Forty years ago the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) and the Alberta government launched a co-operative occupational health and safety (OHS) program that remains unique in Canada to this day.
This longstanding collaboration has proved that unions and employers can find common ground by focusing on workplace safety.
The union/government program paved the way for joint workplace OHS committees and initiated training programs that have graduated thousands of participants.
A mutual commitment to workplace health and safety has helped us to overcome challenges through the years and see the program expanded to where it is today.
The joint program started in 1977 following the adoption of the province’s first Occupational Health and Safety Act the year before. National attention on workplace safety had been building through the sixties and seventies in the wake of worker deaths and injuries such as those at Hoggs Hollow and Elliot Lake.
Premier Peter Lougheed hoped his government’s action on the issue could set an example for other employers in the province. The fledgling AUPE, established as an independent trade union in 1976, also made workplace safety a central priority.
In its first year, the union set a precedent within the Canadian labour movement by hiring Dennis Malayko to serve as a health and safety representative. Malayko travelled across the province encouraging AUPE members to participate in the newly formed workplace OHS committees and providing the training and support they needed to carry out their duties.
When provincial OHS regulation was expanded in 2009, the joint program inaugurated a government OHS training program developed in collaboration with AUPE. The Government of Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety Program has since graduated more than 3,100 participants.
The OHS system in Alberta is currently under review by the Department of Labour, the first comprehensive review since the OHS Act was introduced in 1976. AUPE was amongst the many groups that submitted feedback to the review before the Oct. 16 deadline.
Some trouble spots AUPE has identified include the need for better equipment and procedures to reduce hazards faced by correctional peace officers including exposure to life-threatening opioids such as fentanyl.
Health care workers also continue to face high rates of workplace injury, with rates of workplace violence exceeding those faced by police. AUPE is also raising awareness about the hazards for health care workers of exposure to cytotoxic medications, which are primarily used to treat cancer, most often as part of hemotherapy treatment.
AUPE will keep pushing for better protections for workers and there’s certainly a long way to go in some areas.
It can’t be said that the work of the OHS movement is complete until all workers can expect to come home safe from their jobs.