The reduction in workplace fatalities in Alberta to 123 in 2011 from 136 in 2010 is not good enough, says the president of Alberta Federation of Labour.
Fatalities were the result of disease, injuries, and motor vehicles collisions.
“If our provincial government really was serious about promoting workplace health and safety as they say they are I think they would get much more aggressive in terms of both inspection and prosecution,” said AFL president Gil McGowan. “Until that happens, I’m not going to be convinced that their pronouncements on health and safety are anything more than empty rhetoric.”
Workers across Alberta are at risk, he said.
“In Central Alberta there are many people working in construction and there are a lot of people working in the energy sector, especially relating to natural gas extraction. These are two industries that have high rates of injuries and fatalities. So it’s not just an issue for Fort McMurray.”
On Sunday, 75 people participated in Red Deer’s second annual Steps for Life walk at Bower Ponds and raised over $5,000 to support families dealing with workplace fatalities, injury or occupational disease.
Steps for Life raises money for the national charity Threads of Life that provides one-on-one peer support, links to community support services, and opportunities to promote workplace injury prevention and awareness.
Red Deer South MLA Cal Dallas, who gave a speech at the walk on behalf of the province, said every fatality is a family and personal tragedy.
Maybe more focus on safety could take place during apprenticeship at post-secondary institutions, he said.
“We have complex industrial works that we’re engaged in and there has to be a continued, incredible emphasis on workplace safety and training,” Dallas said.
“The fact that more Albertans work in dangerous occupations should mean that both government and employers should take workplace health and safety that much more seriously. Unfortunately that’s not the case,” McGowan said.
He said it’s helpful that the province has given health and safety inspectors the power to issue stop-work or stop-use orders.
Alberta is also adding 30 more inspectors, but that doesn’t make up for the cuts made to staff in the 1990s by former premier Ralph Klein, he said.
“The only jurisdiction in Canada that has fewer occupational health and safety inspectors than us is the Northwest Territories, per capita.
“(Alberta) certainly can’t plead poverty. If there is any jurisdiction that could afford to put more health and safety inspectors in place — it’s Alberta.”
Dallas said it’s equally important that employers create a safe workplace and that employees are committed to improving safety.
Dallas said he’s noticed at smaller scale construction projects that the level of level of participation in safety practices is less than desired.
McGowan said the province falls down in prosecutions of neglectful employers.
“In an average year, Alberta proceeds with between 12 to 15 prosecutions against employers who have broken the law and put employees at risk compared to B.C., which proceeds with 75 to 100 prosecutions a year, and Ontario which proceeds with 1,500 to 2,000 cases a year. We’re not even in the same ballpark.”
McGowan said many employers fail to provide enough safety training and adequate supervision for younger workers, and actively discourage their workers from taking health and safety seriously.
“Government has a big role in changing the culture both in education and regulation.”