1 in 4 investigations into serious workplace accidents in N.L. being left unfinished: report

Changes are underway, but there’s no timetable for implementation of all of audit’s recommendations

1 in 4 investigations into serious workplace accidents in N.L. being left unfinished: report

Newfoundland and Labrador’s Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) department is failing to even complete its investigations on a lot of serious workplace accidents in the province, according to a recent internal provincial government audit.

As a result, violating employers are getting away scot-free, based on the audit completed in late 2022.

At least one-quarter of investigations surveyed by the audit weren't finished before that two-year deadline elapsed, "thereby precluding the option for prosecution,” reported CBC, citing the audit that looked into cases filed over a nearly four-year period ending in 2020.

And even when charges were being laid, they barely beat the deadline. More than half of the time when charges were filed, it happened "within days" of the deadline expiring, the audit found.

"Officer workloads combined with staff turnover are impacting the [OHS] division's ability to complete investigations, reviews and related reports in a timely manner prior to expiration of the two-year statutory deadline," the audit noted, according to CBC.

Also, outdated investigative processes and procedures are “negatively impacting the timely completion of investigations," according to the audit.

‘Somebody is dragging their heels’

The Department of Digital Government and Service N.L., which oversees occupational health and safety investigations, accepted all of the audit's 11 recommendations and some changes have been made, according to the report.

The department has created a spreadsheet to track the progress of investigations and has more scheduled meetings to review the status of ongoing investigations.

However, most of the recommendations are yet to be implemented, and officials did not provide any timeline for when that will happen, reported CBC.

Recently, department officials told a legislative committee that they received approval to reorganize the OHS division in the wake of the audit.

"There is no increase in the positions. It's zero-based and we've had some long-term vacancies," Gail Boland, assistant deputy minister, said in the House of Assembly on April 19, according to CBC.

"So we're using that to trade off to create other positions and better utilize our officers so that they can be focused more on these serious investigations and meet the two-year statutory timeline."

That reorganization will include a new investigations unit for serious workplace incidents.

But one union is criticizing the slow progress on implementing the audit’s recommendations.

"That audit came out two years ago, or close to two years ago, and it's still not implemented," said Ron Thomas, staff representative for Newfoundland and Labrador with the United Steelworkers union. "To me, somebody is dragging their heels, and something has to be done."