New research released today by Alberta's largest workers' advocacy organization shows that government spending on workplace safety has not kept pace with growth in the provincial economy and population - and, as a result, workers around the province are being put at risk, especially if the economy ramps up for another boom.
"Alberta is one of the most dangerous places in Canada to be a worker," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"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. Given these realities, you'd think our provincial government would spend more per worker on workplace safety. But, unfortunately, they don't. In fact, we spend less than we did in 1991 and we have fewer inspectors than most other provinces. Keeping working Albertans safe just doesn't seem to be the high priority it should be."
The new AFL report, entitled Danger: Workers at Risk, outlines the following facts about Alberta workplace safety and related provincial government spending:
- Alberta has more workplace fatalities than the national average, at 5.9 per 100,000 workers compared with 4.2 nationally
- The number of Albertans working in the four most dangerous industries has almost doubled since 1991, growing to 620,000 workers from 341,000
- Alberta employs fewer health and safety inspectors than the national average: 1.4 inspectors per 10,000 workers compared with the national figure of 2.1
- Alberta spends less per worker on occupational health and safety today (when 22 per cent of Albertans work in the top four dangerous industries) than the Getty government did in 1991 (when only 15 per cent of Albertans worked in the four most dangerous industries)
McGowan says the provincial government's chronic under-funding of its workplace safety work is particularly troubling in light of the recent report on occupational health and safety from the Alberta Auditor General.
In his report, the Auditor General concluded that there are "serious weaknesses" in the government's approach to safety and that the government "does not have a clear decision ladder for escalating compliance action from promotion and education to enforcement," even in cases where an employer has repeatedly been found in violation of the government's own workplace safety legislation.
"In other words, not only does the Alberta government have an inadequate number of inspectors - it also doesn't empower those inspectors to crack down on employers who they know are putting workers at risk," says McGowan.
None of this bodes well for working Albertans as the provincial economy begins to show early signs of a return to growth, says McGowan.
"Workplace fatalities shot up during the last boom - and they'll shoot up again if we don't put adequate resources and procedures in place now," concludes McGowan. "Now - before the next boom starts - is the time to fix Alberta's broken system for workplace safety. If we don't, more Albertans are going to needlessly pay the price. And that price will be paid with their bodies and with their lives."
Media Contact: Gil McGowan, president, Alberta Federation of Labour, (780) 218-9888