driver died during the filming of Deadpool 2 in Vancouver in August. The woman had to ride a motorcycle from inside a building, across a concrete area and then stop on a landing after crossing a ramp that covered a few stairs and led down to the landing. For reasons still under investigation, the motorcycle continued down more stairs, across a street and then struck a curb. The stuntwoman was ejected and thrown through an office building's plate-glass window, where she died.

Handling workplace investigations as a business owner

As a business owner in British Columbia, you are obviously aware of the importance of handling investigations of workplace harassment claims appropriately. A flawed investigation can have significantly adverse consequences for an organization. For that reason, it is essential for business owners, managers and supervisors to learn the correct procedures for handling such matters.

Workers in all industries have rights to healthy and safe workplace environments. As an employer, you must understand your role and duties in the event of a workplace harassment complaint with relation to the investigation. The Occupational Health and Safety Act provides guidelines for this process.

Should your mental health issues cause you concern at work?

Everyone feels a little blue from time to time. But when depression or any mental illness becomes pervasive, it might interfere with every facet of life, which may include an individual's job duties.

Unfortunately, there is still a stigma attached to mental health issues. However, society has made leaps and bounds into understanding those issues and so, too, have employers. But if an employee has mental health concerns, it's important for both to be aware of their workplace rights and duties.

Wrongful termination: Will deregulation of marijuana be an issue?

With the talks of marijuana being further deregulated by the government, it will be more accessible to employees, and it might soon be an issue in British Columbia workplaces. Cannabis is consumed in different manners (including in the form known as marijuana), and how employers manage cannabis use by employees may determine whether they will face wrongful termination lawsuits. The details of imminent legislation to allow cannabis use will have to be carefully studied by employers to avoid the costs of such litigation.

In 2015, an employee of a logging company smoked marijuana during his breaks for pain relief as part of his management of pain caused by cancer. However, he failed to disclose this to his employer, and when marijuana was found in his truck after a collision with a moose, he was fired. The worker regarded this as wrongful termination and filed a complaint alleging human rights violations. In a subsequent lawsuit, the employer contended that the employee was an operator of dangerous equipment and impairment by marijuana was life-threatening.

Appeals court rules for random drug testing in Suncor Energy case

Employees at the oil and gas operations of Suncor Energy in British Columbia may be interested in the outcome of a legal battle that followed disputes in 2012 between the energy giant and Unifor - the union that represents some of the employees at the company's oil sands sites in another province.

At issue was random drug and alcohol testing, with the union taking the position that the company had violated employee rights by invading their privacy. In response, the employer underscored the fact that impairment by drugs or alcohol cannot be tolerated in employees in safety-sensitive positions.

Well-known baker loses right arm in workplace injury

In British Columbia, employers in all industries must comply with requirements to protect the health and safety of their employees. If the inspectors of WorkSafeBC investigate a workplace injury and find that safety violations caused it, the business will be fined. This happened to Nature's Oven Foods after an incident that claimed most of a baker's right arm earlier this year.

In May, the baker, well-known for baking the annual four by six-foot Canada Cake in West Kelowna, even received recognition in the House of Commons by a Member of Parliament. Reportedly, she lost her arm when it became entangled in the working parts of a dough mixer at the commercial bakery. The victim was appointed the position of the head baker at the company in 2012.

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