Thursday, June 24, 2010

Privacy and Safety in the Workplace

Two interesting newspaper articles have appeared this week.

The first is a privacy commissioner ruling regarding an email sent following an employee resignation. According to the article, " two managers sent out a memo that a "difficult" staffer quit to take a new job and that her new boss would need some luck to deal with her."

The commissioner ruled that this was a release of the employee's personal information without her consent. This ruling draws attention to how privacy laws are (or ought to!) alter human resource practices in the private sector.

The second is an in-depth investigation of how Alberta treats workplace deaths. In short, prosecution is rare, even for repeat offenders. There are a couple of interesting facts:

1. Alberta spends nearly five-times more money on insurance rebates to Alberta companies with government-endorsed safety certificates ($70 million in 2009) than it spends inspecting job sites and enforcing occupational safety laws ($15 million in 2009-10). These rebates are available to companies with worker fatalities--even those with multiple deaths.

2. Of those workers killed on the job since 2003, three-quarters occurred on worksites where inspectors identified safety violations. Only one-third of these cases were prosecuted to a verdict.

3. Several former OHS investigators express frustration with the lack of support for prosecutions.

Employment Minister Thomas Lukaszuk comments are important:

“If there are ideas and there are mechanisms that will make our workplace safer, I’m open to looking at it."

This is a common answer from Lukaszuk on OHS issues. While it seems reasonable enough at first glance, it places the responsibility for ensuring the laws are enforced on the shoulders of worker advocates (who must then often face opposition on committees from employer representatives).

Further, it glosses over the fact that the government modified the legislation eight years ago to allow on-the-spot fines and naming Alberta’s worst safety performers. The lack of action on implementing these provision is not about not having ideas or being restricted by the legislation. It reflects a lack of political will on the part of at least four successive Ministers to lower the boom on unsafe employers. The cost of this inaction is borne by workers and their families in the form of injuries and death.

-- Bob Barnetson

PS: Things will be quiet here the next month as I take a vacation.


  1. Looks like the safety story will be a multi-part one; you can follow along here:


  2. Another interesting privacy in the workplace story here: