Summary ticket offences coming to Saskatchewan

Workers, employers, contractors could face on-the-spot fines

After a delay of a year and a half, Saskatchewan will be introducing summary offence tickets (SOTs) as of July 1, 2014.

The tickets can be issued by one of two designated occupational health officers and the 12 ticketable offences include fall protection, excavations/trenching, personal protective equipment, failing to submit progress reports to the occupational health and safety division and failing to submit information requested by the director.

The SOTs are like speeding tickets — they can either be issued on the spot or sent by mail, depending on the circumstances, and anyone who receives a ticket can challenge it in court.

Current enforcement tools, such as prosecutions, are time-consuming and costly for everyone involved, said the government. Previously, a recommendation would have to be made to the Ministry of Justice for a prosecution and the fine would have to be levied by the court, said Joel Bender, Regina-based director of legal affairs at the OHS division of Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety.

“It’s simply new enforcement tool that allows for an on-the spot penalty to be levied against a workplace party in contravention of our legislation and really it’s in keeping with other jurisdictions in Canada.”

Saskatchewan will be joining seven other Canadian jurisdictions that have, or will soon implement, on-the-spot penalties for health and safety violations, including Ontario, Alberta and the Yukon.

The province is trying to streamline prosecution of some offences by employing a ticketing process, rather than having to go through the more traditional process of prosecuting offences, said Robert Affleck, a lawyer at law firm McKercher in Saskatoon.

“The hope is that if someone is willing to accept that they’re guilty of it and knows in advance how much it’s going to cost them, that they would pay the ticket,” he said. “Obviously, if somebody wants to challenge the ticket, I’m not sure if there’s any real cost savings.”

The government is trying to motivate individuals, whether on a worker level or a higher organizational level, to take note and to something, said Eldeen Pozniak, CEO and senior consultant at Pozniak Safety in Saskatoon, who compared SOTs to seatbelt laws.

“They’re meant to be more of a deterrent than a penalization,” she said. “Unfortunately, not all of us are just motivated by education and awareness and doing the right thing… so having then this type of accountability with responsibility should take that human behaviour that one next step — it’s one philosophy, so I think they’re really giving it a try.”

It’s obviously a much more straightforward approach to what hopefully will be mostly minor charges, said Brian Kenny, a partner at MacPherson, Leslie & Tyerman in Regina.

“From the employer perspective… having a faster, easier way to deal with these types of charges is actually going to be probably a benefit because rather than having to go to court and respond to the charge in that forum, if you’re not disputing the charge, you’d be able to voluntarily pay the fine and be done, like a traffic ticket.”

There has been a noticeable increase in Saskatchewan’s focus on occupational health and safety concerns, he said. The number of prosecutions initiated has increased quite dramatically over the years: For the fiscal year 2007-08, the total OHS prosecutions initiated was 11; for 2013-14, the total was 118.

And there was “quite a massive increase” in the total value of OHS prosecution convictions, said Kenny. In 2007-08, it was $65,540; in 2013-14, it was $647,200.

“There’s a lot more activity in the province now, there’s a lot more construction, there’s a lot more new homebuilding. We’re still in boom times in Saskatchewan, touch wood, and some of it might be related to just the increased volume of activity out there and the amount of work getting done. But I suspect there’s also a ramping up of enforcement focus on these things.”

The government is taking all this seriously, said Pozniak.

“We’re expanding our workplaces at a rate that is exciting, that’s wonderful for the province… but with that economic boom, we also have people who want to take advantage of that and sometimes their infrastructure within their safety management systems or even the culture of the organization is not ready.”

Depending on the offence, the fines for the summary offence tickets in Saskatchewan will range from $250 for a worker to $1,000 for employers, owners and contractors.

This is relatively new territory for Saskatchewan to impose fines against employees, said Affleck. It appears the government is trying to make the case employees are partners in their own safety and have an active role in compliance.

“The one area where they can be charged is failing to use provided personal protective equipment, so I think there’s a recognition employers can take great efforts to try and impose the use of protective equipment, but employees themselves have a responsibility as well.”

The 12 offences were chosen in an effort to select violations that are most frequently encountered, said Bender. But there won’t be particular industries or sectors targeted.

“When we talk about high-risk areas, fall protection definitely jumps to mind as a high source of worker injury and fatality, as is excavations and trenching, quite frankly. It’s rather terrifying, if trenches aren’t properly dug and the proper controls aren’t put in place regarding trenches — a trench can be a very deadly thing for a worker.”

Of course, SOTs would not make much sense if people simply paid the tickets but failed to make safety improvements. So the government will track repeat violations, said Bender.

“We may encounter a situation, speaking hypothetically, where a particular entity has received a number of summary offence tickets and we just deem it not appropriate to continue with another one and we may recommend a full-bore prosecution to the Ministry of Justice. We still have that option and fines could be higher as a result.”

And the SOTs will only be issued when all other tools are ineffective, such as compliance undertakings, officer’s reports, notice of contraventions and stop work orders, said the government.

“Parties will have ample opportunity to address their health and safety issues before a ticket is issued.”

The government has a few remedies available, said Kenny.

“I suspect what they would start with is the least significant intervention required to correct the problem and then ramp it up from there if it continues,” he said. “In my experience, the officers, unless they’re looking at a flagrant violation, will usually try to get compliance by identifying the problem and issuing a compliance notice or compliance undertaking as they can now do. And only where you’ve got resistance or refusal to cooperate or if you’ve got repeated non-compliance do they ramp up their enforcements.”

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