04/09/2013 04:22 EDT | Updated 06/09/2013 05:12 EDT

Saskatchewan records 60 workplace deaths; highest in three decades

REGINA - The Saskatchewan Workers' Compensation Board says 2012 was the worst year in the province for workplace deaths in more than 30 years.

The board says in its annual report released Tuesday that 60 people died on the job last year.

"It's a heart wrenching, sobering statistic, and one that we must turn around," the board says in a message at the beginning of the report.

The report says based on 2012 statistics, "Saskatchewan holds the frightening position of being second worst in Canada" for workplace injuries behind only Manitoba.

The highest number of deaths was in the construction industry with 14 fatalities.

Five workplace deaths involved youths — up from two deaths the previous year — and were related to motor vehicles.

Nineteen of the deaths were the result of occupational disease, for example, someone dying from asbestos-related cancer after exposure years earlier.

Fifteen deaths were caused by heart attacks, compared to five in 2011.

"Last year we were a little over 30 (deaths), so naturally this is a major disappointment that we're going in the wrong direction on it," said Don Morgan, minister responsible for the Workers' Compensation Board.

Morgan says there are many reasons for the increase, but "there can be no excuses."

The minister says it's a matter of more education and ramping up inspections that enforce safety rules.

"We know that the areas we want to focus on are construction areas, areas of falls, ditches and the type of things where they're the traumatic injuries," he said.

"What we're doing already on falls, is the (occupational health and safety) workers are enforcing the tie-down provisions. We've got provisions that if a worker is working on an elevated area they have to be tied off to prevent a fall, so they're aggressively inspecting.

"I've talked to workers and the workers will say it's a nuisance because each time I move from one side of a post to another, I've got to re-tie myself off. But it's the same type of thing as helmets and eye protection — it has to become second nature for everyone," said Morgan.