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Province ramps up workplace enforcement

A 10-point plan to get tough on Alberta companies that flout safety laws isn’t nearly enough to catch the province up with the rest of the country, said one of Alberta’s most prominent labour leaders.

However, the Alberta Liberal critic is giving Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk credit for venturing into territory that his predecessors have shied away from.

On Friday, Lukaszuk unveiled a 10-point plan to improve the province’s application of its health and safety laws. He said the measures address the five issues highlighted this spring by the auditor general.

“The hammer is coming down on those who consistently fail to comply,” he said.

The measures include posting the safety records of all Alberta companies online as of September. The province is also hiring eight additional occupational health and safety officers and reviewing all the outstanding violations identified by the auditor general earlier this year.

Another measure is the implementation of updated compliance and enforcement procedures that provide a clear roadmap for officers faced with non-compliant companies.

“You will not see a patchwork of approaches depending on who the officer is, where the officer happens to be and who the employer is,” Lukaszuk said. “Now we have a clearly laid out ladder of how to increase enforcement all the way to contempt of court.”

A pilot project will see worksite inspections take place on weekends and in the evenings. Lukaszuk is also eliminating the Best Safety Performer Awards because they allowed some companies to earn awards while still having violations.

The government looks like it’s moving in the right direction after posting a poor track record for enforcement and publicizing the names of offending companies, said Alberta Liberal critic Hugh MacDonald.

“He had some good proposals today and let’s see if he follows through on them,” MacDonald said.

“He’s going where the previous three ministers of labour have failed.”

The government has taken some positive steps but has also created a huge disappointment by only moving to post bare bones information online, said Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan.

He thought the government would post all relevant safety documents, including any safety write-ups that companies might have received but he’s learned that the posted information will only include the hours of lost-time claims.

“It leads me to believe that this whole exercise has more to do with public relations and damage control than it does with promoting workplace health and safety,” he said.

He’d hoped to see officers given the ability to levy fines and wanted to see the province address its historically low rate of prosecuting violators.

Overall, Alberta has been way behind other provinces and the new changes represent a few small steps in the right direction, he said.

“The hole that the government has dug for themselves on this issue is a big one,” McGowan said, “and it’s going to take a lot more than this for them to climb out.”

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