The past few months have been busy for Alberta’s Justice Department as far as enforcing the Occupational Health and Safety Act is concerned. On November 12, 2008, Gwendolyn Richards of the Calgary Herald reported a very interesting case for OHS professionals to keep your eyes on. In the case, a security company was charged with one count of failing, as far as it was reasonably practicable to do so, the health and safety of one of its workers. The charge, which was laid on the final day of the limitation period, stems from a November 1, 2006 incident that involved a female security guard who was sexually assaulted while working an overnight shift at a construction project in Calgary. The attacker has since pleaded guilty to criminal offences and was sentenced to eight years in prison. During those proceedings, it was learned that the victim of the incident, who at the time was a thirty-four year old new Canadian with limited English, received only one day of training and had only been on the job for one week at the time of the attack.
This case has several implications with respect to working alone, violence, and worker competency legislation. In Alberta, the OHS Code requires employers to put provisions in place for any workers working alone. Further, the OHS Code requires employers to consider violence as a hazard for the purpose of a legally required hazard assessment and to put policies and procedures in place to deal with violence in the workplace. The OHS Regulation requires a worker to be “competent” to perform her job, which means that she must be adequately qualified, suitably trained and have sufficient experience to perform her job no supervision or with only a minimal amount of supervision.
Chris Chodan, spokesperson for Alberta Workplace Health and Safety, told the Calgary Herald, “Usually, when it’s violence, it’s a straight-up criminal offence. In this case, it was a criminal act by the person who committed it and there was a work-related issue on top of that.” Codan also indicated that this was the first time a company has been charged because of a sexual assault.
This is definitely a case that we will be keeping our eyes on. From a practical perspective, this case amplifies the importance of complying with Parts 27 and 28 of the OHS Code, which cover violence and working alone, respectively.