EDMONTON (Canadian OH&S News)
In his latest report, Alberta’s auditor general slammed the provincial government, saying they have so far failed to satisfy all of his concerns regarding workplace safety.
Earlier this month, Merwan Saher’s report — which was the follow-up to recommendations he made in an audit more than two years ago — revealed that the Department of Human Services has yet to implement each of the suggested improvements to occupational health and safety systems.
A second audit found that while two of the five recommendations were on track, three have yet to be implemented. The department had strengthened its proactive inspection program and improved controls over its legislated permit and certificate program — such as controls over asbestos certificates —but it had not sufficiently identified and defined high-risk employers and workers or applied enforcement for those who break the law, the report noted.
In addition, human services must complete the Work Safe Alberta strategic plan and make improvements to the Certificate of Recognition (COR) system — the documentation awarded to employers who develop health and safety systems that meet established standards.
“Being able to earn a COR certificate is an indication of an employer that has good practices,” said Saher. “And that gives a real incentive for employers to get that status.”
Of Alberta’s 156,000 employers, only 9,000 currently hold COR status, according to the auditor general.
Human Services Minister Dave Hancock said it takes time to apply such wide-scale reforms.
“There’s no magic wand to this, you just have to work through the process,” Hancock explained, adding that since the original audit was released in 2010, his office has made significant strides towards safe work practices in the province. That includes increasing the number of inspection staff who work evenings and weekends, opening an occupational disease prevention unit and focused worksite inspections.
The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) called the actions taken by the human services department a Band-Aid for a bullet wound.
“The auditor general pointed out that our government hasn’t done anything near what they should be doing,” said Nancy Furlong, the AFL’s secretary and treasurer. “It’s clear they have the information, they have the tools, but they haven’t had the political will.”
Furlong went on to say that the AFL presented a 10-point plan to human services. In it, the AFL cited annual reviews for employers to maintain their CORs, as well as issuing tickets for those who do not comply with occupational health and safety practices as effective correctional measures. They reasoned that not only would these help protect workers, but also provide incentive for employers, who in turn would attract more employees.
“If there are no consequences for your behaviour, then you’re going to do what is easiest,” Furlong said. “Often with employers, that’s the bottom line — to get the most out of workers — and they should be held to account.”
Furlong said that because there is no one deciding when a COR can be removed for bad behaviour and no review process for those that do not have a certificate — allowing companies with poor health and safety records to get a COR and bid on government jobs — there is not enough incentive for companies to be more careful.
“Make those certificates mean something,” she said.
Hancock agreed, and added that human services is currently pursuing a system which would issue tickets and penalties for those in violation of the safe work practices. But before that can be done, the importance of a COR designation must be amplified.
“It’s a work in progress, but we have to build that value of the COR designation so people want to keep it up, as opposed to having something that’s an imposition,” he said. “This is a massive area, where the value of the auditor-general’s report comes in. It will help us to refocus particularly on the COR area.”
Before the ticketing system can be put into practice, it must first pass legislative hurdles, slated for this fall, Hancock said. He said he expects the ticketing system to be implemented early next year.