Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Will this fatality lead to prosecution?

An interesting development has come up in the case of Valeria Wolski. She was a caregiver killed by a client. The gist of the OHS report (leaked to the Edmonton Journal) was that the province contracted out the care of the client but failed to provide the contractor with important information about the hazard he posed. Paula Simons sums up the case on her blog.

Had the province provided the information to the contractor, the contractor would have (one presumes) taken steps to mitigate the risk to Wolski. This did not happen.

The question I have is whether the province will prosecute this case under the occupational health and safety act? Here we have a principal spectacularly failing in its duty to advise the contractor about a hazard and this failure directly caused the fatality. This seems like the kind of egregious behaviour that even the Alberta government typically feels compelled to prosecute.

If the province won't prosecute, will we see a private prosecution under the Criminal Code? You'll recall a few years back that the feds modified the Code in the wake of the Westray disaster to allow for prosecutions. This change has largely been a failure because no government has availed itself of this ability to prosecute (with a single exception).

But last year in BC, the Steelworkers began a private prosecution regarding a fatality in a sawmill. In this case, the crown was not prepared to prosecute. This private prosecution was greenlighted earlier this year.

A private prosecution would be an interesting political challenge to the government. Whomever launched such a prosecution would be saying that it had no confidence in the government's willingness to enforce its own legislation, even in cases where there is criminal negligence. Various unions might well want to bloody the government's nose in this way.

Simons also makes the very sharp point that the OHS order issued in this case that required provision of information about dangerous clients (and continues to do so hereafter), applies only to one of six regions in Alberta. How will such a narrow order, which the province has not made public, prevent future deaths, Simons asks.

The short answer is that it won't.

I think the next question is whether preventing injury and death is indeed the real purpose of Alberta's OHS system? Currently the system fails to prevent injury and death on a grand scale.

Why is that?

Is it impossible? Or is the operation of OHS designed to get citizens to accept a particular level of workplace injury that is acceptable to employers' bottom lines?

-- Bob Barnetson

1 comment:

Bob Barnetson said...

>This change has largely been a failure because no government has availed itself of this ability to prosecute (with a single exception).

My mistake. By chance I ran across some info this morning that shows there have actually been two convictions (the second in March 2011) and four sets of charges laid since the law was proclaimed in November of 2003.

I think the point, though is still valid given these are roughly 1000 workplace deaths deaths and hundreds of thousands of injuries each year.