Despite a report to the contrary, the City of Greater Sudbury’s safety rating is actually lower than most municipalities.
Sudbury.com was recently provided a document produced by a community member using data gathered by the province that seems to show the Nickel City’s municipal employee workplace safety rating is among the worst in the province. While they are based on provincial data, the numbers being circulated are inaccurate, city manager of corporate services Kevin Fowke told Sudbury.com and show a lost-time incident rate several times greater than it really is in reality.
At issue is the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board’s online Safety Check web tool, which cites a Greater Sudbury lost-time incident rate of 13.48 per 100 full-time equivalent workers last year.
In reality, last year’s figure was 3.4, Fowke clarified to Sudbury.com. This represents 83 workplace injuries/illnesses resulting in employees unable to work and the city unable to find accommodations to keep them working.
To add greater context to the local numbers, the average 2020 lost-time incident rate among 16 municipalities was 5.56. That year, Greater Sudbury’s rate was 3.38.
This data, provided through the Municipal Network Benchmarking of Canada, includes Calgary, Durham, Halton, Hamilton, London, Montreal, Niagara, Regina, Greater Sudbury, Thunder Bay, Toronto, Vaughan, Waterloo, Windsor, Winnipeg and York Region.
“I don’t want the perception out there to be that we’re somehow laissez-faire about health and safety in the city,” Fowke said. “It’s something we spend a lot of time on. Nobody comes to work to get hurt or ill.
“This is serious business, and to an HR person or to a supervisor in an organization there’s a heavy weight of accountability. … I’m happy to say this to anybody listening that 3.4 isn’t acceptable either. Zero is what every health and safety programming element aims for.”
The inaccurate Workplace Safety and Insurance Board numbers were circulated to mayor and council by email from a concerned resident last week, and further attention was brought to the numbers through a motion by Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti at the Sept. 13 city council meeting.
In the motion, which city council approved, Signoretti asked staff to present a report to city council by the end of the year to clarify what the City of Greater Sudbury’s health and safety performance has been.
The motion’s preamble notes the WSIB Safety Check web tool “suggests that the City of Greater Sudbury’s Medical Aid and Lost Time Injury frequencies may be substantially higher than that of other Ontario municipalities.”
The web tool in question, which Fowke said provides inaccurate information, includes a warning that injury rates “may not be complete for this business because they are part of Schedule 1 and 2 and/or they have changed schedule types over the period displayed.”
This, Fowke said, should be taken into consideration for anyone making use of these figures.
“I get the open data they’re trying to make available here, and that’s a laudable objective, but when it’s this wrong it’s not helpful for anybody.”
Fowke said there are a couple of issues with the information provided that is leading to the WSIB data tool spitting out wrong information.
For one, the WSIB tool doesn’t include any city employees classed as Schedule 2, which make up approximately 89 per cent of all city workers. This means the data tool is pulling most of its information from Schedule 1 workers, the majority of whom work at Pioneer Manor, Fowke said.
The nature of the work at the nursing home means employees there suffer more wear-and-tear injuries than average. This higher incidence of injury coupled with the WSIB data set ignoring nearly 90 per cent of city workers renders any interpretation of the data using the tool inaccurate.
The lost-time incident rate for Pioneer Manor employees in isolation was 3.9 last year. Many injuries are sprains, strains and lifting injuries, which Fowke said are more likely to happen among staff at Pioneer Manor due to their having to do physical things such as lift residents.
When it comes to the city’s overall lost-time injury rate of 3.4, Fowke said additional context is required so people don’t conflate city reporting standards with those of the mining industry.
“No mining manager would keep their job very long with a 3.4,” he said, adding there are more illnesses and injuries presumed to be occupational in municipalities than in some other sectors.
In emergency services, for example, PTSD is presumed occupational, with certain cancers and heart disease among firefighters also presumed to have originated in the workplace.
There is some of this type of reporting in mining, but not as much, Fowke said.
At approximately 2:50 p.m. on May 6, a city employee was found dead at a winter salt and sand yard on Municipal Road 8 in Levack. On May 19, firefighter Mike Frost died in what was considered a line-of-duty death at his home, which has been attributed to PTSD. A funeral procession was held in downtown Sudbury on June 1.
Contractor injuries are factored into the contractor’s numbers and not the city’s, Fowke said, clarifying the hazards they encounter are still investigated by the city and reported to employees because they often undertake the same or similar work.
Mitigating workplace injury and illness is an ongoing challenge, Fowke said, and the city plans on reaching out to each of its employment groups this year to pinpoint potential dangers so they can make working conditions safer.
The lost-time incident rates do not include police or COVID-related leaves, though with the number of COVID-related absences jumping during the early part of 2022 Fowke anticipates seeing the year’s statistics jump.
Part of the issue with COVID-19 is proving the employee got sick at work, which he said in cases such as an entire linear infrastructure crew coming down with the virus makes sense.
Update: Since this story was published, WSIB reached out to Sudbury.com with the following statement: People can access trusted, relevant and timely health and safety data for businesses across Ontario using Safety Check on our website. It can be more complex for organizations in both Schedule 1 and Schedule 2, but we believe in transparency of data.
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.