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INDUSTRY VOICES: Does safety make sense?

Jeffery Lyth
INDUSTRY VOICES: Does safety make sense?

Rather that writing an article telling you something you should know or something you should do for the sake of safety, I want to ask you some things.

Of course we all know safety is an important moral and legal obligation and we try our best, but as we near the 100th anniversary of workers compensation in British Columbia, there are questions we should all ask.

This includes: does safety make sense to you?

What I mean by that is does your safety management system deliver on the expectations you have for it?

I get to speak with folks from a wide variety of construction businesses from all over western Canada, and since I began asking this question I have received some very interesting responses.

Zoom in to the company level and many organizations, despite being certified and having audited safety programs in place, report things like:

  • Minor injury statistics are becoming a concern when pre-qualifying for work;
  • Claims and insurance costs rising;
  • Violation orders and penalties still being issued by board officers;
  • Incidents and accidents are still occurring; and
  • Fear that verification audits will jeopardize certification status.

Zoom out to the provincial view, and WorkSafeBC is currently restructuring how they investigate accidents at work.

The goal (in the wake of some high-profile failed prosecutions) is to establish greater clarity along the legal pathway, from violations of the regulation all the way up to criminal prosecutions.

In one way, it’s good that this is happening because employers and owners should be crystal clear on such an important process.

The rules of engagement should be known by all, and if you are read your rights during a future investigation, you should know exactly what is going on.

But, it also raises concern, primarily because there does not appear to be an accepted way to win in the battle to achieve safety in the eyes of the regulator.

So, my second question is:

Where’s the winning strategy in all of this?

Look at the lists of employers and owners getting fined every month, and as one would expect, it shows the names of some small and possibly fly-by-night companies.

The trouble is that one can also sometimes see very large, sophisticated and well-funded organizations on that list and they receive even larger fines because fines are proportional to payroll.

Large, well-resourced companies probably don’t need the motivating effect that those penalties are supposed to have. They are self-motivated.

If they cannot avoid running afoul of regulatory safety enforcement activity, what are the chances the rest of us can?

Shouldn’t a fair and just system of safety enforcement be able to point to at least a handful of companies in every industry that do it right and consistently keep levels of rule compliance high while keeping accidents and injuries acceptably low?

Is it possible to reach zero, which many state is their goal?

Just show us that it is possible!

It seems then that there is a widening gap.

The possible consequences are being increased at a time when faith in the effectiveness of our management systems is decreasing.

I’m hesitant to even mention the aging workforce and rise of the millennial generation in the workplace and the effects that will have.

This is the first of a two-part series looking at workers compensation in B.C. In part 2, I will look at the path forward to achieving safety in the workplace.

Jeff Lyth is a consultant with QSP Leadership Inc. Direct comments or questions to

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