12/24/2012 08:50 EST | Updated 02/23/2013 05:12 EST

Workplace watchdog wants tougher laws, fewer deaths

Criminal charges against employers found negligent in the death of an employee could become more common in the new year.

The B.C. Federation of Labour has been meeting with B.C. Attorney General Shirley Bond to discuss how legislation could be improved in order to protect workers.

Over the past 10 years, around 220 claims are made for people who reportedly die each year from work-related conditions. About 150 of those claims are accepted, and about 60 of those, on average, are deemed to have resulted from workplace injuries, according to WorkSafeBC's collected statistics.

B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair says many of the deaths are caused by unsafe working conditions, and current regulations aren't making changes that would result in huge reductions in those numbers.

"Families can't bring back people who die on the job through that gross negligence, but they can get justice and I think that's been what's missing in this system — is that justice," Sinclair said.

Currently, on-the-job deaths are investigated by WorkSafeBC and sometimes heavy fines are levied in cases of negligence.

But companies sometimes fold and disappear, and avoid paying.

The B.C. Federation of Labour is interested in another approach to improve workplace safety, and is working with the province to find easier ways for police to investigate a worksite.

It also wants to make it easier for the Crown to lay charges "so that when an industrial accident happens, they would automatically be investigated by the RCMP and the Crown would examine the evidence with an eye to seeing if there was gross negligence and [whether] criminal charges should be laid," Sinclair said.

Minister of Justice Shirley Bond says criminal investigations into work site injuries are performed, and that the Crown has one prosecutor dedicated to workplace injury cases.

Bond said her ministry is actively investigating whether provincial laws can be strengthened to hold negligent employers accountable.