Alberta launches 10-point plan to achieve greater OH&S accountability and transparency

Beginning at the end of July and through to the end of the year, Thomas Lukaszuk, Minister of Employment and Immigration, will implement 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:

  1. Implementing updated compliance and enforcement procedures (July 30)
  2. Unveiling an easy-to-understand online template for posting safety records (August)
  3. Posting the safety records of all Alberta companies online (September)
  4. Reviewing the direction of Work Safe Alberta (November forum)
  5. Launching an internal software program improving data collection and reporting systems (November)
  6. Revising the “Employer Review Process” for companies with Certificates of Recognition and poor safety performance (December)
  7. Discontinuing Best Safety Performer Awards and reviewing awards programs (underway)
  8. Hiring eight additional Occupational Health and Safety Officers (underway)
  9. Reviewing all open orders identified by the Office of the Auditor General (underway)
  10. Introducing a pilot project for weekend and evening worksite inspections (underway)

“Let this serve as official notice for any Alberta company that doesn’t want to play by the rules,” said Lukaszuk. “Today is a new day for occupational health and safety in Alberta.”

Click here to view the new Compliance Policy and Enforcement Procedures, updated as of July 26, 2010.  

Watered-down website for workplace safety represents lost opportunity to save lives, says AFL
Despite the government’s upbeat announcement, however, the Alberta Federation of Labour was not impressed, issuing their own release, noting: “Once again, Alberta workers have been disappointed by an Alberta government that says it cares about them, but shows by its actions that workplace safety is not as big a priority as it should be.”

"The government had a real chance to save lives and prevent workplace injuries, but today they failed to take full advantage of that opportunity," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, which represents 140,000 workers.

While the 10-point plan announced today by Employment Minister Thomas Lukaszuk has some merit, upon closer examination, it doesn't live up to its promise.

“Albertans want and have a right to know the full safety records of employers, including their history of violations of the Occupational Health and Safety Code,” says McGowan. “We were led to believe that these records, including details of all violations, would be made available and posted on a website. 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.”

As well as lacking the courage to reveal the names of employers who violate the safety code, the government has shown it hasn't got the stomach to improve its dismal record of prosecuting those who break the law. Alberta currently prosecutes at much lower rates than other provinces, even in cases involving workplace fatalities. Since 2006, the province has prosecuted in only three per cent of workplace fatalities.

"Employers are not being made to pay the price for putting the workers' lives at risk. The result is that many Alberta employers don't take safety as seriously as they should – because they know they can likely get away with doing less. This needs to change – and a plan for more aggressive prosecutions should be a core part of the minister's plan," says McGowan.

The AFL welcomes the plan to hire eight new inspectors, but questions whether this will be enough. Alberta has more people working in the most dangerous occupations than other provinces and needs to have a much higher number of inspectors to ensure rules are being followed.

These inspectors should also be given the power to issue tickets and fines for smaller offences right on the spot – as opposed to having to wait for long legal prosecutions, which, in Alberta, are often not pursued.