Thursday, May 17, 2012

Alberta 2011 Workplace Fatalities

The Edmonton Journal is reporting 123 compensable fatalities on Alberta worksites in 2011, down from 136 in 2010. Breaking the numbers down some, the Journal also reports that worksite deaths jumped, MVA deaths were steady and occupational-disease deaths were down. I haven't been able to lay my hands on the full report yet.

Government spokesperson Barrie Harrison noted that the government will be moving forward with fines for safety violations. The Occupational Health and Safety Act was amended in 2004 (I think--memory is hazy) to allow fines, but there has been no political will to move forward with operationalizing these provisions. We heard similar promises a year ago, so I'm not going to hold my breath.

From Harrison's comments, it also looks like the province will be looking to fine both employers and employees. Harrison notes "Everyone has a role to play--right from the CEO of a major corporation, to labour groups, to safety associations, to the worker."

Fining workers is a contentious issue. Some folks believe that fining employees will drive injury underground by suppressing reports. "Sorry you got hurt, bud. You know, if you report the injury, you're gonna get a ticket." There is something to this critique.

Other folks note that, by fining workers, the government is conceptually spreading the blame for injuries which ultimately flow from employer decisions about the design of work (i.e., which hazards workers will be exposed to) and employer decisions about how much supervision to provide.

My own sense is that allowing OHS officers to fine workers is a political sop to employers who don't want to be labelled as the cause of workplace injuries. The real questions here are (1) will the government actually move forward with enacting ticket regulations, and (2) if they do so, will officers actually ticket anyone?

-- Bob Barnetson

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