REGINA (Canadian OH&S News)
If recently proposed amendments to Saskatchewan’s Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) pass, the maximum penalty amount for those guilty of offences causing a serious injury or death of a worker would increase from $300,000 to $1.5 million.
Bill 23, An Act to amend The Occupational Health and Safety Act, 1993, would also double all fines, except the maximum fine, from current penalties that range from $2,000 to $300,000, says Glennis Bihun, executive director of the Occupational Health and Safety Division (OHSD) of the Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety. The bill passed second reading in the provincial legislature on December 14, 2011, and is expected to go for third reading during the spring legislative session.
“The need for change that improves the safety performance of Saskatchewan workplaces is demonstrated by the fact that Saskatchewan continues to have the second highest workplace injury rate in the country [after Manitoba],” Bihun says, noting that each year, about 40,000 injury claims are made to the provincial workers’ compensation board, with about 20 fatality claims and nearly 13,000 resulting in time lost from work.
The majority of the proposed amendments are based on recommendations from the labour ministry’s Occupational Health and Safety Council – made up of labour and employer representatives – following a review of the adequacy of the OHSA, Bihun reports. Other recommendations are based on a review of best practices in industry and other jurisdictions, she adds.
For example, one amendment would give the director of the OHSD the authority to require an employer or contractor to establish an additional or new occupational health and safety committee, subject to specific criteria. These criteria include the frequency of injuries at the workplace and the nature of work performed.
Another amendment describes additional responsibilities of a “prime contractor,” who may be an employer, contractor or owner, if there are two or more employers or self-employed persons at certain worksites. “The amendments clarify the employer’s duty to ensure employees are sufficiently trained and supervised and that the activity of one employer’s workers do not negatively affect the health and safety of other workers or self-employed persons at the same place of employment,” Bihun says.
Other proposals include an “enhanced” ability of oh&s officers to require the production of, and undertake the inspection and acquisition of, copies of any existing oh&s records as well as the requirement that a person attend an interview where there has been a fatality, serious injury or harassment if “the officer has reasonable cause to believe they possess relevant information.”
Ministry did not use all available options
The amendments come just days after provincial auditor Bonnie Lysyk released her report on government ministries. The report concluded that while the Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety had effective processes to address workplace non-compliance with the OHSA, it did not use all enforcement options available or use them consistently. For example, while the ministry can order employers to discontinue work, these stop-work orders were not used consistently for similar situations.
The report also found that penalties for non-compliance are also less severe for the neighbouring provinces of Alberta and Manitoba. “Officers told us that some employers think it is cheaper to pay fines than to comply,” the report says.
The bill outlining the proposed amendments can be found at http://docs.legassembly.sk.ca/legdocs/Bills/27L1S/Bill27-23.pdf.