Fines involving workplace fatalities in Sask. among lowest in country, CBC analysis finds
Saskatchewan increased maximum allowable fine in 2014
Saskatchewan ranks near the bottom in Canada when it comes to how much it penalizes employers who violate workplace safety laws in cases where a worker is killed on the job.
CBC News analyzed the outcomes of the last 21 successful prosecutions under the province's Occupational Health and Safety Act in cases involving a workplace fatality. The available records went back to 2012.
The median total fine for this sample, including victim surcharges, was $42,000. Nationally that figure was $97,500, according to the sample of more than 250 convictions gathered from other provinces.
While not all provinces were able to provide records, of those that did, only British Columbia posted a lower median fine at $26,500.
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The analysis did not include Quebec, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Prince Edward Island.
Archived convictions records also revealed the largest fine handed out in Saskatchewan was $420,000 and the smallest, $400.
Sean Tucker, an associate professor at the University of Regina's business faculty, says the economic boom of 2010 to 2013 saw an increase in workplace fatalities rates in Saskatchewan.
"GDP growth was a factor that contributed to that. I think we saw a decline in inspections in the province during part of this period."
When Tucker was 15, he nearly fell off a scaffold. He was working for a family friend on a construction site. That incident spurred his interest in workplace safety.
"There were certainly questions as to the strength of enforcement in the province. In the past three years enforcement has really stepped up," he said.
Tucker said he has noticed an increase in prosecutions and inspections, which can be linked to concrete changes made by the province.
Fines increased in 2014
In 2014, the provincial government made modifications to the sentencing guidelines and the Saskatchewan Employment Act replaced the Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1993.
Among the changes was an increase in maximum allowable fines to $1.5 million for a corporation and up to $500,000 for an individual. Previously, the maximum was $300,000 and $120,000 to a victim service fund. No distinction was made between a corporation and an individual.
As a result of these changes, the maximum corporate fine in Saskatchewan is now the highest in the country.
Total accidents and lost time accidents numbers have been steadily reducing at a fairly good rate. Fatalities, however, have remained relatively steady.- Ray Anthony, executive director, Saskatchewan Occupational Health and Safety
"The legislation was getting 20 years old. Three-hundred thousand dollars wasn't as much money in 2014 as it was in 1993," said Ray Anthony, executive director of Saskatchewan Occupational Health and Safety.
"The whole idea of these fines and the size of them is to create deterrence."
Anthony said judges are ultimately the ones who decide on the fine amount and, typically, the bigger the company, the bigger the fine.
He said it's too early to tell if the law has made an impact on the magnitude of the fines judges impose.
"It takes about two years to get any cases into court, so we haven't really started to see any of these under the new legislation with the larger fine. They are just starting to come into court now," said Anthony.
More OHS staff added
However, deterrence strategies are not the only tool the government is employing to prevent fatalities on the job. Occupational health and safety field staff numbers have increased steadily partly do to population growth.
Anthony says 3,832 work site inspections were complete in 2016. The current field staff complement of 58 is the highest in its history.
"Total accidents and lost time accidents numbers have been steadily reducing at a fairly good rate. Fatalities, however, have remained relatively steady, unfortunately," he said.
When it comes to work-related fatalities, Anthony said there are three main categories: motor vehicle accidents, chronic illness caused by exposure to certain elements, and traumatic workplace accidents.