AFL wants safer standards

In the wake of a forklift accident on the weekend that killed a St. Albert teenager, the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) is calling for better safety standards.

Mitchell Tanner, a Grade 10 student at Paul Kane High School, died Saturday at the Rona store on Inglewood Drive, when the forklift he was riding on flipped and crushed him.

Occupational Health and Safety officers are investigating the accident. However, AFL director of policy analysis Jason Foster said that simply isn't enough.

"Forklifts are notoriously dangerous machines in Alberta workplaces and we have no requirements for training or certification of operators," he said.

Foster said the Alberta government should adopt similar standards as Manitoba, requiring licensing of operators.

He said that approach drastically cuts down on the number of accidents.

"That's the model. That is the way to make sure that the people using those machines are doing it safely and they are not creating undue risk."

Barrie Harrison with Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) said the province has regulations requiring employers to provide proper training.

"Any employer out there who has forklifts and has employees who are operating them is well aware of the requirement of health and safety," he said.

Foster said employers have their own motivations and proper training isn't necessarily one of them.

"The employer is in a bit of a conflict of interest because their interest is in making sure the employee is being productive as quickly as possible," he said.

Harrison said the government conducts thousands of investigations per year.

"OHS conducts upwards of 13,000 inspections annually in workplaces and our officers will go onto worksites without warning."

Foster argues that isn't enough.

"We have the lowest per capita funding of health and safety enforcement of anywhere in the country. We have 85 inspectors to cover the entire province."

He argues the inspectors focus on high-risk industries and don't have the time to visit other job sites.

"A place like Rona is never going to have an inspector there to see what they are doing."

Harrison said there are actually only 83 inspectors, but the government doesn't believe an inspector on every corner will do the job.

He admits they have targeted industries, but all workplaces are subject to investigation and education and working with employers to address problems is the solution.

"We need to work with labour groups, with employers and with safety associations to make workplaces safer.

St. Albert Gazette, Page 3, Wed Jun 11 2008
Byline: Ryan Tumilty

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