Following a review into WorkSafeBC's procedures for
conducting investigations, the BC government has announced that it
will accept all 43 recommendations of the review's final
report, the WorkSafeBC Review and Action Plan,
which was made public on July 15, 2014. If the government does
implement these recommendations, BC employers can expect provincial
Occupational Health and Safety ("OHS") regulations to
become more stringent and more effectively enforced. Non-compliance
will likely carry more severe penalties.
BC Labour Minister Shirley Bond appointed Mr. Gordon Macatee,
the BC Ferry Commissioner, as Administrator of WorkSafeBC on April
14, 2014. She gave Mr. Macatee a mandate to review WorkSafeBC's
investigation procedures after the Criminal Justice Branch declined
to press criminal charges in the fatal Babine and Lakeland Mill
explosions, both caused by combustible dust. The Criminal Justice
Branch elected to not proceed with prosecution because the evidence
collected in the course of WorkSafeBC's investigation of the
mill explosions was likely inadmissible in court.
Enforcement for Criminal and Regulatory Offences
To ensure that WorkSafeBC investigations can lead to effective
criminal prosecutions, Mr. Macatee recommended that WorkSafeBC
create two separate teams, one to investigate incidents for cause
and another to gather evidence for prosecution. He also recommended
that WorkSafeBC enter into Memoranda of Understanding with police
and the Criminal Justice Branch, and develop policies on when to
refer matters for prosecution.
Many of Mr. Macatee's recommendations are aimed at
encouraging enforcement of regulatory offences, not just criminal
offences. Once the report's recommendations go into effect, BC
employers should see changes to WorkSafeBC's OHS compliance
Mr. Macatee recommended that WorkSafeBC implement an escalating
series of enforcement tools, which are to be guided by the
principle that WorkSafeBC officers should select the least onerous
tool to ensure compliance. The report included the following
graphic to explain how these new powers will be used:
Enforcement Regime Includes Sanctions for Repeat Offenders
New features of this enforcement system include asking that an
on-site manager sign an "Assurance of Compliance," a
formal undertaking to rectify an OHS violation within a certain
time period or be subject to a follow-up investigation. In
addition, WorkSafeBC officers will be empowered to issue OHS
"citations" with escalating fines. The report stated that
these fines are to be "proportional" to the offender and
Repeat offenders will be subject to injunctions. If these repeat
offenders attempt to start new companies in order to avoid
sanctions, WorkSafeBC will have the ability to "pierce the
corporate veil" to impose discipline on those behind the
non-compliant companies. WorkSafeBC will also publish reports of
its enforcement actions to increase their deterrent effect.
Currently, it takes approximately one year for WorkSafeBC to
impose an OHS penalty. The report recommended that this timeframe
be made "significantly" shorter.
Mr. Macatee recommended broadening the scope of certain existing
enforcement tools. Once the report's findings are implemented,
stop-work orders may apply in non-emergency situations or to
multiple work sites. WorkSafeBC will regularly conduct inspections
during the evening and weekends, in order to ensure compliance with
OHS regulations at all times.
Although the legislative, regulatory, and organizational changes
necessary to implement this new regime will take time, it is clear
that the BC government has committed to far-reaching OHS
What is not clear is how many of the recommendations will come
into place, and when we can expect them. For now, employers should
strive to follow best OHS practices, and regularly review their
procedures to ensure that they remain compliant with
WorkSafeBC's current standards.
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guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
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