In Canada's Northwest Territories, Workers Can't Just Grin and Bear It

The rugged beauty of Canada's Northwest Territories can be a naturalist's delight. But being so close to nature can be deadly for those who work there.

The Workers' Compensation Board of Canada's Northwest Territories and Nunavut (WCB) has issued a warning to all workers and employers about the hazards of bears.

Last year, three workers at a mine in Canada's Northwest Territories were attacked by a grizzly bear. One was seriously injured and required extensive medical treatment.

Grizzly and black bears frequently are found near mine and exploration sites throughout most of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. Polar bears normally are found near the coasts and the High Arctic.

When workers' activities take place where bears may be encountered, employers are required by Canada's Industrial Safety Act to take all reasonable precautions and to adopt all reasonable techniques and procedures to ensure the health and safety of every person in his or her establishment.

The Mine Health and Safety Regulations require employers to protect the workers' safety by developing and implementing a bear safety program.

Workers must receive education and training on how to work safely in an environment where bears are present. The bear awareness component program of occupational health and safety programs at companies operating where bears are present should include the following topics:

  • Information about bears
  • Ways to avoid bears
  • Means to control bears
  • Ways to survive a bear attack
  • Safety in a camp

According to Parks Canada, bears generally prefer to avoid humans. However, bears may charge and even attack people when surprised, or if they feel humans might be threatening their young or their food. Bears also can become aggressive if they learn to associate people and their activities with a free meal.

Bear Safety Tips

Parks Canada offers the following suggestions for reducing the risk of being the next victim of a bear attack.

  1. Travel in groups, on established routes, trails and paths and during daylight hours.
  2. Stay alert. Watch for bears in the area and for their sign: tracks, droppings, diggings, torn-up logs, rub trees and turned-over rocks. Leave the area if you see fresh signs.
  3. Make noise. Let bears know you're there. Bear bells are often not loud enough call out, clap hands, sing or talk loudly, especially near streams, dense vegetation and berry patches, on windy days and in areas of low visibility. Cyclists who travel quickly and quietly along trails are most at risk of surprising wildlife.
  4. Keep pets on a leash. This is required in many parks in the United States and Canada. Another reason for keeping pets leashed is they may run back to you with a bear in pursuit. Consider leaving your pet at home.
  5. If you come across large dead animals, leave the area immediately and report it to park wardens. Subsistence harvest by First Nation persons is permitted in northern Canada's national parks. Bears also may be attracted to harvest remains.
  6. Never approach or feed a bear. Keep a distance of at least 100 meters.
  7. Keep food and smells away from bears by properly storing food, garbage and food-related items in bear-resistant food canisters, day and night, wherever you are. Even empty pet food bowls can attract bears.
  8. Dispose of fish offal in fast-moving streams or the deep part of a lake, never along the sides of streams or lakeshores.
  9. For the safety of you and the bears, obey all area closures. Plan alternatives in case of a closure.
  10. Report all sightings to park staff.

Tomorrow, Parks Canada shares some tips for surviving a bear encounter.

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