The Alberta government is working with the province’s police forces to coordinate the investigation of serious workplace health and safety incidents.
The province and 10 police services have signed the Westray Memorandum of Understanding that defines protocols for investigating serious workplace incidents. This will help investigators determine if criminal charges may be warranted in addition to occupational health and safety (OHS) violations.
“All workers have the right to safe and healthy workplaces, from the very first shift right through to retirement. Criminal charges are another enforcement tool to help ensure compliance with workplace health and safety laws. The agreement will help OHS and police to better serve and protect Albertans to help ensure every worker comes home safe at the end of the day.”
While OHS and police officers currently coordinate when they investigate a serious workplace incident, the memorandum formally sets out protocols to assess the situation and determine if it involves potential OHS violations, criminal activity or both.
“This Memorandum of Understanding will help solidify the coordination and communication of Alberta’s police services with those who investigate serious workplace occurrences. By defining roles and protocols, police can focus on any criminal activity that may have occurred and investigators can ensure their time is spent on the incident investigation – and that benefits all Albertans.”
On May 9, 1992, a large explosion in the Westray Mine in Plymouth, N.S. killed 26 underground miners. A subsequent public inquiry blamed the mine management and government for what was deemed a preventable disaster.
In response to the Westray Mine disaster, the federal government amended the Criminal Code to allow criminal charges in serious cases of workplace fatalities or injuries. The law applies to anyone on a work site who directs the work of others.
“The United Steelworkers have been working with jurisdictions across Canada to enforce the Westray Criminal Code amendments. With roughly a thousand workplace deaths across Canada every year, safety needs to be a top priority on all work sites. This agreement will ensure that anyone who knowingly puts workers in harm’s way can face criminal charges.”
Since the amendments took effect in 2004, there have been 11 prosecutions in Canada, with three convictions and one person imprisoned. There have been no prosecutions in Alberta.
“We are happy to see this initiative go forward. It will add to the toolkit of enforcement officers, ensuring that individuals who are criminally negligent are held to account. We believe this is an important step towards making workplaces safer for all working people in Alberta.”
The Government of Alberta and police partners made the announcement on the National Day of Mourning, which commemorates workers who have been killed, injured or suffered illness due to workplace-related hazards and incidents. This year, the Day of Mourning is commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Westray Mine disaster.
Partnering police services
- RCMP K Division
- Medicine Hat
- Tsuu T’ina
- Lakeshore Regional (Slave Lake area)