Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Massive drop in Alberta OHS ticketing

Alberta Labour and Immigration’s annual report for 2019/2020 is now available online. Here are the highlights of the employment standards and occupational health and safety sections. The most interesting item is the 96% drop in OHS tickets issues in the past year.

Employment Standards

The number of employment standards complaints was pretty static but there were significant improvements in complaint processing times. That said, it still takes an average of 45 days for a complaint investigation to begin, which isn’t great if your employer just scooped your wages or fired you without notice or pay in lieu.

Interestingly, the number of anonymous tips jumped a lot (about 10% of these tips were investigated). There was also a significant percentage jump in workplace inspections. That said, the overall percentage of workplaces inspected remains very, very low.

Occupational Health and Safety

Workplace inspections were down about 20% this past year. Fewer inspections is attributed to pulling staff from frontline duties to train new OHS officers (really?) and a new system whereby employers can pinky swear that they fixed problems and avoid a re-inspection (eye roll). Orders written and unique worksites visited were also down. 

In terms of enforcement, 22 tickets were issued in 2019/20 (15 of which went to employers). Although the report doesn't mention it, this was down from 479 tickets in 2018/19. Hmmmm. This 96% drop in tickets cries out for explanation. At a guess, I’d say inspectors were told to stop issuing tickets because ticketing is up for review in 2020/21. Issuing virtually no tickets creates ”evidence” that this form of penalty is unnecessary and thus can be done away with as “red tape”.

Five administrative penalties were also issued to employers. Again, not mentioned is that this was down from 14 in 2018/19. Complaints of discrimination for exercising OHS rights were up this year (90 versus last year). Five of these were upheld, 23 were dismissed, and 62 remain under investigation. OHS charges were up, however, from 16 to 18 this year. This is a very low number given the number of injuries and fatalities.

While injury rates are not very good measures of injury due to massive under reporting, they do offer a year-over-year measure. Overall, both lost-time and disabling injury rates were stable in 2019 but were higher than they were in 2015. There were 129 fatalities accepted by the WCB in 2019—about the same as the year before.

-- Bob Barnetson

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