Alberta is implementing new procedures to improve the investigation of workplace safety incidents and make it easier to lay criminal charges where warranted.
Alberta Labour Minister Christina Gray said the provincial government has signed a memorandum of understanding with 10 police forces, laying out protocols for investigating workplace incidents that result in death or serious injury. While occupational health and safety officers currently work together with police when a serious workplace incident occurs, the new protocols are expected to make it easier for investigators to determine if criminal charges — in addition to occupational health and safety violations — should be laid.
“All workers have the right to safe and healthy workplaces, from the very first shift right through to retirement,” Gray said in a statement. “Criminal charges are another enforcement tool to help ensure compliance with workplace health and safety laws.”
The announcement coincided with Friday’s National Day of Mourning, a day set aside to remember workers who have been killed, injured or suffered illness due to workplace-related hazards and incidents. At a Day of Mourning ceremony in Calgary, Alberta OHS director Rob Feagan said the new protocols will help ensure that anyone who is criminally negligent will be held to account.
“This means serious incidents will be viewed through a criminal lens more frequently,” Feagan said.
Negligence that leads to death or injury on the job has been punishable under the Criminal Code since the federal government amended the law in response to the 1992 Westray explosion. That disaster, which was later deemed preventable, killed 26 underground mine workers in Nova Scotia.
Since the amendments took effect in 2004, there have been 11 prosecutions as a result of serious workplace incidents in Canada, with three convictions and one person imprisoned. There have been no prosecutions in Alberta.
“We’ve been saying for years that sometimes fines aren’t enough,” said Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan in a statement. “If we really want to make sure workplace safety gets the kind of priority it deserves, employers and managers have to know they could go to jail if their decisions or negligence result in serious injuries or fatalities.”
The provincial government — which is currently reviewing Alberta’s employment standards and labour relations codes — has indicated it is also considering a full review of the occupational health and safety system.
Charlotte Murray, whose husband Glen was injured in a workplace-related motor vehicle crash in 1992 and died of his injuries in 2012, said she welcomes all efforts to improve workplace safety.
“Alberta really has incredible safety standards, but I think it’s always important to have reviews,” Murray said, following Calgary’s Day of Mourning ceremony. “It’s really great that we’re making it (workplace safety) a focus.”