3 Alberta workplace deaths upset union leader

Three workplace fatalities occurred in Alberta last week and that has drawn the ire of at least one union leader.

These incidents, which included a man falling off a ladder while doing construction work at CFB Edmonton, are being held out as proof that the government needs to take more action to save lives in the province.

"The man was doing work on a ladder and fell off," said Alberta Occupational Health and safety spokesperson Chris Chodan. "He sustained serious injuries and passed away later that evening."

A 71 year-old man was working on a building at the Edmonton military base on Oct. 15. He sustained a serious head injury and was taken to an Edmonton hospital, but later died from his injuries.

The man was an employee of WD Contractors Group Ltd. The company was contracted to do some work at the military base.

This was the second fatality on a jobsite in Alberta in less than a day. A 42-year-old contractor was killed on Oct. 14, after he was backed over on a Canadian Natural Resources Limited site near Fort Chipewyan.

The man, who was employed by Ellen's Contracting Inc., but not a construction worker, has not been identified.

These incidents were followed by a third fatality on Oct. 16.

A man working for Bearing Oilfield Services in Bonnyville died after suffering head injuries, while using a crane to offload piping.

According to the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), these fatalities are much too frequent.

"Unless concrete steps are taken to improve workplace safety in the province, more and more Albertans will die at work as the economy picks up," said Gil McGowan, president of the AFL. "Alberta is one of the most dangerous places in Canada to be a worker. We have more people working in dangerous industries than other provinces and we have a workplace fatality rate that's much higher than the national average."

Alberta Immigration and Employment recently reported that 20 fatalities occurred at worksites in the province in the first seven months of 2010. During the same period in 2009, there were 16 workplace fatalities in the province.

This year's increase is being driven by the construction industry, which accounted for 11 of the fatalities or 55 per cent of the total.

In the first seven months of 2009, there were four workplace fatalities related to the construction industry.

The AFL has called on the provincial government to improve workplace safety by posting the full safety records of employers online and stepping up the prosecution of employers with unsafe worksites that cause injury and death. The provincial government launched a website on Aug, 31 that allows people in Alberta to see information about worksite injuries and fatalities involving most WCB insured employers.

Minister of Employment and Immigration Thomas Lukaszuk said the website is part of a ten-point plan for achieving greater transparency and accountability for occupational health and safety in Alberta.

The information available for each employer on the web site includes:

  • Number of lost-time claims;
  • Estimated number of employees;
  • Lost-time claim rate;
  • Number of fatalities;
  • If the employer holds a Certificate of Recognition (COR);
  • Industry and province wide lost-time claim rates for comparison purposes.

According to McGowan, the government's ten-point plan is weak because it is based on a safety-records website, which offers little information of any use to workers.

In contrast, the AFL recommends that the government hire new inspectors, increase the number of worksite inspections, give inspectors the power to issue tickets for violations during inspections and introducing mandatory worksite health-and-safety committees that include workers.

Lukaszuk did launch a new safety initiative on Oct. 8 that is ramping up safety inspections at commercial construction sites five storeys tall and higher across Alberta. The safety blitz is being conducted like traffic safety spot checks on drivers.

No new inspectors were hired by Alberta Occupational Health and Safety and ten inspectors out of a total of 94 are dedicated to the campaign. Despite this new initiative, OHS inspectors still don't have the power to issue fines for infractions.

Journal of Commerce, Mon Oct 25 2010
Byline: Richard Gilbert

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