Alberta not prepared to keep workers safe in boom times: AFL

Government spending on workplace safety in Alberta has not kept pace with growth in the provincial economy and population, according to research from the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL).

As a result, workers around the province are at risk, especially if the economy ramps up for another boom, said Gil McGowan, president of AFL.

"Alberta is one of the most dangerous places in Canada to be a worker," said McGowan.

"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."

The report, Danger: Workers at Risk, found Alberta spends less per worker on workplace safety than it did in 1991 and has just 1.4 health and safety inspectors per 10,000 workers compared to the national average of 2.1.

Alberta also has more workplace fatalities than the national average, at 5.9 per 100,000 workers compared with 4.2 nationally.

The report also found the number of Albertans working in the four most dangerous industries has almost doubled since 1991, growing to 620,000 workers from 341,000

The government's chronic under-funding of workplace safety is particularly troubling in light of the recent report on occupational health and safety from the Alberta Auditor General, said McGowan.

In his report, the Auditor General concluded 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 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," said McGowan.

None of this bodes well for working Albertans as the provincial economy begins to show early signs of a return to growth, he said.

"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," said 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.", Wed Apr 28 2010

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