CBC reported that three companies had been charged in a November 2021 workplace death. The worker was testing a pipe when a valve broke and killed the worker. Among the notable parts of the story is that the employer failed to conduct a hazard assessment and failed to identify a hazard.
The effectiveness of the OHS system rests on employers identifying hazards. When an employer fails to do this rudimentary task, the rest of the system doesn’t work because unidentified hazards can’t be controlled and workers die as a result.\
Unfortunately, Alberta employers often don’t bother to identify hazards. A 2018 survey of 2000 Alberta workers found only 50% of their employers had hazard assessments. And only 59% regularly provided information about hazard-control strategies for at least some of the hazards workers faced.
So, now that OHS has filed charges almost two years after the event, what is likely to happen in this case? The rest of the CBC article talks about other fatalities and gives you a pretty good idea.
The employers’ lawyer(s) will likely stall some. A year or two from now, one of the employers will plead guilty to a single charge and pay a relatively small fine ($100-300k). In the meantime, it will be business as usual.
If you think this sounds like a pretty ineffective approach to protecting workers, you’d be right. The same study found that roughly 1 in 5 Alberta workers reported injuries (of varying degrees) each year and 1 in 11 received a disabling injury (where they could not do some or all of their job the next day).
Underlying ineffective enforcement is basically a lack of political will to punish employers to maiming and killing workers. Indeed, the UCP substantially weakened OHS laws during its first term. Not surprisingly, the rate of worker injury has risen under the UCP’s watch.
-- Bob Barnetson