More Workplace Inspectors Needed

One inspector for every 1,000 workplaces recommended

More Workplace Inspectors Needed

Plummer Report raises concerns about inadequacies
in inspection and enforcement

by Dean Jobb

This article appeared in
The Halifax Chronicle-Herald
Friday, April 17, 1998

The government should hire more inspectors and improve training to ensure the safety of Nova Scotia's workplaces, according to an assessment carried out in response to the Westray inquiry.

Ontario mining consultant Ian Plummer, in a report released Thursday, outlines 15 recommendations for improving the Department of Labor's occupational health and safety division.

The report endorses a proposal from division staff that nine more inspectors be hired, bringing their numbers in line with other Atlantic provinces.

The review was among the recommendations of Justice Peter Richard's report, released last December, on the causes of the May 1992 explosion that killed 26 Westray coal miners.

Newly appointed Labor Minister Russell MacKinnon promised Thursday his department will act "with dispatch" to carry out the suggestions. He's confident the money needed can be found within the department's $11-million budget.

"How do you put a cost on human life?" he said in an interview. "We'll make sure that we have all the resources and we'll make sure that we have sufficient staff to deal with all the safety concerns in the marketplace."

The division now has 39 employees, including 21 frontline inspectors, to monitor about 30,000 workplaces. As many as five inspectors have been added since Westray, the minister said.

Mr. Plummer says there should be 30 inspectors — one for every 1,000 workplaces. He also calls for the hiring of 14 other staff, including an engineer, a hygienist and several planners and administrative staffers.

Justice Richard's report found Labor inspectors were "derelict" in their duty to enforce mining regulations and ensure Westray operated safely.

Mr. Plummer, retired provincial co-ordinator of mining for Ontario and a consultant to the Westray inquiry, praised steps taken to improve inspection standards since the disaster.

"They've done an awful lot in that department since 1992," he said in a telephone interview from his office in Sudbury.

Thanks to a new Occupational Health and Safety Act implemented in 1997, the report notes, inspectors have all the powers needed to carry out their duties.

But the 151-page report identifies a number of areas where improvements are required.

The report raises concerns about inadequacies in inspection and enforcement, which he called the "lifeblood" of the division and its "ultimate and essential responsibility to the workplace."

The recommendations include: The report supports the division's emphasis on "generic" inspectors to cover a variety of workplaces, but recommends at least 10 per cent of all inspectors have experience in forestry, construction, heavy industry, petrochemicals, sea-based industries and health care.

In addition, at least one should have mining expertise.

The department's resident expert, Claude White, was fired in December after he was severely criticized in the Westray report. A Department of Natural Resources official with mining expertise has since been seconded to Labor.

A similar examination of the mines and minerals branch of Natural Resources will be released today.

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