Alberta jobsites face crackdown after safety blitz

Safety officers will target commercial construction sites in Alberta for inspection in the upcoming year after a safety blitz found a number of contractors were in violation of provincial legislation.

"To say I'm disappointed with these results is an understatement," said Thomas Lukaszuk, Minister of Employment and Immigration, who is responsible for Occupational Health and Safety.

"I expect better of industry in Alberta, and I know industry leaders, employers and workers expect better of themselves."

The Alberta Ministry of Employment released a report on Dec. 14 that states provincial safety inspectors issued a total of 214 orders to employers involved in commercial construction between Oct. 8 and Nov. 22.

A total of 298 initial and follow-up inspections were conducted at 73 construction sites of 146 employers across the province.

Lukaszuk was upset by the number of safety infractions uncovered.

However, some argue the report isn't clear in terms of what the numbers mean.

"The report does not identify a lot of specifics because we are not sure of the location of sites or what the particular infractions were," said Brian Freemark, general manager of Lee's Sheet Metal.

The numbers aren't telling the whole story.

"Because this is the first time we have done a focused inspection in this manner, these numbers can be considered as a baseline, not a good one, but one that can be used to measure whether or not things are getting better or worse," said Barrie Harrison, spokesperson for Alberta Occupational Health & Safety (OH&S).

"Even though there are no previous statistics to refer to, in order to do compare and contrast analyses, the key is that what they are getting from the spot checks is unacceptable," said Ron Harry, executive director of the Alberta Building Trades.

Fall hazards accounted for 57 (27 per cent) of the orders issued, while 17 orders (8 per cent) were issued for problems related to the securing of equipment and materials.

There were 49 orders (23 per cent) issued relating to safeguards for building shafts, covering of openings and guardrails. Scaffolds and temporary work platforms accounted for 39 (18 per cent) of the orders issued.

Working at height as well as the securing of materials and equipment continue to be safety problems in the sector.

"The violations uncovered in these audits are obviously just the tip of the iceberg and they demonstrate why Alberta continues to be the most dangerous place in Canada to be a worker," said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.

"Sadly, the results of the audit are no big surprise to those of us who have been calling for a crackdown on safety violations in construction. What is a surprise is that the government isn't pledging to provide any more resources to deal with what is obviously a very big and very pervasive problem."

No new inspectors were hired by Alberta OH&S and ten inspectors out of a total of 94 were dedicated to the campaign.

McGowan said Alberta needs to spend more money to enforce safety because the province has more people working in construction and other dangerous industries than other provinces.

"The recession gave us a short reprieve, but if simple and common-sense changes - like hiring more inspectors - aren't made today, Alberta will, once again, regain its title as the province with the highest number of workplace fatalities in Canada," he said.

The Ministry of Employment and Immigration reported that there were 110 workplace incident fatalities in 2009. The construction sector had the largest share of these fatalities with 34, or 31 per cent of all fatalities.

Inspectors don't have the power to issue fines for infractions, but Lukaszuk is signaling he wants to start ticketing people who break laws designed to protect workers.

Given the results, follow-up inspections will be conducted in the 2011-12 fiscal year.

Daily Commercial News and Construction Record, Thurs Dec 30 2010
Byline: Richard Gilbert

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