When we delegate powers and responsibilities to people, we need to be very careful about that - Minister Danielle Larivee, February 9, 2017, speaking to the February 6, 2017 assault at the Elk Island Youth Ranch (as quoted by Global News).
Indeed. Such a statement goes to the very core of the entire occupational health and safety regulatory regime: that safety is everyone's responsibility. Simply put, you can't contract out of it or delegate it away. Sure, you can bring in an arms-length third party with more experience or more expertise, but as the employer (or contractor) of that third party, it's on you to do your due diligence, whether via pre-qualifications or a contractor management program, to ensure they're qualified for the job and can deliver. And sure, we can get into a debate about the specific legal definitions of employers, contractors, workers and even prime contractors, but none of that changes the reason d'etre for the legislation: to send workers home safely at the end of the day. As many employers can attest to, when tragedy strikes and such contractor management protocols aren't in place or are insufficient, occupational health and safety charges often follow.
Following the release of Judge Rosborough's report in the Wolski fatality inquiry earlier this month, that reminder - that you can't contract out of safety or delegate it away, couldn't be more timely. Although the Prosecution Service ultimately determined that the criteria to proceed with charges were not met in the Wolski matter, Judge Rosborough's fatality report is not so much a wake-up call to the Province as it is a swift-kick to the rear, compelling it to action. The actual wake up call, Judge Rosborough notes, came years earlier in recommendations following a similar tragedy, but apparently went unanswered.
Following release of the report, the Province acknowledged the need to develop a formal process for tracking, reviewing, and implementing future recommendations. What other changes the Province ultimately decides to make are not yet clear, particularly given its recent announcement that it will be reviewing Alberta's occupational health and safety legislation following the assault at the Elk Island Youth Ranch this past week.
Alberta's occupational health and safety legislation, like that of the other provinces (and territories), already contains provisions for addressing workplace hazards, working alone, and violence in the workplace. Although the application and requirements differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, the Alberta provisions currently fall somewhere along the middle to higher end of the spectrum in terms of both specificity and strictness. Whether the legislation needs to be amended to afford greater protection to workers, or employers, including the Province, simply need to a do a better job of complying with it, remains to be seen. One thing is certain, however. As Judge Rosborough confirms, little is to be gained by simply talking about the same problem over and over again. It's perhaps too early to tell with this most recent incident at the Elk Island Youth Ranch, but we've seen a similar story play out too many times now in the tragic stories of Collier, Wolski, and McClements, to name but a few. Now it's time for action.