Alberta tightens guidelines for COR-holding companies

Alberta is implementing stricter guidelines for its Certificate of Recognition (COR) system aimed at boosting scrutiny of COR-holding companies that experience workplace deaths and serious injuries.

"Losing a COR is bad for business," Thomas Lukaszuk, the province's employment and immigration minister, said in a June 2 statement announcing the changes that take effect July 1. "However, Albertans have the right to work in safe and healthy conditions. We're putting employers on notice: after July 1, we'll be launching reviews as soon after a workplace incident as possible," Lukaszuk added.

Under the province's Partnerships in Injury Reduction (PIR) program, a company can earn a certificate by developing a health and safety management system and meeting established standards. COR-holding firms are eligible for rebates of up to 20 per cent on their Workers' Compensation Board premiums and are able to bid on contracts where a COR is a prerequisite.

Following a stakeholder review of PIR beginning in 2009, and some criticism of the program from Alberta's auditor general in 2010, the government is changing the criteria around the program's employer review process, which is used when deciding if a company's COR should be revoked.

As of July 1, the following may lead to a formal review of an employer's COR: a fatality or serious injury/incident; two or more stop-work orders within 12 months; and, ongoing Alberta oh&s officer activity that indicates possible health and safety issues.

Such things could have triggered an employer review in the past, but the criteria is now better defined, says Barrie Harrison, an Alberta Employment and Immigration (AEI) spokesman.

Also under the new rules, a certified company that is charged under the Occupational Health and Safety Act will see its PIR rebate withheld, pending the outcome of the charges. The same is true for COR holders whose certificates are under review.

A formal employer review is not necessarily automatic under the new criteria, Harrison says. AEI staff will first informally assess certified companies and determine if, "based on the circumstances of what has gone on, an employer review will be triggered."

For instance, AEI information notes that a formal review leading to possible COR revocation will not occur when fatalities are related to non-occupational medical conditions, such as a heart attack. A review also won't be spurred by occupational diseases linked to the actions of an employer prior to its achievement of a COR or by non-occupational motor vehicle deaths.

Certified companies that do receive a formal review will be required to develop and implement action plans focused on making improvements to the workplace, AEI notes. If a COR holder finds itself in trouble again within two years, it must arrange for and pass an external audit. Failure to create a satisfactory action plan or to score at least 80 per cent on the audit will result in COR cancellation.

Only four businesses have lost CORs since 2004

Over the past seven years, just four companies have lost their certificates due to failed audits ordered following the employer review process.

Harrison says the labour minister has no expectations as to whether this number will jump significantly under the new criteria. "It's really a situation in which time will tell," he says, adding that Lukaszuk is more concerned about the quality of CORs rather than the quantity.

Gary Wagar, executive director of the Alberta Construction Safety Association, doesn't foresee a notable increase in the number of construction employers being decertified. What will likely rise is the number of COR holders having to draft action plans and the number whose PIR rebates are delayed, he adds.

Certified construction employers "are good companies and they do everything they can to provide a healthy and safe work site," says Wagar, whose association is one of 13 certifying partners that jointly issue CORs with the government.

Meanwhile, the Alberta Federation of Labour offered a mixed reaction to the new criteria. "While the stricter guidelines... are a step in the right direction, they are not enough to reduce workplace deaths and injuries," president Gil McGowan argues in a release.

Canadian OH&S News, Mon Jun 13 2011

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