NDP's $10 million OH&S equipment fund wins praise from HEU

Purchases to reduce injury rates to be coordinated through new Occupational Health and Safety Agency for Healthcare

The government’s recent allocation of $10 million for B.C. health authorities to buy mechanical lifts and other safety equipment is a positive initial investment that should help reduce the serious injury crisis in health care—B.C’s most dangerous places for on-the-job injuries—says Hospital Employees’ Union secretary-business manager Chris Allnutt.

The $10 million, which was included in a flurry of good news announcements of close to $300 million in increased health funding from the NDP September 19, will be shared by all health authorities. Allnutt says the OH&S equipment allocations will be set out as a general fund for each authority to use to meet priority needs.

The new Occupational Health and Safety Agency for Healthcare (OHSAH), which was created in the last round of bargaining, will play a crucial role in deciding what equipment is bought. Victoria has directed health authorities to work cooperatively and in conjunction with OHSAH to make purchase decisions.

Allnutt urged HEU health and safety activists to work through their local or regional OH&S committees to help set equipment priorities and to follow up to ensure community health councils and regional health boards purchase the right equipment without undue delays and implement the appropriate training programs to bring the new equipment on line.

The $10 million, says Allnutt, is a sign that the union’s campaigns and lobbying efforts—carried out in conjunction with other health care unions and the B.C. Federation of Labour—to win safer workplaces is paying off.

“Solving the injury rate crisis in health care is going to require a significant up front investment in equipment and training,” he said. “But this is a good first step, and if employers purchase the right equipment it will have an impact on reducing injury rates and making our workplaces safer. Obviously, patient and resident transfers to and from bed are the greatest causes of injuries, so we expect employers will purchase lifting devices that are proven to reduce injury rates.”

One example is a recent study of the impact of a new ceiling lift implemented at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Comox. Outside experts found that it reduced musculoskeletal injuries by 58 per cent and helped the employer save enough money to pay for the lift in just three years.