Open shop contractors in Saskatchewan support a new system that could have tickets issued to individual workers at jobsites for non-compliance with health and safety laws, but some argue the initiative will have a negative impact on workplace safety.
“It’s a pretty drastic change from what is occurring now, but we agree with the concept that employers and employees are equally responsible for safety at workplaces,” said Karen Low, executive director of Merit Contractors Association in Saskatchewan.
“Safety is everybody’s responsibility, not just the employers, who drive the process, by providing training and enforcement.”
A new regulation came into effect in Saskatchewan on Jan. 1, 2013.
It gives occupational health and safety officers the power to issue tickets for health and safety violations to workers, supervisors, employers or owners.
A summary offence ticket will be issued following a similar process to that of a police officer issuing a speeding ticket.
The new initiative is currently in a six-month transition period in which ministry officials will work with stakeholders to introduce the ticketing system to employers and workers.
Despite Merit’s support of the new initiative, Low is still concerned about the new system.
“Our first concern is that the whole construction industry in the province will be targeted, and secondly that the open shop sector will be the focus of these inspections,” she said.
According to Low, one open shop contractor has received a disproportionately high-level of inspections.
For this reason, she believes open shop sites could be inspected more often than union construction sites.
Low is also concerned that the revenue from these tickets will become an important part of the government revenue stream, which could lead to an increase in ticketing.
In addition, there are concerns that an individual officers performance will be evaluated on how many tickets are given out.
In response, Ray Anthony, a spokesperson with Occupational Health and Safety said they will not target a specific sector of the economy.
“The summary offence ticketing process is basically tied to flagrant disregard for safety,” he said.
“The tickets are for use when we have had previous contact with the employer and there is a refusal to comply.”
Anthony said that his department receives a lot of complaints about construction, which means safety officers must respond to these complaints.
He said the officers don’t always know who the employer is when they get a complaint and go to inspect a workplace.
But, if the officers find a problem, they will take action.
As far as revenue is concerned, Anthony said the Ministry of Labour and Workplace Safety does not receive or control the money generated by the tickets. This revenue will go into general government revenues.
In sharp contrast, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) said that changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Act and Regulations that are required to implement summary offence ticketing will shift responsibility from employers to workers.
“SEIU-West is opposed to summary ticketing in any fashion. The research we have conducted and reviewed indicates to us that there is no evidence to support that ticketing will assist in creating a culture of healthy and safe workplaces or even reduce injuries,”said Shawna Colpitts, director of political action and education with the union.
Colpitts and her colleague Kelly Harrington identified a number of concerns in a submission to the government during the consultation process on the new legislation.
They argued that the new system will do nothing to identify the organizational factors that influence decision-making with respect to the overall health and safety within the worksite.
In addition, they argue that front line supervisors and workers typically have no control over budgets, safety training and the provision of proper equipment.
There also could be situations where workers, who do not use their legal right to refuse dangerous work for fear of management reprisal, may be seen as allowing the continuation of hazards and therefore deserving of a ticket.
As a result, they could face possible injury as well as ticket. Officers may issue tickets for any of 71 violations in the Occupational Health and Safety legislation.
Of the 71 regulations, 64 offences apply specifically to employers, one offence applies specifically to supervisors, two offences apply specifically to workers and four offences apply to any workplace party.
For a first offence, offenders can either plead guilty and make a voluntary payment, which may range from $250 to $1,000, or can choose to go to trial.