Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Another safety blitz...

Yesterday, the government announced its fourth inspection blitz of the past year or so, this time in residential construction. The non-unionized residential construction sector is a good target. The government’s own stats show that the 1700 inspections performed at residential constructions sites in 2010 resulted in about 1000 orders being issued.

This announcement (that you can view here) has several interesting features. The first is that it was announced. Critics suggest that telling employers inspectors are coming will skew the results and make things look better than they are. Further, when the heat is off, employers will just return to their old habits. The Minister had no meaningful response to this critique, likely reflecting that it is spot on.

The second is the potential political ramifications. If the results of this blitz are as bad as most people expect them to be, it will be hard for the government to justify continued kid-glove enforcement. Such willful misconduct will reduce the credibility of claims that “we need to educate employers to improve safety”.

The third is that the Minister has announced he is working on changes to allow for the ticketing of both employers and workers. He plans to introduce these changes this spring. Ticketing has been possible since a 2002 amendment to the Act, but the government has never enacted regulations allowing for it to happen. Given the PC leadership race and cabinet shuffle that will follow, I wonder whether these changes to the OHS Regulation will ever see the light of day. You can give you input here, though.

The fourth is that the public is being encouraged to report unsafe work (and indeed there is now an iPhone app, so we know the government is serious…). The question is the speed at which inspectors will respond. The 2010 Auditor General’s report discussed response times of 18 days with an average of 86 days required to gain compliance.

The cheeky CBC reporter who turned in a worksite just blocks from the news conference where workers were without fall protection managed to get an immediate stop-work order issued. But will all reports get same-day service? And will this continue beyond the period of the blitz?

-- Bob Barnetson

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