Tuesday, September 10, 2013

OHS ticketing (quietly) rolls out in Alberta

On Friday, the government quietly proclaimed changes to statutes and enacted regulations that bring about health and safety ticketing and administrative penalties in Alberta.

The gist is that the government can now ding OHS rule violators with administrative penalties of up to $10,000 starting October 1, which offers an alternative to expensive (and rare) prosecutions. And, on January 1, OHS officers will also be able to issue tickets to anyone caught violating OHS rules.

The government has been talking about this since 2003 so it is nice to see some action… after 10 years and two rounds of legislative change. Oddly for a government that issues a press release virtually every time a Minister makes boom-boom, there was no notice unless you happen read Orders in Council (hands up, policy dorks…), although I see a Herald story on in yesterday’s paper. Perhaps there will be an advertising campaign prior to the rollout dates?

Ticketing systems that allow the government to ticket workers are often criticized as contributing to the suppression of injury reporting (e.g., employer says to employee, “if you report that, you’re gonna get a ticket”). Employers are mpotivated to do this because it lowers their claim record and thus their premium, but it has serious implications for workers’ injury compensation as well as the accuracy of injury stats

There are a couple of key things to watch for as ticketing and admin penalties come online. The first is, will OHS officers issue tickets and will the Director of OHS issue admin penalties?

Back in 2008 (or maybe 2009?) an internal survey of provincial OHS officers uncovered some reluctance to ticket. This reflects decades of an “education instead of enforcement” approach (which has likely placed some selection pressure on the officer ranks) as well as (a legitimate) concern about getting punched out.

Whether officers will have the inclination or the director will have the stones to take on repeated bad actors and politically powerful interests is an open question.

And this leads to the second question: who is going to get ticketed and penalized?

Workers are the easiest target politically. And they will likely feature in most analyses of the proximate cause of injuries. Yet the root cause of injuries is generally the placement of a hazard in the workplace by the employer during the job design process, perhaps combined with uneven enforcement of worker compliance with safety rules.

I wonder how nuanced attributions of blame are going to be in ticketing? Should be a fun set of FOIP requests once there is some administrative data to rake through!

-- Bob Barnetson

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