April 21, 2014
Issue 'Tickets' for Safety Violations?
by Bob Wilson
Alberta may be on to something by issuing fines -- putting the blame where it belongs, whether company or worker -- before someone gets hurt.
A recent article in CompNewsNetwork describes the training of Alberta’s first occupational health and safety peace officers.
Don't get too excited. “Peace officer” is the same politically correct mumbo jumbo term some jurisdictions use for their prison guards.
These peace officers will have the ability to write tickets to employers and workers who cut corners and put people at risk. Classes of officers will continue training until all 143 OHS officers are certified to write tickets. The fines will range from $100 to $500. While employers here in the States have become accustomed to potential fines and regulatory actions for workplace safety infractions, this is different. First, a ticketing action is onsite and immediate, similar to being pulled over for driving 98 mph in a school zone. Second, and most dramatically, the worker — the employee previously known as the innocent victim of corporate greed and arrogance — could be the one on the receiving end.
That is huge: personal accountability in a no-fault world. Who'd ever heard of such a thing? Frankly, I have my doubts, but it will be interesting to see if this type of approach has any impact on reductions in workplace accidents.
The ticketing of employees for safety violations will strike some as a breach of exclusive remedy; the no-fault doctrine that has guided our industry for more than 100 years.
I think they may be wrong. The adherence of exclusive remedy is strictly post-accident — once an injury has occurred. These citations on the other hand are clearly in the safety and prevention realm. Personal responsibility still applies in that world. As long as, that is, this method is used in a preventative manner and not a post-injury action.
What remains to be seen is what these peace officers are willing to do. There is always a tendency to go for the “deep pocket,” and writing a $500 citation for a faceless company may be much easier than issuing it to the forklift operator with a wife, three kids and a broken-down car. And what of the post-accident investigation? Will these officers cite an employee for causing an accident? If I am a worker injured by another’s action, an action for which he receives the equivalent of a traffic citation, does that cement potential third-party liability for him?
Under our workers’ comp system in the States, this policy of writing tickets would be much less likely to see the light of day. Still, it is a concept worth watching. It is possible that Alberta is on to something here that will help avoid accidents by putting the blame where it belongs, whether company or worker, before someone gets hurt.
Yeah, that’s the ticket.