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Nova Scotia's Occupational Health and Safety inspectors do an adequate job on serious investigations into workplace fatalities, but more should be done to prevent them in the first place, says the province's auditor general.

Auditor General Jacques Lapointe said Department of Labour inspectors need to do a better job of following up after identifying safety issues.

"When orders are issued for workplace safety corrections, they are not always complied with in the required time frame and there is insufficient followup to be certain the required improvements are eventually made," Lapointe told reporters on Wednesday.

"The department should focus more on prevention by better enforcing compliance with work orders."

Lapointe's report said only a small fraction of employers in Nova Scotia were given tickets for workplace safety violations over a one-year period despite missing deadlines.

Provincial auditors found 10 summary offence tickets were issued in 1,228 cases where workplaces failed to comply in time with safety orders between April 1, 2012, and March 31, 2013.

There have been 28 fatalities linked to work so far this year — some from chronic diseases picked up on the job, 16 in accidents and seven of which could result in charges.

Lapointe said the department's Occupational Health and Safety division needs to target higher-risk workplaces using Workers' Compensation Board data.

Only 27 of 100 workplaces with the worst safety records were targeted for inspection during the one-year period examined, said Lapointe.

'Non-compliance is not an option'

The report said the current system identifies higher-risk workplaces, but fails to create a specific plan for their inspection over the course of a year.

As a result, some of the province's more dangerous workplaces — such as health and social services facilities — aren't receiving enough attention, Lapointe said.

Kelly Regan, the Minister of Labour and Advanced Education, said her department agrees it has to be more consistent in enforcing its rules.

"If people continue to break safety rules we will use the toughest tools we have to protect workers," she said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

"Non-compliance is not an option."

Regan said the department is hiring five new employees to bring the total number of investigators and inspectors to 40. She said with more employees, more unannounced inspections will take place.

But Lapointe said it's premature to conclude the problem is a shortage of staff.

"It's hard to say what the right number [of inspectors] would be," he said. "It's a question, first, of making sure that what they're doing is as efficient as possible."

With files from The Canadian Press