New tools designed to help WorkSafeBC crack down on regulation and Workers Compensation Act violators are coming into effect Sept. 18. Instead of issuing an order, WorkSafeBC will be able to enter into a compliance agreement with an employer.
Under that agreement, the employer will voluntarily agree to correct occupational health and safety violations, and report back to WorkSafeBC by a specific date. However, these agreements can be used for only non-high-risk violations.
WorkSafeBC – through regulation – will be able to issue administrative penalties up to $1,000 to employers for non-high risk violations quickly and efficiently.
Although WorkSafeBC has the power to issue these now, don’t expect to see any citations issued until at least early next year. WorkSafeBC is currently in consultation with stakeholders on the new draft regulation and will seek additional input through public hearings in various parts of B.C. beginning in October. Employers will have 45 days –rather than the previous 90 days – to request a review of decisions related to prevention orders and penalties, and claim cost levies imposed under section 73(1) of the act.
This is intended to shorten the time frame on reviews to enhance timeliness and effectiveness of prevention penalties and orders.
In May, other parts of Bill 9 went into effect, including expanded stop work order powers, changes to employer incident investigations, expanded injunction powers and changes to penalty due diligence.
The president of B.C.’s Council of Construction Associations (COCA) Dave Baspaly said the changes are good and will better enable WorkSafeBC to target and deal with issues.
However, he has some concerns about enforcement.
“We are comfortable in the preliminary thinking of how they will be used, but there are an awful lot of officers across the province to understand the spirit of how we arrived at those decisions and to use them judiciously,” he said.
“It’s one thing to come up with the conceptual design of how to implement the regulations, the other thing is how it is practically used in the field.”
John Panusa, director of WorkSafeBC’s occupational health and safety regulation and policy department, said that there are interim policies and training that will ensure the tools are used properly.
“We have done extensive training of all of our occupational health and safety officers and hygiene officers on all the tools that were strengthened by Bill 9,” he said.
“For virtually all of the provisions of Bill 9, they do not affect any employer that complies with the Workers Compensation Act or Occupational Health and Safety regulations, except for employer incident investigation timelines.”
Despite some concerns, Baspaly said he feels the chances of a smooth rollout are good.
“We like their chances quite frankly,” he said.
“The people that are not following the rules and are really going against the grain of safety – there’s now the appropriate tools to deal with them that weren’t there before.”
He added that WorkSafeBC and other partners on Bill 9 worked hard to include the construction industry in the process and to listen to concerns.
“They went the extra mile on this and not only is that good for industry, but I think you end up with much better regulation in the end,” he said.
Panusa and Baspaly encouraged those in the industry to continue to provide feedback to WorkSafeBC and COCA on the changes.
The changes are part of other efforts taking place at WorkSafeBC to improve its inspection and investigation regime in the wake of the deadly sawmill incidents that occurred in 2012, in Burns Lake and Prince George.
Following the explosions, Gordon Macatee, WorkSafeBC special advisor, prepared a report on the incidents, making 43 recommendations which were accepted by the B.C. Ministry of Jobs.
The legislation has four specific objectives, including: providing new enforcement tools, shortening the process for finalizing financial penalties, ensuring timely employer investigations of workplace incidents and reports, and enhancing workplace safety expertise on the WorkSafeBC board of directors.