Alberta safety law sparks controversy

CALGARY — A Redford government plan to target employers who repeatedly defy the province's safety laws with new penalties of up to $10,000 is being opposed by an industry group representing 2,000 construction firms.

The Alberta Construction Association says the government's new laws to implement administrative penalties next year are too vague, complicated and there's no proof that they'll be effective in making work sites safer.

"There's a presumption that employers are the bad guys, and we'll just ramp up the fines and we'll fix those bad guys," Ken Gibson, executive director of the association, said Wednesday.

"It's not evidence-based. There's no suggestion we can see that it actually is going to work."

Gibson said the association is in favour of a separate government plan that will allow provincial health and safety officers to hand out on-the-spot tickets to everyone on a job site, including owners and workers. The ticket system will help discourage more straightforward safety infractions on job sites, such as an employee who refuses to wear a helmet, he said.

Despite the concerns, the Redford government is pushing forward in the legislature with the two sets of new workplace penalties.

Administrative penalties — spelled out in Bill 6, the Protections and Compliance Statutes Amendment Act — will apply mostly to employers who break the law, and will allow for penalties of up to $10,000.

"There've been discussions with various employers' groups on this," Human Services Minister Dave Hancock said Wednesday, adding it's "normal" to have some opposition to new penalties.

The government's second move on workplace safety fines will be through a ticketing system, to be brought into force through regulations next year. It will allow for both workers and owners to be ticketed to the tune of hundreds of dollars, he explained.

"They're basically something that will sting a little if it goes to a worker, but it's not devastating," Hancock said.

But the ticketing plan is being panned by groups representing workers, who call it a "blame-the-victim" approach.

"At the end of the day, workplace safety is primarily the responsibility of employers and government, as regulator," said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.

McGowan noted that, in court, companies can be hit with a fine as high as $500,000 for a first offence. He's concerned the administrative penalties, which top out at $10,000, will replace full legal prosecutions against companies that break the law.

Not all businesses are opposed to the new administrative penalties.

"Right now there are employers in the province of Alberta who are not taking safety seriously," said Dave Fennell, senior safety adviser for Imperial Oil Resources, noting there was one week last month when five Alberta workers died on separate job sites.

"Just like any other law in the province, you need to be held accountable," Fennell said. "If the administrative fines are a way of making these employers accountable, then we are supportive of that."

The Wildrose party wants the proceeds of such workplace fines to be put into a dedicated safety fund, instead of flowing into general government revenues.

The NDP and Alberta Liberals say although they generally support the government's push for tougher penalties, one issue that remains outstanding is the lack of coverage for paid farm workers under the province's Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Workers' Compensation Act.

Under questioning from the opposition, the Tory government said Wednesday it's still working on a response to a report completed last February from the Farm Safety Advisory council, a government-appointed group that's made recommendations on improving the industry's safety record.

Calgary Herald, Thurs Nov 1 2012
Byline: Kelly Cryderman

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.