There are at least 600 manufacturing operations in Manitoba that have never been checked out by a provincial workplace safety and health inspector.
That's about to change.
Frustrated by an inability to reduce workplace injuries since 2010, the province has told inspectors to concentrate on enforcing the 25 most hazardous of 44 provisions of the guidelines within the Workplace Safety and Health Act.
And the government has told its inspectors to inspect workplaces that have never been checked out before, said Dave Dyson, assistant deputy minister of family services and labour.
"That surprises me," said Manitoba Chambers of Commerce president and CEO Graham Starmer, who was unaware so many workplaces have never been inspected.
It's unacceptable that so many workplaces have never been checked, said Manitoba Federation of Labour president Kevin Rebeck.
"It puts workers at risk," he said.
Rebeck said inspectors should visit every workplace at least once a year, though he cautioned: "You'd need four times as many (inspectors) to do it."
Dyson said government inspectors reduced injuries through the decade up to 2010 by concentrating on workplaces that had reported serious injuries to the Workers Compensation Board and by regularly inspecting repeat offenders. "We target those offenders who just aren't protecting their workers," he said.
Construction, manufacturing, agriculture and oil and gas were the major targets for inspection, said Dyson.
As a result of having conducted inspections based on WCB injury reports, "There are 600 workplaces that have never been inspected" just in manufacturing alone, he said. The department has now set priorities for workplaces with the highest hazards to be the focus of inspection, he said.
"High hazard is relative to a specific industry," he said. Machine protection would be the highest hazard in manufacturing, while anchored excavation -- preventing falls -- would be tops in construction.
Dyson said inspectors are to enforce all 44 provisions under the act. However, he equated the inspectors' priorities with a situation such as a police cruiser responding to a serious accident, but not stopping en route to issue a jaywalking ticket. "We've been tweaking what the high hazards are," he said. "We're focusing on trying to reduce serious injury."
Dyson said most of the workplaces that have never been inspected are rural and smaller businesses. In some cases, employers may have opted not to report injuries, he said.
The province doubled the number of inspectors within the last decade, said Dyson. Recently, it has significantly increased stop-work orders, shutting down worksites until hazardous conditions are rectified.
Rebeck said making high hazards the priority should not lead to ignoring lesser priorities, such as ensuring a business has a policy to deal with harassment or violence and the will to enforce the policy.
The MFL suspects some smaller workplaces manage injuries or even cover up injuries without reporting them to the WCB, Rebeck said.
The most prevalent reported workplace injury in Manitoba is back injuries for health-care workers, Rebeck said.
Starmer said government needs to make health-care workers a high priority, because, "That's where (there are) a lot of injuries."
The Manitoba chamber was aware "of the focus on high-risk areas" through its regular consultations with the Department of Labour and the WCB, Starmer said.
"I'd be surprised if there were just 600" that have never been inspected, Starmer said.