BY CAROL CHRISTIAN - Workers who don't want to follow health and safety rules such as wearing their hard hats or modifying their tools can now be ticketed by Alberta Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) officers.
That’s one of the tools the OH&S officers can use during the upcoming construction season as they conduct a summer of focused residential construction inspections.
OH&S officers will look for all infractions and pay close attention to the use of fall protection equipment by roofers and framers.
“If they go to a worker and say ‘Okay buddy; go put your hard hat on and strap yourself in,’ and the worker tells my officers to take a hike because he doesn’t like being strapped in and he doesn’t wear a hard hat because it messes up his hair and he refuses to do it, then he’s going to get a ticket,” explained Thomas Lukaszuk, who was Alberta’s Minister of Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour before announcing that he was stepping down from his post to pursue the leadership of the provincial Progressive Conservative Party.
All parties have to be 100 per cent committed to make the workplace safe.
“It’s the employer’s responsibility, an employee’s responsibility and the government’s responsibility. My job is to have the most up-to-date laws and inspection and enforcement and education programs so no one can say ‘I didn’t know,” he said.
“The employer’s job is to provide his or her employees with a safe work environment, and there is no excuse for not doing so, and the worker’s job is to adhere to the regulations of government and the employer, and keep themselves and their co-workers safe.”
Employers can provide all sorts of training and safety equipment, but site safety requires the buy-in from workers.
“No one can be punished or refusing unsafe work, but when employees resist<0x2026> They will be subject to a fine as well,” said Lukaszuk.
“There is no reason, no excuse why anyone should come home at the end of the day from work or from hospital and have to say to their kids, ‘I will never be able to play with you again because I can’t walk because I had a work accident’...”
Upon completion of the campaign, a focused inspection report will be compiled then publicly shared.
It will include information on the number of sites visited, inspections completed, and orders and tickets issued.
While the residential construction industry has shown declining injury statistics in recent years, Lukaszuk said that it continues to be an area of concern.
He added that the focused inspections also include educational programs as OH&S officers will also provide information on safe practices.
“We did construction industry focused inspections two years ago<0x2026> and the number of violations that we detected were just astronomical,” he said.
“Even though the industry since then has improved dramatically there is still a lot of room for improvement.
“The message is: Watch out we’re coming.”
During this year’s inspection campaign, he pointed out OH&S officers have been trained as peace officers meaning they are also now able to issue administrative fines against employers.
Those fines can be up to $100,000 per violation, which, Lukazsuk noted, frequently relate to roofing and include not being tied in for fall protection and not wearing steel-toed boots.
“I personally have had discussions with workers who argue they shouldn’t have to wear them because they prefer to wear their runners, but I’m sure they always change their mind once they have a nail through their foot,” he said.
Not wearing hard hats and safety glasses are also common violations.
Then there is the general state of the worksite.
He said very often these sites can be untidy resulting in numerous fall and trip hazards.
“I have a young man in hospital that tripped (a few) days ago. He fell 18 inches and he is in critical condition in hospital,” he said.
“It’s the little things that get you<0x2026> You don’t have to fall from a roof. Eighteen inches is good enough, so keep your worksite tidy with well marked fall zones.”
Shafts for stairwells not yet installed, where workers can fall from second floors all the way to the basements, are frequently left unmarked or roped off.
“Those are common violations. Another common one – and it always surprises me – is grinders,” he said.
“Many, many times we find that the protective shield on the grinder has been taken off because it makes it little bit more of a handier tool. You can do more with it.”
Such modifications make the tools more dangerous and is another violation inspectors will be looking for. If the officers finds a grinder with the shield removed, they will issue a stop work order that will put the grinder out of commission.
If they find a jobsite with unprotected stairwell holes, they will issue a stop work order until that is fixed.
If the inspectors have spoken with a particular employer two or three times over the last few months and there are still problems, they will start issuing administrative fines.
“Infractions can have severe impacts on workers, families and the community and enforcing workplace standards is a powerful tool to protect Albertans,’ he said.
Lukaszuk recalled that when he used to represent injured workers at the Workers Compensation Board, he read thousands of work accident reports and every single one of them were preventable.
“And oddly enough, most accidents are caused by the most innocuous objects...” he said.
“Just when you don’t think about it, it gets you.”