OHS objects to report's findings

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The inspectors who monitor the province's businesses and ensure they're up to scratch on health and safety standards is doing it haphazardly, according to the Auditor General's Report.The report indicates that inspectors with Occupational Health and Safety (OHS), under Service NL, do not have a complete list of all businesses in Newfoundland and Labrador, nor does it include a risk-based approach to determine inspection frequencies.

Instead, health and safety decides what businesses to inspect based on how many inspectors are available to do the work. The inspectors are also largely responsible for scheduling their own inspections.

The resulting system is one that has the potential for problems to slip through the cracks, said the report.

"The use of a risk-based approach to inspection planning would be expected in order to meet (OHS's) mandate of maintaining and improving health and safety standards in the province's workplaces," it said.

The report goes on to say if a business is considered high risk, has a poor health and safety program and has a history of workplace injuries, the public would assume it would be inspected more often than other businesses. But because of the current system, such a business would not be guaranteed to have more inspections, though it is likely.

The report also provided some statistics.

Stating that during 2010 OHS did not inspect 115 of the 186 employers in the province with the highest risk assessment rates. Most of those were also not inspected in either 2008 or 2009.

These industries included employers like nursing homes, roofing companies and sawmills.

OHS also did not inspect 160 out of 334 employers that had 10 or more lost time claims in the five years before 2010.

There were also questions raised about enforcement for businesses that do get inspected.

"Our review indicated that inspectors did not always carry out follow-up inspections when required to ensure that employers complied with orders that were issued. Furthermore, when follow-up inspections were carried out, orders were not effectively enforced," read the report.

OHS had plenty to say about the Auditor General's Report.

According to OHS, its inspection schedule is based on a number of variables. It took issue with the idea that inspections should be based wholly, or at least mostly, on injury claims.

"To use just one variable such as injury claims or assessment rates would be ineffective and too narrow in scope," said the OHS.

As an example, it stated that the auditor general's use of some statistics did not show the whole situation.

It stated that out of the 115 high-risk business that were not inspected in 2010, 75 per cent of them had a payroll of less than $50,00, and thus were small businesses with one or two employees.

"While not to diminish the importance of ensuring OHS is enforced in all workplaces, the Branch must ensure it maximizes enforcement effort within its resources to cover the largest population of workers possible, relative to risk. This does not mean that an employer with only one or two employees would not be inspected; however, assessment rate would be only one factor that would be taken into consideration," said the statement.

The OHS also touted its compliance record. In the five-year time frame the auditor general looked at, the OHS had achieved 90.6 per cent compliance on 36,694 orders.

Despite its disagreement with some of the report's findings, the OHS also indicated it was willing to work on at least some of the recommendations made in the report.

OHS indicated it would develop a written policy to reflect its prioritization and selection process for inspections.

cmaclean@thetelegram.com

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