Rules need to have consequences

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In theory, everyone agrees. No one should face danger on the job. And if something does go wrong, and the employer is found at fault, there must be consequences.

That should be the common resolve, yet the laws aren't showing the teeth they should.

The need for strong rules for the workplace will be especially front and centre this week: it's the kickoff for North America Occupational Safety and Health Week, and also coming up to a grim anniversary - 20 years as of Wednesday since the Westray explosion.

In the House of Commons Monday, all parties joined in marking the anniversary. The Conservatives, the New Democrats and union officials are reminding companies that they are responsible to keep employees safe.

That explosion in the Plymouth mine, May 9, 1992, and its fallout marked a milestone in Canadian labour legislation. Even though the subsequent inquiry showed that the Westray owners and managers were responsible for what happened and continually forced employees to work in dangerous conditions, there was never the opportunity to make the employers face legal repercussions.

After that came the "Westray Bill." The federal government introduced changes to the Criminal Code in 2004 to enable the Crown to charge corporate chiefs in the event that they failed to protect workers from potential dangers.

Again, that sounds great in theory. But no one has ever been prosecuted under this legislation.

No one taken to task thus far, even though a reported 8,000 in this country have died on the job since that fateful day 20 years ago.

Is it a matter of always giving the benefit of the doubt to corporations when the worst occurs? There has to be some explanation.

When laws are in place but aren't used, the people they are aimed at will continue as if those laws don't exist.

If our politicians and other leaders truly are united on this front, they need to review the provisions of this legislation and ensure when rules are broken, examples are made.

Organizations: North America Occupational Safety, House of Commons, Conservatives

Geographic location: Plymouth

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