Shannon Kempton still waits for all the details of her father's 2013 death on the job
WORKERS KILLED AT WORK IN NOVA SCOTIA BECOME ‘THE UNDEAD’: they are not allowed to rest in peace. They are kept alive in a bureaucratic limbo of secrets and obfuscation. Families are denied details of how and why their loved ones died; deaths are even hidden from the public.
This does grave dishonour to the dead workers and grave disservice to all workers who are left ignorant and defenceless against similar perils they may face at work.
Lost in a swarm of ‘what ifs’
Peter Kempton worked at an auto repair shop in Dartmouth, N.S. in 2013. His boss ordered him to wedge his way under a derelict van and detach the gas tank. The tank exploded. Peter burned to death.
Shannon Kempton still ponders what might have prevented her father Peter from following the boss’s orders. Shannon says: “You think about the what ifs because you don’t have anything else.”
Shannon says the Nova Scotia Department of Labour has never confirmed what her dad was doing in the minutes prior to the gruesome accident. She had to piece it together through media reports. Five years later she heard details from witnesses at a criminal negligence trial of the repair shop owner.
Keeping deaths secret
The Labour Department has stopped giving the public information about workplace deaths. “There was really little value in doing that,” said Harold Carroll, the province’s executive director of occupational health and safety.
The Labour Department stopped putting together an annual report on Occupational Health after 2013, which Carroll attributed to a lack of uptake.
Nova Scotia’s Workers’ Compensation Board does release data related to the number of fatalities, the type of injuries sustained and the industries affected.
Stuart MacLean, the WCB’s chief executive officer, said the Labour Department decides what information should be released after an accident.
The Labour Department refuses to provide descriptions of incidents except through freedom-of-information requests.
“Telling me what happened that day, that he was under a car and he was working on a gas tank and it exploded and that sort of information, I don’t think compromises a court case,” she said. “And for families just to get some answers is so important because you feel like you’re in the dark.”
“Not knowing is probably one of the hardest things,” she said.
Nova Scotia’s approach is in sharp contrast to some other provinces.
Alberta publishes some workplace investigation reports. British Columbia, Quebec and New Brunswick have searchable online databases that include a brief description of the circumstances that led to a worker being injured or killed, as well as the date, type of job they were doing and their industry.
Several other provinces list summaries of individual incidents in annual reports.
Info blacked out, death unreported
The CBC had to file a freedom of information request to get details of workplace deaths in Nova Scotia in 2018.
The two-page document released under freedom-of-information laws lists four separate fishing mishaps that resulted in the death of six people, five of whom are named. The names of the other people who died on the job are not included.
Five fatalities are still under investigation. The description of what happened in three of those cases is blacked out.
So far, two 2018 fatalities have resulted in the Labour Department issuing orders related to safe work practices, though they may not have been directly related to fatality.
Key to prevention
Mark Fleming, a Saint Mary’s University psychology professor who focuses on occupational health and safety, said along with awareness, analyzing the underlying causes of workplace deaths is key to prevention.
Looking at workplace accident trends can help identify patterns beyond that fatalities frequently happen in the construction and fishing industries, he said.
“If you don’t have that data, then you know we’re just going to keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again, which is really sad,” he said.
Some workplace deaths do lead to rule changes and a shift within industry. After several deadly falls on construction sites in 2013, the province hired more safety inspectors and revised fall-protection regulations.
A long way from full transparency
Shannon Kempton still worries the province isn’t being up front about the frequency of workplace fatalities.
“I feel like they’re trying to hide that fact sometimes from people and to only look at the good numbers and show that whatever initiatives they’re trying to put in place are working,” she said.
Though Peter Kempton died nearly six years ago, charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act against his employer Elie Hoyeck are still winding through the court system.
Hoyeck has pleaded not guilty to the charges. He is scheduled to be tried for them in September. He was found not guilty of criminal negligence earlier this year.
Shannon Kempton hopes when it’s all over, she’ll finally get answers to all her questions.
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