WorkSafe BC: Helmets mandatory for ski workers next season 

Ski industry association disappointed in decision

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Despite the push from B.C.'s ski industry to scrap mandatory helmet rules for workers, WorkSafe BC is moving forward with province-wide implementation next season.

That much was clear after a two-hour meeting on May 30 between WorkSafe BC and ski area representatives, and while it's a blow to some in the ski industry, there is now clarity and a level playing field going forward.

"We're disappointed... but at least that provides some clarity, whereas honestly going into the meeting we didn't know for sure what the policy or decision was because it has never been communicated clearly and it's certainly never been put in writing," said David Lynn, president of Canada West Ski Areas Association (CWSAA) who attended the meeting at the WorkSafe head office in Richmond with reps from Whistler Blackcomb, Seymour and Sun Peaks.

WorkSafe is now developing guidelines for helmet use, with industry input, with a goal to having rules in place for next ski season, or the end of the year.

"We recognize that developing helmet policies and implementing a helmet program will take some investment on the part of the impacted ski employers and we are working with industry to establish appropriate timeframes," said Kevin Molnar, WorkSafe's director, Lower Mainland Centre/North, in an emailed response.

Representatives from WorkSafe were not available to answer questions.

In May, Whistler Blackcomb scrambled to implement a helmet policy for its staff in the wake of two visits from local WorkSafe BC officers.

Since then, Lynn through the CWSAA, of which WB is a member, has been actively lobbying to have the helmet decision reversed through letters, conference calls and face-to-face meetings, to no avail.

He stressed that Canada West is not against helmets; rather it promotes the use of helmets and is pleased to see usage across the country on the rise at 83 per cent.

"If you could come to us and say that your statistics show that people who do not wear helmets are more likely to make head injury claims than those who do, then our inclination would be to support this. I don't think in good conscience we'd be able to do anything else," said Lynn.

"...Our frustration is in large part with the process, the lack of analysis, the lack of communication that went into this and the fact that it was largely driven by the lobbying effort of a helmet zealot."

The change comes as WorkSafe reinterprets Section 8.11 of the Workers Compensation Act which states: "Safety Headgear must be worn by a worker in any work area where there is a danger of head injury from falling, flying or thrown objects, or harmful contacts."

WorkSafe reps said there have been 120 head injury claims from workers in the ski industry over the last five years.

Whistler Blackcomb deferred comment to CWSAA.

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