Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Where's the safety snitch line?

A former employee of Sunrise Propane, the company that owns the plant that exploded the weekend before last in Toronto, said that he saw practises there that were unlike any in the propane business that he experienced. Set aside the fact the facility was practically right in the middle of a major residential neighbourhood.

The major flaw, the employee claimed, was that most propane plants have several emergency cut off switches. This plant had only one -- obviously, if someone had to run across a patrol yard to shut off a problem he or she would never make it. Also, tanks past their expiry date would be filled (they're usually around ten years) and full tanks would be put in the trunks of cars, an obvious violation.

The employee says he was laid off last winter. After this incident he quit. So why didn't he report the problems? He didn't want to lose his job.

We have snitch lines for child protective services. We have them for unsolved crimes. We have them for unsafe drivers.

So where's the snitch line for violations of workplace and technical standards? People shouldn't have to fear losing their positions for telling the truth. The law also allows people to refuse to work if they feel conditions are unsafe. This is where workers' compensation boards, where they have a dual capacity promoting workplace safety as a preventative measure, need more teeth. They should be able to say, it doesn't matter what the technical or electrical standards authorities have said -- you're going to fix the issue now, or you're shutting down until it is fixed.

Zoning laws are certainly an issue, but even siting these facilities a hundred kilometres away from the nearest city won't mean a thing if the plants are still unsafe.

Everyone has the right to be safe. In particular, at the workplace. It's not just the immediate workers whose lives are at stake.

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