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Reducing injury rates in hospitals and long-term care facilities will be the main focus when health care contract talks covering 43,000 workers resume in Vancouver today.

Health care unions are proposing an early renewal of funding for the jointly governed Occupational Health and Safety Agency for Healthcare (OHSAH) that has helped reduce time lost to injuries and saved the health care system more than $50 million in injury-related costs over the last two years.

“It’s a win-win for health care workers and employers,” says Hospital Employees’ Union secretary-business manager Chris Allnutt. “The agency’s efforts have helped reduce work days lost to workplace injuries by 100,000 annually.

“But because health care workplaces remain the most dangerous in B.C., it’s critical that health employers renew their commitment so that the agency’s important work can continue uninterrupted.”

The OHSAH was established during contract talks in 1998. Its governing board is made up of union and health employer representatives and is funded by government - currently at about $6 million a year. The agency has attracted more than $8 million in external funding for its injury reduction research since its inception.

The agency has played a key role in promoting best practices that reduce the frequency and severity of injuries. This includes initiatives such as a province-wide “no unsafe manual lift” policy, new guidelines for preventing violence and a full range of ergonomic initiatives in hospital kitchens and laboratories.

This is the second day of bargaining between the multi-union bargaining association representing 43,000 health services and support workers and the Health Employers Association of B.C.

Mike Old, communications officer, 604-828-6771 (cell)

Backgrounder information on 2004 bargaining