An article that ran in yesterdays CompNewsNetwork demonstrates a stark difference between workers’ compensation in a regulated yet competitive environment, versus a monopolistic one where the government essentially calls all the shots. It was a story about the training of Alberta, Canada's first Occupational Health and Safety Peace Officers.
Don’t get too excited. “Peace Officer” is the same politically correct mumbo jumbo term some jurisdictions use for their prison guards.
These Peace Officers will have the ability to write tickets to employers and workers who cut corners and put people at risk. Classes of officers will continue training until all 143 OHS officers are certified to write tickets. The fines will range from $100 to $500. While employers here in the states have become accustomed to potential fines and regulatory actions for workplace safety infractions, this is different. First, a ticketing action is onsite and immediate, similar to being pulled over for driving 98 miles per hour in a school zone. Second, and most dramatically, the worker – the employee previously known as the innocent victim of corporate greed and arrogance – could be the one on the receiving end.
That is huge: Personal accountability in a no fault world. Who’d ever heard of such a thing? Frankly, I have my doubts, but it will be interesting to see if this type of approach has any impact on reductions in workplace accidents.
The ticketing of employees for safety violations will strike some as a breach of exclusive remedy; the no fault doctrine that has guided our industry for over 100 years. Here in the states we have seen a tearing of that fabric, with some jurisdictions limiting benefits or excluding them all together if it is shown the injured worker willingly violated safety protocol. Some of us consider that a mistake, as exclusive remedy is a two edged sword, and if it dulls on one side, the other has to be affected. Employers cannot expect liability protections while removing the other half of the grand bargain. Safety, in my mind, is a performance issue that should be dealt with in the workplace, not an administrative hearing. Proactively ticketing employees will be seen by some as violating that no fault doctrine.
I think they may be wrong on that. The adherence of exclusive remedy is strictly post accident; once an injury has occurred. These citations on the other hand are clearly in the safety and prevention realm. Personal responsibility still applies in that world. As long as, that is, this method is used in a preventative manner and not a post injury action.
What remains to be seen is to what extent these Peace Officers are willing to go in that regard. There is always a tendency to go for the “deep pocket”, and writing a $500 citation for a faceless company may be much easier than issuing it to the forklift operator with a wife, 3 kids and a broken down car. And what of the post accident investigation? Will these officers cite an employee for causing an accident? If I am a worker injured by another's action, an action for which they receive the equivalent of a traffic citation, does that cement potential 3rd party liability for them?
It is too early to tell, but they are points to consider. Under our workers' comp system this policy would be much less likely to see the light of day. Still it is, to my knowledge, a unique concept worth watching. It is possible that Alberta is on to something here that has some teeth in accident avoidance; whether company or worker, putting blame where it belongs before someone gets hurt. Yeah, that's the ticket.