Thursday, another five workers were injured at the CNRL Horizon site, south of Ft. McMurray. A coker unit appears to have exploded, leaving one worker with third-degree burns.
The government has made the usual response (stop work order, investigation). The government has begun taking criticism, with one group noting that Saskatchewan is more likely than Alberta to prosecute employers for injuries.
Saskatchewan has a workforce approximately one-quarter of the size of Alberta’s workforce. But Saskatchewan completed 47 prosecutions in the first nine months of the 2010/11 fiscal year. Alberta completed 11 prosecutions in 2010. Corrected for workforce size, this means Saskatchewan prosecutes at 20 times Alberta's rate.
The Calgary Herald is reporting that Alberta fatalities were also up in 2010 (111 to date), over 2009 (85 to the same point). These statistics have not appeared on the government’s website that I can find.
In this same article, Minister of Employment and Immigration Thomas Lukaszuk is reported to say workplace investigators forward cases to Crown lawyers for review but, as a politician, he can't press for charges, even when safety infractions are found.
It is fairly disheartening to hear the Minister effectively throw up his hands and say “I can’t enforce my legislation”. If I were an employer, I would take that as confirmation that there is almost no chance I will be prosecute regardless of what safety violations I may have.
This knowledge may explain the widespread violation of safety laws (e.g., in construction) and the hundreds of thousands of workplace injuries (reported and unreported) in Alberta each year.
Ontario has recently reviewed it OHS legislation. Given the widespread non-compliance in with Alberta’s safety laws, an independent review may be of use here as well--it appears public embarrassment is the only trigger for improving worker safety in Alberta.
-- Bob Barnetson