Employment minister mulls release of Alberta employers' safety records

Employment minister mulls release of Alberta employers' safety records
The Alberta government may soon be releasing safety records of all employers in the province, in a bid to further promote compliance with the Occupational Health and Safety Act among companies, Alberta’s Minister of Employment and Immigration Thomas Lukaszuk told Canadian Occupational Safety in an interview.

This announcement follows the release by Acting Alberta Auditor General Merwah Saher of the latest Auditor General’s Report citing the need for improvements to the province’s OHS enforcement system. Lukaszuk said his department will identify non-compliant companies “very accurately” and find out why these companies continue to fail OHSA compliance.

He explained that while there are employers who simply choose to disregard health and safety regulations, there are also those who are trying to improve. “Sometimes non-compliance stems from the fact that there is simply something very unusual about the place of employment and even though there is goodwill and willingness to be compliant, and sometimes a great deal of effort exerted on being compliant, simply compliance is difficult to achieve. Those employers often just need some help and assistance in achieving compliance.”

He added the 97 per cent of Alberta’s employers who are in compliance with health and safety laws will welcome the release of their safety record. “Safety is something that most employers are very proud of and they have no issue with their good record being released, and that, in itself, maybe yet another tool that will promote compliance among those who are lagging behind,” Lukaszuk said.

At the same time, releasing these safety records will also expose companies that continue to defy health and safety regulations, he added. The department is also looking into any possible implication to privacy laws in Alberta, pertaining to the release of these safety records. “Privacy, obviously, is something that I am taking very seriously and I would make sure that whatever I do will be within the parameters of Alberta statutes,” the minister said.

Alberta’s auditor general has urged the province’s Department of Employment and Immigration to get tougher on employers that consistently fail to comply with occupational health and safety regulations.

In the report, the Alberta auditor general found “serious weaknesses” in the government’s system to deal with employers that persistently fail to comply with the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA).

“Employers with open and suspended OHS orders had disabling injury rates that were three to four times the provincial average,” the report said, “Our examination of these compliance files did not show evidence of strong systems at the department to select and deliver appropriate enforcement action.”

In addition to publicly releasing employers’ safety records, Lukaszuk said his department, over the next few weeks, will be looking at other enforcement tools to “compel these employers to be compliant.”

The auditor general’s report also noted that half of those employers that persistently fail to comply with the OHSA also hold a valid certificate of recognition (COR), while continuing to have increased injury rates among their workers. The COR is a program for employers that maintain and implement effective health and safety systems. Companies with valid COR can receive up to 20 per cent rebate on their Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) premiums, under the WCB Partners in Injury Reduction program.

“In short, these employers do not comply with OHS orders and their workers are much more likely to get injured on the job, yet these employers continue to receive Partners in Injury Reduction financial rebates and use their COR to bid on contracts with major companies in such industries as construction, and oil and gas,” the report stated.

Lukaszuk said he has already ordered a review of the COR program to ensure that the initiative is appropriately rewarding only those employers who choose and remain to be compliant.

Following the findings of the auditor general Lukaszuk said his department is already reviewing all areas of the health and safety system that need improvement. He doubts there will be a need for legislative changes. “The (Occupational Health and Safety) act in place right now is one of the most stringent in Canada. Simply utilizing the act to its fullest extent is something that I’m considering and that may mean becoming more active in the enforcement end of the legislation.”

The minister also noted that despite the findings of the auditor general, Alberta’s system for gathering and reporting workplace injury data is one of the most stringent in the country. Different provinces have different measuring sticks for injury reporting — some require certain days off from work for an injury to be statistically counted as an “accident”, while Alberta counts every single injury, regardless of severity or lost time from work, as an accident, Lukaszuk explained. “And when you apply that same measuring stick to every province, Alberta has the lowest incident rate in all of Canada.”

The auditor general made other recommendations related to occupational health and safety, including: strengthening the department’s proactive inspection program; improving its system of issuing CORs; and, strengthening the legislated permit and certificate programs by improving control over issued asbestos certificates and the processes for approving and monitoring external training agencies.

Minister Lukaszuk has urged to put the auditor general’s report in perspective.

“I welcome audits, because to me that is an extra pair of eyes from the outside looking in, highlighting issues that perhaps when you’re reviewing internally may be overseen. So I’m glad that (the auditor general) did this review because it will make us that much better.

I think we just have to put all this in perspective and realize that we’re talking about some three per cent of employers that have been found falling into the category of ‘undesirable group.’ But by default 97 per cent of Alberta employers are achieving their targets and creating some of the safest places to work in.”