The province of Alberta and 10 police services have signed the Westray Memorandum of Understanding that defines protocols for investigating serious workplace incidents. This will help investigators determine if criminal charges may be warranted in addition to occupational health and safety (OHS) violations.
“All workers have the right to safe and healthy workplaces, from the very first shift right through to retirement. Criminal charges are another enforcement tool to help ensure compliance with workplace health and safety laws,” said Minister of Labour Christina Gray.
While OHS and police officers currently co-ordinate when they investigate a serious workplace incident, the memorandum formally sets out protocols to assess the situation and determine if it involves potential OHS violations, criminal activity or both.
“By defining roles and protocols, police can focus on any criminal activity that may have occurred and investigators can ensure their time is spent on the incident investigation,” said Marlin Degrand, assistant commissioner RCMP K Division and Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police representative.
On May 9, 1992, a large explosion in the Westray Mine in Plymouth, N.S. killed 26 underground miners. A subsequent public inquiry blamed the mine management and government for what was deemed a preventable disaster.
In response to the Westray Mine disaster, the federal government amended the Criminal Code to allow criminal charges in serious cases of workplace fatalities or injuries. The law applies to anyone on a work site who directs the work of others.
Since the amendments took effect in 2004, there have been 11 prosecutions in Canada, with three convictions and one person imprisoned. There have been no prosecutions in Alberta.
“We are happy to see this initiative go forward. It will add to the toolkit of enforcement officers, ensuring that individuals who are criminally negligent are held to account. We believe this is an important step towards making workplaces safer for all working people in Alberta,” said Jared Matsunaga-Turnbull, executive director, Alberta Workers’ Health Centre.
The government of Alberta and police partners made the announcement on the National Day of Mourning, April 28, which commemorates workers who have been killed, injured or suffered illness due to workplace-related hazards and incidents. This year, the Day of Mourning commemorated the 25th anniversary of the Westray Mine disaster.