Dangerous workplace incidents may be the result of criminal negligence and are not just due to “unfortunate circumstances,” according to a recent research paper.
The report, entitled The Criminal Law Response to Workplace Safety Incidents, was authored by former Calgary Crown Prosecutor Jonathan W. Hak and occupational psychologist Robert B. Stewart.
The paper reflects on the implementation of workplace safety legislation in the wake of the Westray Mine disaster and determines that lack of enforcement has resulted in a “near zero deterrent effect” with the Criminal Code.
“There is little motivation for organizations to enhance their safety performance standards, to ensure that reasonable steps are taken to control work hazards, to prevent serious injuries and fatalities to workers or members of the public,” the report states.
A statistical comparison of workplace injuries and fatalities shows a significant decrease in fatality rates in the United Kingdom, while Canada has experienced no major decline over the same period of time.
“Increasingly, society is no longer accepting of the number of victims, loved ones, that are seriously injured or killed on the job,” according to the paper.
“The purpose of this paper is to educate and to heighten awareness throughout industry. Industry needs to be informed of the increased jeopardy that they are facing with enforcement of the Criminal Code.”
A shift in how serious workplace incidents are being investigated by the Calgary Police Service is helping to change the landscape and has the potential to result in more criminal negligence charges moving forward.
“Organizations need to wake up to the reality that a seismic shift has occurred,” the document concludes.
“There needs to be the recognition that compliance does not equate with due diligence.”
Despite the focus on occupational health and safety legislation and enforcement, the paper states that the end goal is “not about putting people in prison.”
“Enforcement is less than an optimal approach to performance improvement, takes a long time and is expensive for all stakeholders. Safety provides a vehicle to achieve operational excellence. This is not difficult, nor does it need to be expensive,” states the research paper, adding that well-executed workplace safety systems can result in better performance, greater profits and high efficiency.
“More importantly, it allows people to work, knowing that they are going to be safe and return home to their loved ones at the end of the day.”