Job sites prove deadly for Alberta workers. Deaths have increased 26 per cent in one category.
As the provincial economy heated up last year, the number of Albertans who died on work sites in various ways – everything from electrocutions and falling to being crushed by metal equipment – soared by 26 per cent.
However, statistics from the Alberta government also show the number of workers who died in motor-vehicle crashes while on the job remained flat, while the number of occupational disease deaths accepted by the Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) dipped.
Overall, the official count of all 2011 workplace deaths – on job sites, in vehicle crashes and from long-term exposure to hazardous materials – totalled 123 people.
That reflects a 10-per-cent drop from the 136 deaths counted by the government in 2010. In 2009, in the middle of the global economic doldrums, the number sat at 110.
“No one is impressed with these numbers,” said Human Services Department spokesman Barrie Harrison.
On Saturday, another worker died after an oil-rig incident near Bonnyville, and a Camrose caregiver was killed Saturday on the job.
The provincial government argues it’s taking action to improve worker safety.
In recent years, the province has conducted surprise inspection blitzes at work sites across the province. In March 2011, the province also announced 30 new occupational health and safety inspectors will be hired over the next three years.
Harrison said the government will move forward in the next 12 months to institute a new system where occupational health and safety officers can issue on-the-spot fines and penalties to employers and employees who break safety laws.
“Everyone has a role to play – right from the CEO of a major corporation, to labour groups, to safety associations, to the worker,” Harrison said.
“Until that’s acknowledged, you have to wonder what sort of gains we’re going to make.”
Alberta Chambers of Commerce president and CEO Ken Kobly said the drop in work site deaths in 2009 and 2010 corresponded with a drop in construction work across the province.
Kobly said everyone hopes to see a day where an increase in economic activity doesn’t go hand-in-hand with a spike in worker deaths.
“That’s certainly a goal that all employers strive for,” Kobly said.
“Everyone needs to remain vigilant on the job, recognizing the inherent hazards that occur.”
But Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said Alberta is still one of the most dangerous provinces for people to work in.
“We’re still climbing out of the huge hole that Ralph Klein dug for the province in the mid-1990s,” he said. “At that time, the Klein government literally cut the budget for the Labour Department in half.”
McGowan said talk of a system that sees employees slapped with tickets for safety violations is “troubling” because there’s only so much control workers have on job sites.
NDP critic Rachel Notley said the province needs to beef up enforcement, overhaul health and safety legislation, and make information about companies with poor safety records easier to find.
Notley said Alberta’s economic reliance on heavy industries such as oil and gas, along with construction, doesn’t mean people should simply expect more worker injuries and deaths.
“What’s different about Alberta is that we make more money here. So we should be able to invest in keeping our workers safe.”
The Edmonton-Strathcona MLA noted the fatality numbers released by the government excludes workers who died while doing farm work. Unlike other provinces, Alberta’s safety laws do not apply to farm workers.
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