‘Hammer coming down’ on firms that flout OHS laws: Alberta

Minister scraps safety awards, will post safety records online

Alberta is laying down the law when it comes to employers that ignore health and safety regulations.

“The status quo is no longer acceptable,” said Thomas Lukaszuk, the province’s Minister of Employment and Immigration, during a news conference in Edmonton on July 30. “The hammer is coming down on those who persistently fail to comply.”

Lukaszuk, admitting there is room for improvement and that the current legislation allows the province to do more, announced a 10-point plan to achieve greater accountability and transparency for Alberta’s occupational health and safety program.

Posting safety records of employers

One of the more notable changes is the province’s decision to post the safety records of all employers online.
Records for all employers will be posted online by the end of September this year. Lukaszuk dismissed the idea of just posting the best and worst performers, because that wouldn’t give the public a complete picture.

He expects employees to use the list to make decisions about where they work, and organizations to use the list when deciding what firms to do business with. To start, the province will be using data collected in 2009 and the list will be updated annually, he said. Alberta is striving to ensure the list is as accurate as “humanly possible,” he said.

Awards program on hold

Lukaszuk said the Best Safety Performer Awards have been discontinued, effectively immediately.

“A review of this program is under way now,” he said.

He noted there are problems with the awards, and until the process can be fixed there is no point in handing out the awards to employers. The program will be reinstated when the government is “100 per cent certain” it can be done properly.

More inspectors being hired

While having an occupational health and safety inspector “on every street corner” isn’t the answer, more inspectors will help Alberta keep pace with the growth of the province, he said.

Lukaszuk also announced a pilot project for weekend and evening inspections, something he called “common sense, really.”
If employers are working evenings and weekends, then inspectors need to be doing their work at those times as well, he said. The project is now underway, and the province will evaluate its success next spring.


Lukaszuk said there will be much closer collaboration between the ministry’s investigators and the prosecutors who make decisions about whether or not to prosecute offenders.

The province will ensure prosecutors have all the tools they need to make decisions about prosecuting offenders, calling it a “cultural shift” where enforcement will be elevated.

But he stressed the government would never intervene in a case or challenge decisions of prosecutors, and said nobody is beyond reproach — it could be the largest company in the province or one owned by a family member of the premier.

Labour group unimpressed

Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, said while the 10-point plan has some merit, it doesn’t live up to its promise. He doesn’t think the posting of safety records online will be that useful.

“We were led to believe that these records, including details of all violations, would be made available and posted on a website,” he said. “What we are getting instead, according to the minister, is a much less useful list of times lost to injuries. The number of violations a company has, and what those violations were, will be kept secret.”

He also wants to see more aggressive prosecutions, pointing out that, since 2006, the province has prosecuted in only three per cent of workplace fatalities.

Alberta's 10-point plan to improve safety

The province said it will implement the following 10 initiatives that will ensure Albertans can continue to have confidence in the health and safety of their workplaces, and address recommendations from the Office of the Auditor General.

These initiatives include (implementation dates in brackets):

•Implementing updated compliance and enforcement procedures (underway).

•Unveiling an easy-to-understand online template for posting safety records (August).

•Posting the safety records of all Alberta companies online (September).

•Reviewing the direction of Work Safe Alberta (November forum).

•Launching an internal software program improving data collection and reporting systems (November).

•Revising the “Employer Review Process” for companies with Certificates of Recognition and poor safety performance

•Discontinuing Best Safety Performer Awards and reviewing awards programs (underway).

•Hiring eight additional Occupational Health and Safety Officers (underway).

•Reviewing all open orders identified by the Office of the Auditor General (underway).

•Introducing a pilot project for weekend and evening worksite inspections (underway).

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