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Is Canada on the right track with its workplace penalty system?

August 2, 2013

If you think OSHA penalties are too low, realize that they could be far lower, as is the case with our neighbors to the north.

In Canada, fines are administered by individual provinces, and not every province issues fines. For the provinces that issue fines, the amounts do not seem very large at all. In Nova Scotia, for example, the maximum fines for workplace safety and health violations are:

  • $500 to a worker
  • $1,000 to a supervisor
  • $2,000 to an employer

Compared with the maximum fines OSHA can bring ($70,000), these amounts look like pocket change. It certainly puts a new perspective on claims that OSHA penalties are too low.

Even with such low fines, stakeholders in Canada have complained the system is unfair. Recently, Nova Scotia proposed revisions to its penalty system, but the proposal maintains the maximum fine levels. Indeed, the proposal – which would put a focus on education – would virtually eliminate fines for all but repeat or serious violations.

I understand the rationale in educating before punishing. But low fines – which can also be assessed to individual workers and supervisors – followed with a proposal to put off fines suggests a very employer-friendly approach.

What do you think? Are Canadian provinces on the right track, or are they simply kowtowing to business interests? Let me know in the comments.

(Look for a future Safety+Health article exploring the concept of fining workers for safety and health violations.)

The opinions expressed in "Washington Wire" do not necessarily reflect those of the National Safety Council or affiliated local Chapters.

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