Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Britain vs Alberta: It's OHS Hammer Time

Nearly two weeks ago, Minister of Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour Thomas Lukaszuk indicated that the OHS “hammer is out is out again”. Lukaszuk was responding to a pair of stories showing (1) a near-record 188 workplace deaths in Alberta in 2013 and (2) OHS inspectors has issued no tickets or administrative penalties. To round out the picture, it is useful to know there were only 5 successful OHS prosecutions in 2013.

A reader passed onto me some comparative data from the UK. It is obviously important to compare apples to apples so I have tried to control for that in the table below. For example, “injury fatalities” exclude occupational disease and motor vehicle fatalities. The UK stats span the fiscal year 2012/13 while Alberta’s numbers are for the 2013 calendar year.
4 million
63 million
Injury fatalities
Fatalities per million pop
Prosecutions completed
Prosecutions per million pop
Prosecutions per fatality

Controlling for population size, this means:

1.   Alberta has 5.9 times more fatalities due to workplace injury than the UK.
2. The UK completes 7.5 times more OHS prosecutions than Alberta.

Perhaps most disconcerting is that UK completes 5.0 prosecutions per workplace fatality while Alberta completes 0.38—that is to say, the UK rate of prosecutions per fatality is 13.15 times Alberta’s rate. The spectre of punishment may help explain why UK fatality numbers are lower than Alberta’s.

In related news, yet another farm worker was killed on the job after being sucked into a grain augur and “mangled to death”. How this happened will likely never be clear as the RCMP only investigate to determine if the death was criminal and OHS has no jurisdiction on farms (my guess is the guard was missing or removed). 

According to the Herald:
New Labour Minister Thomas Lukaszuk told the Herald last week he is “warm” to extending the law to include agribusinesses, but the problem has been determining where to draw the line between family farms and agribusinesses.
The notion that farms are somehow difficult to regulate because they are places where people both live and work has become the Tories’ mantra for inaction.

Even a minute’s thought tells you this excuse is untrue. Every other province somehow manages to regulate farms. And Alberta regulates greenhouses, sod farms, nurseries and mushroom farms—some of which have to include on-site residences.

The real issue is a lack of political will to regulate farms or workplaces more broadly. Until that changes, Alberta’s fatality numbers are unlikely to go down.

-- Bob Barnetson

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