On April 27, 2018, the Parkland Institute of the University of Alberta and the Alberta Workers’ Health Centre released a joint report on workplace safety in Alberta entitled Safer by Design: How Alberta Can Improve Workplace Safety. The report comes on the heels of new health and safety legislation passed in late 2017 designed to improve worker safety in Alberta. The writers of the report relied on an online poll of 2,000 workers in Alberta.

The research conducted for the report indicates the following:

  • 1% of the disabling workplace injuries that occurred in Alberta in 2016 went unreported;
  • 50% of Alberta employers were not complying with basic OHS requirements; and
  • workers in Alberta remain reluctant to exercise their rights under health and safety legislation.

The report compares the results of its research to the Government of Alberta’s statistics and concludes that the Government has significantly underestimated the extent to which workplace safety remains a problem in Alberta. On this basis, the report’s authors call for further government action to protect workers.

Based on worker observations, the report conducts that approximately half of all Alberta workplaces have failed to implement written hazard assessments, have failed to involve affected workers in managing hazards and have failed to inform workers of identified hazards and methods in place to control them.

The report also suggests that the right to refuse unsafe work is being exercised by workers only 33% of the time. This low refusal rate arises primarily because of pressures created by employers, both direct and indirect. 23% of workers reported being punished for refusing unsafe work.

Where workers took steps to report unsafe work environments, one third of workers who lodged a complaint reported that no investigation was undertaken by government inspectors.

The report concludes with a number of recommendations to the Government to improve workplace safety. These include:

  • increasing the rate of inspection by health and safety officers;
  • introducing more serious and mandatory penalties to employers for health and safety violations; and
  • improving worker health and safety education.

The current Alberta Government has repeatedly indicated that a key component of its mandate is increasing protection for workers. While the most recent legislation concerning workplace safety remains young, employers in Alberta can expect that there will be increased activity by government agencies in enforcing applicable health and safety rules throughout the province.

Is your business prepared to face greater scrutiny of its health and safety practices? Developing strong health and safety policies and ensuring compliance is an essential component of every employer’s business plan. If a workplace accident does occur, DLA Piper (Canada) LLP has the expertise and experience to assist employers to resolve the matter successfully.