(Canadian OH&S News) — Saskatchewan’s occupational health and safety authorities are stepping up random workplace inspections, after more than a year of focusing efforts on more injury-prone workplaces. Don Morgan, provincial Minister of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety, announced on March 4 that he had ordered the ministry’s oh&s department to increase random inspections.
Morgan’s announcement came shortly after a CBC report that an October 2013 policy change had resulted in severe decreases both in inspections and in notices of contravention. Former oh&s officer Pat Bowers claimed that worker safety was at risk because of a 94 per cent decrease in notices handed out to employers.
“The concern that was expressed to our Minister was one of ‘We’re not doing any random inspections,’ when, in fact, we always have been,” Mike Carr, the province’s Deputy Minister of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety, told COHSN. “But it led the minister to make the observation that we could probably do more.”
Carr explained that the ministry’s policy change in 2013 was an attempt to lower the province’s overall injury rate – Canada’s second-highest – by narrowing the focus on the most problematic workplaces. “We used to be in a situation where 90 per cent of the work that our officers did was random, 10 per cent was focused,” he said. “We’ve repositioned our resources, done some additional training and said that our officers are going to undertake intelligence-based, evidence-based activity with a narrow group.”
Saskatchewan Federation of Labour president Larry Hubich said he was “encouraged” by the ministry’s recent decision, but still skeptical about its approach to oh&s enforcement.
“They should have never reduced the number of random inspections in the first place,” said Hubich. “I have no doubt in my mind that workplaces are more dangerous, that employers are cutting corners and that workers are more vulnerable.”
Hubich was concerned that some employers were not reporting accidents properly, but encouraging employees to stay at work with lighter duties instead, to avoid higher Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) premiums. “I’ve had stories told to me from individuals who are afraid to go public because they’re afraid of retaliation,” he said. “That’s the climate that we’re in the midst of.”
Carr claimed that workplace injuries in Sask. had actually decreased. “In those workplaces where we have focused our attention on the target initiative, we’ve achieved a 22 per cent reduction year over year in injury rate,” he said.
But Hubich was unconvinced. “His agenda is to deliver for the corporate sector,” he said about Carr, “so I have no confidence that the interest of workers or their safety is a paramount priority for the current deputy minister. Anything that he says in this regard, I take with a grain of salt.”
Hubich also charged that the provincial government’s bureaucrats had met with those in Alberta and British Columbia to determine which oh&s laws interfered with trade. If the government put health and safety below the corporate agenda of its financial backers, he said, “I’m not confident that we’re getting an adequate enforcement of occupational health and safety legislation.”
Carr said that while random inspections would increase, the ministry would continue to invest the majority of its resources in the workplaces with the most injuries. “We did an analysis based on 2013 WCB statistics and determined that 86 per cent of Saskatchewan workplaces were injury-free that year. We said our attention should really be focused on the 14 per cent of workplaces that are having an injury experience.
“We will, in accordance with the Minister’s direction, do some more random inspections, but they will be still the smallest proportion of the work.”
“I see nothing but the watering down of occupational health and safety standards by this government,” said Hubich. “Health and safety should take priority over everything.”