Feature Articles

(This article is reprinted from the National Board Bulletin of 1996)

A New Partnership

Industry insiders believe the Canadian province of Alberta has privatized its boiler- and pressure-vessel inspection program.

That’s not exactly true. Alberta has changed the function considerably, bringing the private and public sectors into much closer cooperation than is typical in the rest of North America (but not uncommon overseas, especially in Western Europe) – thus the common assumption that the province has outsourced its inspection program.

“A lot of people are trying to understand what is going on with us,” admits Ken K.T. Lau, Ph.D., Alberta’s Administrator (a legal term defined in the legislation) of boiler and pressure vessels.

What’s going on is that Alberta’s Labour Department has turned over it’s boiler- and pressure-vessel-inspection duties and the delivery of all associated pressure-equipment-safety programs to the Alberta Boilers Safety Association, a not-for-profit “Delegated Administrative Organization” reporting to an industry- and government-appointed Board of Directors whose members are unpaid volunteers.

The Association administers and delivers safety programs. Regulations are still set by the minister of labor, who also approves the Association’s fee structure and audits its work. (Association inspection records are the property of the provincial government and are open to government inspection at any time. Government can withdraw the authorities delegated and take the function back anytime an audit reveals that the Association is not delivering the programs properly.)

What’s more, most Labour Department employees concerned with boiler and pressure-vessel safety became employees of the Association, including Dr. Lau, who is the technical authority for both the province and the Association, and who continues to represent the province on national and international pressure equipment jurisdictional and codes-and standards- bodies.

Dr. Lau cites three motivations for the new arrangement:

  1. Alberta was looking for effective ways to reduce its government spending.
  2. industry wanted faster response from regulators and more input into the administration of regulatory programs; and
  3. both industry and the provincial government believed the boiler and pressure-vessel program could be run more efficiently and effectively.

So far, says Dr. Lau, the new arrangement is working. But, he cautions, it’s important for outsiders to remember that “I still have the necessary authority I had when I was an employee of the Alberta Labour Department. The checks and balances are still in place. I believe we’ve taken a step forward. We’re independent of the government, but like the government, we are public, third-party, and not-for-profit.

“This new effort is seen as a partnership with the industry. Industry now has direct input into programs and the administration of the Association. The program can react more quickly to industry’s needs. The new arrangement has helped morale. By and large, it’s been very good so far.”

Dr. Lau believes the Alberta experience may hold valuable lessons for the rest of North America, where, as he sees it, the relationship between inspectors and industry could be more cooperative and complementary to promote better understanding of each other.

“Here we have industry helping us both set and enforce standards,” Dr. Lau says. “We are all concerned with safety. This amounts to resolving the issue for the success of the family itself – rather than saying industry is there just to make profits, and the government there just for safety. Our partnership arrangement with industry is a very great departure from the way it used to be, but we think this will make our boiler- and pressure- vessel-safety programs more efficient and more effective.”

(This article was written based on an interview by National Board consultant Mr. David Nichols and the original draft was reviewed by Alberta Labour Communications. The article is reprinted from the National Board Bulletin of 1996 (Volume 51, Number 3). The National Board Bulletin is published quarterly with a circulation of over 10,000 copies worldwide to libraries and pressure equipment jurisdictions, standards writing bodies, manufacturers, users, inspectors and related corporations and individuals.)


Last modified: April 21, 2015