Alberta needs to speed up OHS improvements: Auditor general

Alberta has yet to implement suggested improvements to its occupational health and safety programs made more than two years ago, the province’s auditor general says.

In a report released last month, auditor general Merwan Saher says Alberta’s Department of Human Services has so far failed to satisfy his concerns regarding workplace safety.
The report is a follow-up audit reviewing the progress of recommendations made more than two years ago on how the province can improve compliance of the law among high-risk employers.

“Simply put, we believe there could be high-risk employers out there that haven’t yet been identified and the implication of that is that Alberta workers continue to be exposed to otherwise avoidable risks,” Saher said at a press conference.

Two of five recommendations are on track, but three have yet to be implemented, the report says. The department improved its proactive inspection program and controls over its legislated permit and certificate program, but it hadn’t defined or identified high-risk employers and workers. It also hadn’t implemented repercussions for those who don’t follow the law, the report said.

The province must also complete the WorkSafe Alberta strategic plan and implement quality reviews for the certificate of recognition (COR) system, which awards employers who develop health and safety systems that meet established standards.

In 2011, 9,000 of Alberta’s 165,000 employers held COR status, according the auditor general.

It takes time to apply such wide-scale reforms, according to Human Services Minister Dave Hancock, defending the progress of his department.

The government has increased the number of inspection staff, conducted blitzes on specific groups such as homebuilders and opened an occupational disease prevention unit, he said, adding it also plans to introduce legislation this fall that will allow inspectors to issue immediate fines to workers and employers when safety infractions are discovered.