On May 26, town council voted unanimously to approve the allocation of $25,000 from the health and safety reserve account to the 2014 operating budget so the town can hire an independent contractor to assist in updating and standardizing the town’s health and safety policies and documents.
“Some of the benefits and advantages of endorsing this, number one would be a reduced risk of liability for the town,” said human resources manager Barkley Busch, prior to the vote. “Without the work done, we would have that liability if something were to happen and we weren’t in compliance. We could be fined by Occupational Health and Safety. As well, it would reduce the risk of financial penalty that could be levied against the town if we were looked at by Occupational Health and Safety, if they happened to come and audit our practices.”
Administration recently participated in various health and safety courses facilitated by the Alberta Municipal Health and Safety Association (AMHSA). Based on this training and information received directly from AMHSA, areas were identified within the town’s health and safety program that required immediate attention.
“It would help for our staff being trained to a higher level,” said Busch. “Obviously, that creates a safer work environment for our staff, that’s something that we’re passionate about as you’ve seen with the health and safety policy you just looked at. Some of these things are things that have also been noted in the past in our health and safety audits. This would prepare us nicely for our safety audit coming up in the fall.”
The primary focus of the work will be developing procedures and a permitting process for confined space requirements, hazard assessment, development of certain safe work practices throughout the organization, and the creation and updating of special forms and checklists. An anticipated 500 hours are estimated to be required for completion.
“It also lowers the chance of an incident occuring, if the staff are trained to the level of the procedures that we would put in place, potentially keeping any wage replacement costs from our record, which we’ve been really working hard at doing,” said Busch. “The less incidents that we have increases WCB rebates in the future. We received $30,000 in WCB rebates this year.”
Due to the scope and urgency of the work required, and to remain in compliance with current Occupational Health and Safety legislation, administration recommended contracting a health and safety professional to research and develop the processes and procedures required.
The Town of Taber has a health and safety reserve account that is funded by Worker’s Compensation Board (WCB) rebates and is primarily used for staff training related to health and safety. The estimated carrying balance is $80,000, including approximately $30,000 the town has received in 2014 rebates.
“I’m in favour of the health and safety policy,” said Coun. Rick Popadynetz. “Health and safety’s great, and it’s worth it. My question is, what is the return on our investment? If we invest $25,000, are we going to get a WCB rebate next year?”
Busch pointed out the funding alllocation and the work to be contracted are indirectly related to WCB issues, but the funds would not directly impact the town’s WCB record.
“It’s probably not as directly related as that. It depends on our claim costs, wage loss replacement that goes against us. It also depends on the industry averages. Some of it actually depends on how WCB’s investments do in the market — which has nothing to do with us. For us, if a guy makes $200 per day, and he misses work because of a WCB injury, we’re basically paying $600 per day in premiums. That’s how the system works. We work hard to try to prevent that.”
Council went on to discuss the possibility of hiring a dedicated health and safety employee which could help preclude these kinds of funding allocations in future.
“Even without hiring a health and safety professional, the town has to become complient regardless,” Coun. Randy Sparks. “The town has to ensure that they are complient with the new legislation.”
Previous council denied a request to hire a health and safety co-ordinator during budget deliberations two years ago. Currently, town department heads are directly responsible for administration and implementation of health and safety protocols and policies.
Coun. Joe Strojwas advocated for a dedicated health and safety co-ordinator position, and pushed for council to reconsider the issue during future budget deliberations.
“I find it odd that with 100 or more employees with the town, there isn’t someone dedicated to safety. I’m in favour of the motion, but I think we need to take it a step further. I believe we need to have someone who keeps up with this legislation all of the time on staff. I would like to put forth that administration at least recognizes that there is an ongoing situation here that could happen every couple of years. We’re always running with a Band-Aid to fix the problem, but we should probably have someone on staff that can keep up with this legislation, and keep at these things, rather than being reactive.”