Nova Scotia

Max workplace safety fines to double

The provincial government will double fines under Nova Scotia's Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The province is doubling the maximum fine in cases where workers are injured or die on the job.

The current maximum is $250,000, which hasn't changed since 2006.

Legislation introduced Thursday would leave that as a maximum for a first offence under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, but an employer found guilty of a second offence could face a fine of $500,000.

Labour and Advanced Education Minister Marilyn More said the increase sends a message that more must be done to reduce injuries, illness and deaths at work.

Each year, the province prosecutes between 10 and 20 workplace safety cases. About half of those involve death or serious injury.

There were 23 workplace deaths in 2010, down from 32 in 2009. There have been seven workplace deaths in Nova Scotia so far this year. Five resulted from chronic health conditions, one death occurred after an employee broke his hip at work and later died in hospital, and one worker was hit by a metal pipe.

The highest fine ever imposed in Nova Scotia for a workplace death was $125,000.  In that case, in 1998, the worker died at a Halifax Kent Building Supplies location.

Robert Wells, a labour representative and co-chair of a provincial health and safety committee, said he's satisfied with the new fines, although he had been pushing for a million dollar maximum.

"Years ago, we looked at it and we said that we thought human life was probably worth as much as a fish and you'll see that [killling] fish under environment law — the maximum [fine] is a million dollars," said Wells.

"I think the big thing is here, if we can put the signal to people that a mistake can cost money and concentrate on prevention, then nobody has to pay any money."

The new fines will come into effect when the legislation is passed later this spring.