Laws don’t tend to be top of mind among most of the public – at least, not until they are broken. By that time, the law can be dusted off and applied, with charges laid. Justice might or might not be served, but in a life-and-death case it’s too late for the victim.
That’s the exact reason why laws and regulations have to be more front and centre, and tested regularly. They also need to be applied as necessary so they are taken seriously and make examples of the people who are lax.
This, in the everyday forum of people going to work, is what the United Steelworkers is trying to impress on the public, government and lawmakers through the “Westray Project.”
Despite passage of federal legislation in 2004, the Westray Act, the Steelworkers underline the staggering number of workplaces deaths since then – 9,000 across the country. Yet in face of that were a mere 11 Criminal Code charges laid in that time, with even those ultimately withdrawn or resulting in plea bargains and fines.
A committee set up by the union is meeting with municipalities, the public and representatives of the justice system to promote the Westray Project. A public meeting is planned for March 10 in Municipality of Pictou County council chambers for a discussion.
The aim is to educate police and investigators to better identify instances of workplace injuries when serious charges are warranted; likewise prosecutors need to pursue application of the letter of the law in cases involving dereliction of responsibility.
As always, the public plays a role in such a campaign. The public – workers and their families – are the ones in harm’s way when a workplace doesn’t provide adequate training and safety measures. The public has to demand change.
When laws merely provide window dressing to an issue, corporations and employers – some at least – are lulled into non-action. Heavy consequences must be the result of lax practices or the numbers of injuries and deaths will not be reduced.