Home Occupational Health & Safety Finding good in the bad: Alberta’s creative sentences for OHS incidents create legacy of safety improvement

Finding good in the bad: Alberta’s creative sentences for OHS incidents create legacy of safety improvement

by Todd Humber

Alberta continues to be creative with its fines for workplace safety incidents — and it’s a path other jurisdictions in Canada should be going down when it comes to penalizing companies and individuals.

Case in point. This week, news broke that Isolation Equipment Services pled guilty in a fatal construction site accident that happened in January 2022. A crane operator in Red Deer, Alta., was struck and killed after a piece of equipment he was moving fell.

In most Canadian jurisdictions, the conviction would result in a fine that would flow into the government coffers. The company or individual would be punished financially, but it was tough to see how some good might come from the horrific accident.

Alberta’s OHS legislation, though, provides an option for a creative sentence that steers the money to an organization or project to improve or promote workplace health and safety. Nova Scotia has similar rules in place.

In this case, $359,000 of the $360,000 “fine” is being sent to Energy Safety Canada.

Energy Safety Canada is a fantastic organization that does amazing work. One need look no further than Paula M.A. Campkin, MBA, ICD.D, vice-president of operations, who has spoken brilliantly at numerous industry events I’ve been involved in over the years.

To think that the awful incident in Red Deer is going to result in more resources for that organization means some good may truly flow from the bad.

According to the province, the money will be used to develop supervisor and competency programs targeting those who work with new, young and experienced workers. If there was a font I could use to show a standing ovation, this text would be in it.

Another example came last month, when Boucher Bros. Lumber was ordered to pay $102,000 to the Alberta Forest Products Association to create a mill safety education campaign that includes the development of a series of safety education videos aimed at the lumber industry.

That came in the wake of an accident in September 2022 where a worker’s hand was seriously injured after it came into contact with the blades of a wood planer.

There’s an old saying that two is a coincidence, and three is a trend. The third creative sentence in the last few weeks came last month when Syncrude was ordered to fork over $390,000 to the David and Joan Lynch School of Engineering Safety and Risk Management; the UAlberta Geotechnical Centre; and the Alberta Municipal Health and Safety Association (AMHSA).

That cash will be used to develop a “field ready mobile app” and a best-practice guide for trenching, excavation, and adjacent work. In that case, the driver of an excavator drowned after the bank he was working on gave way and his cab became submerged in water.

Every workplace accident is a tragedy. But in these three cases, a total of $851,000 is being directed to organizations that are dedicated to, and experts in, improving workplace safety. That is money that otherwise would have disappeared into general government revenue.

It makes so much sense. It’s a commendable model of responsibility and innovation that every other Canadian provinces and territories should take a very hard look at — and emulate.

These fines, transformed into safety education and improvements, create a legacy of improved workplace practices that stand as a monument to those affected by workplace tragedies.

We can’t let any worker’s death be in vain. Alberta’s creative sentences will go a long way in ensuring that another family is spared the grieving that comes in the wake of getting that heartbreaking call.

“There’s been an incident…”

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