Crane hazards, occupational diseases and recent measures taken to improve safety outcomes in the oil and gas sector were among the topics addressed by three representatives from Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan at a panel discussion on workplace-safety developments in the industry. The session took place on May 6 at Petroleum Safety Conference 2015 in Banff, Alberta.
One of the key changes taking place this year in Alberta is the implementation of the Occupational Health and Safety Code in September. Updates to the Code were presented to the public from November 2014 to January 2015, and the feedback received has been reviewed by the province’s oh&s policy staff.
“There is a six-month grace period before we have that change,” says Derek Kearney, director with the oh&s division of Alberta’s Ministry of Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour.
Since January 2014, the province has added new compliance tools, namely ticketing and administrative penalties. Workers and employers who contravene ticketable provisions of the oh&s legislation can now be issued tickets by safety officers. Administrative penalties of up to $10,000 per violation per day can be imposed against workers, contractors, suppliers, prime contractors and employers.
Tickets administered under the Provincial Offences Procedure Act require peace-officer appointments. To date, Alberta has 39 safety officers who have peace-officer status. “The really good news is, no ticket has been given to the oil and gas industry as yet,” Kearney says.
Another positive trend is the improvement in injury numbers in Saskatchewan’s and British Columbia’s oil and gas industries. From 2011 to 2013, Saskatchewan’s time-loss-injury rates dipped across the industry’s four sectors, namely petroleum, oil-well operation and servicing, service rigs and seismic and drilling. Total injury rates for these sectors from 2011 to 2014 also saw a similar decline. Both statistics are below the provincial average, reports Kim Meyer, Regina-based manager of Safety Operations South with the oh&s division of the Government of Saskatchewan. “That is good, and we want to keep that trending downward as far as we possibly can.”
In British Columbia, oil-and-gas drilling and field servicing saw about a 20 per cent decrease in their base rates over a five-year period. The injury rate of the upstream oil and gas industry remains lower than that of all the province’s classification units combined, reports Budd Phillips, regional prevention manager of the Fort St. John’s office with WorkSafeBC.
“The injury rate of British Columbia is hovering [at] about 2.5; your overall injury rate is below one. It is pretty significant in the way that you have been performing,” he says.
But the industry’s average short-term disability duration for work days lost is significantly higher than that of British Columbia, Phillips notes. Between 2010 and 2014, there were 177 serious-injury claims, which represented 29 per cent of all claims and 61 per cent of claims costs paid to date. There were nine work-related deaths in the sector between 2010 and 2015.
The challenge in the oil and gas sector, Kearney says, is that when something goes wrong, it goes really wrong. “It is a high-risk industry. It is tough, tough work — hard work.”
To mitigate the risks, Alberta has put in place an 18-month Strategic Inspection Program, which focuses on approximately 100 oil and gas employers identified through an index. “This strategic program is based on our selection criteria for lost-time claims, disabling injury, days lost, fatalities, and you must be double the industry average before you are selected to be in the program. The focus, again, is on what is your history.”
For Saskatchewan, “Mission Zero” is the province’s goal. “We are working hard on that mission as a partnership between Labour Relations and Workplace Safety and the workers’ compensation board,” Meyer says. In relation to the four oil and gas sectors cited earlier, there were $33 million in costs, 65,000 compensation days (or 300 man-years in four years) and 13 fatalities, which she describes as “too many.”
Meyer suggests that the biggest change for Saskatchewan is the increase in penalties since the Saskatchewan Employment Act was passed in April 2014. “They have pretty much doubled,” she notes. Corporations that commit workplace-safety offences can be fined up to $1.5 million, while the penalties for individuals who contravene the Saskatchewan Employment Act or safety regulations run up to a maximum of $500,000.
Like Alberta’s Strategic Inspection Program, Saskatchewan follows a Focused Compliance Model, which targets about 100 employers selected primarily for their injury rates. Apart from meeting these companies and requesting that they develop plans to reduce injury rates, they will be monitored for about a year. After that, the workers’ compensation board may step in to assist these firms.
Meyer acknowledges that most of those 100 firms are large employers. “So we are missing some of the small guys.”
The other significant change is the Prime Contractor Regulations, which took effect in Saskatchewan on January 1. The affected industries are oil and gas, construction and forestry.
“Those three industries have to comply with our Prime Contractor Regulations,” which, Meyer says, apply to worksites with 10 or more workers and two employers. “The legislation talks about the requirement to coordinate safety and make sure the activities one employer is performing will not affect the activities and safety of another employer. If there is no prime contractor designated by the owner, the owner is then the default prime contractor.”
Jean Lian is the editor of Pipeline Magazine. Follow us on Twitter @PipelineOHS