Workplace safety continues to be in the news this week. Yesterday, the government released the results of its residential construction site safety blitz. The majority of workplaces had safety violations. The 387 employers inspected attracted 394 orders, including 90 stop work/use orders suggesting there was imminent danger. A lack of fall protection was the biggest issue.
The Edmonton Journal notes that “The government has not said how many of the infractions resulted in fines or other penalties.” My guess is that there will be no penalties assessed beyond the stop-work/use orders. In Alberta, prosecutions are reserved for instances where employers are egregiously negligent and end up killing a worker. Just breaking the law doesn’t attract any meaningful sanction.
There is nothing really surprising here—previous blitzes have demonstrated that there is widespread non-compliance with workplace safety laws even after the government tells employers it is coming out to do an industry blitz. My sense is that most employers don’t care what the rules are and the stats suggest employers basically can’t be trusted to run safe worksites.
In the aftermath of the report (and kudos to the government for releasing it), the government is making some changes. They are hiring more inspectors (although this has been planned for years and will have only a marginal impact) and they are doing more after-hours inspections. The government is also musing about allowing inspectors to issue tickets when they see an infraction.
On CBC AM this morning, Minister Hancock was careful not to promise anything specific on ticketing. The government is going to look into ticketing, he said. While this is encouraging, we’ve heard this before.
The government has been “looking into ticketing” since the OHS Act was changed back in 2002 (or maybe 2004—I can’t recall offhand) to allow for administrative penalties (i.e., tickets). The only thing that needs to happen is cabinet needs to enact regulations specifying how fines will work—regulations that must be sitting in some bureaucrat's drawer down in the Labour Building. After a decade of sitting on their hands, I’m doubtful the government has the stones to do anything on this front, but I hope I’m wrong.
An interesting wrinkle in the ticketing discussion is whether only employers should be subject of ticketing (as they control the worksite) or whether workers should also get fined. I’m not keen on worker fines—workers mostly do as they are told. The availability and use of safety equipment is up to the employer. There is also concern that employers will use the threat of fines to (further) suppress injury reporting (e.g., “you know, if you report this injury, you’re gonna get a ticket…”).
-- Bob Barnetson