Hard on the heels of releasing 2010 injury stats, the government has released the result of an announced inspection blitz on fork lift safety. When you read the results, keep in mind that employers knew the inspectors were targeting forklift operations.
Eight-seven employers were the subjects of 181 inspections (initial plus follow-up). Twenty-two inspections resulted in no orders being issued. However, the remaining 159 inspections generated 214 orders plus 11 notices to produce safety documents. There were also two stop-work and two stop-use orders issued. You can read a fuller breakdown of orders in the report.
The Minister opined: “Because we announced the inspections in mid-February and businesses expected to see us, I am disappointed to see forklifts and other equipment not properly maintained and operators not adequately trained.”
While he might be legitimately disappointed, I wonder if he was really surprised by these results? What they show is that employers don’t obey Alberta’s OHS regulations even when you tell them you’re coming to inspect them.
The results are pretty much on par with last autumn’s safety blitz in commercial construction where roughly a quarter of worksites were so dangerous (despite notice of the blitz) that stop-work orders were issued. And they are consistent with the broader evidence that injury is rampant on Alberta worksites.
So why don’t employers obey the rules? It comes down to two factors. There is almost no chance they are going to get caught breaking the law—there are too few inspectors despite recent hires. And, if employers do get caught, there is virtually no chance of a penalty beyond a order requiring compliance. And, if you (miraculously) do get prosecuted, it will occur years down the road, you’ll get a modest fine, and creative sentencing will allow you to save face by donating most of the fine to a safety organization.
It is heartening that the Minister is mooting giving OHS inspectors the power to ticket for violations (although the government has been discussing this for nearly 10 years now…). Yet the Minister insists that any tickets shall be issued to both workers and employers.
Why target workers? Of the orders and notices itemized during this blitz, the majority are employer failures, including:
* 11 notices to produce safety documents
* 24 related to requirements for proper inspection and maintenance,
* 16 related to hazard assessment requirements, and
* 14 related to worker training, competency and proper supervision to safely operate the equipment.
There are 20 orders (about 23%) that appear to be worker failures (specifically failure to conduct a visual inspection prior to operating equipment) but we need to look deeper before blaming the worker. Was the worker ever told to do a visual inspection? Was the worker told to do it but given to understand (nudge, nudge) that it was not required or (wink, wink) required only if the worker had time?
So again, why target workers for tickets? Well, for starters, it is easy to blame workers as they have few ways of fighting back. They won’t threaten to cut off campaign donations or publically embarrass a government, which is seeing its popularity on the skids--ironically, in part, because of a series of newspaper articles last summer about what a crappy job the government has done prosecuting occupation fatalities!!!!!
The purpose of ticketing is to punish in the hopes of improving safety. Only employers can do that. I’m left wondering if ticketing workers is just spin doctoring to help absolve employers of their responsibility for maiming and killing workers?
-- Bob Barnetson