Alberta Workplace safety laws need boost, AFL warns: Economic boom could see more injuries and deaths

EDMONTON - Economic recovery will bring an increase in workplace injuries and fatalities unless the province improves workplace safety law, the Alberta Federation of Labour said Friday.

On the same day, Employment Minister Thomas Lukaszuk announced four new workplace safety initiatives, including the hiring of eight new Occupational Health and Safety officers.

"The good news is that the Alberta economy is returning to health," Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said. "The bad news is that unless more aggressive action is taken, we're afraid that we're also going to return to boom-style levels of injuries and fatalities in this province."

McGowan noted that last month there were three work-related deaths on three separate work sites on three consecutive days. "We think that should be a red flag," he said.

The federation on Friday handed Lukaszuk a 10-point plan for safe workplaces in Alberta, which calls on government to hire more inspectors, give them power to levy fines, put more money toward prosecutions and protect workers who blow the whistle on unsafe workplaces.

The federation also wants the province to introduce new laws that make joint worker-employer safety committees mandatory on all work sites. Alberta is the only province that does not have a law of this kind, McGowan said.

Employment Minister Thomas Lukaszuk on Friday announced the province will hire more inspectors and will take steps to improve driver safety and disease prevention on Alberta work sites.

"Work-related diseases and vehicle incidents are killing more workers than injuries are," Lukaszuk said in a news release. "It is time we took steps to reduce these work-related fatalities."

The province has released a new best-practices driving guide for workers, and Lukaszuk has asked Employment and Immigration staff to establish an occupational disease prevention program.

The government has also started formalizing the process that ensures family of workers who die on the job have input whenever creative sentences are considered by the courts.

The province's own 10-point plan for Occupational Health and Safety was launched in July after the Calgary Herald published an investigative series that showed Alberta is least likely to penalize safety offenders, even though workers here are more likely to die for their paycheques then almost anywhere else in the country.

Since launching the plan, the province has introduced a stronger compliance system, created a template for employer records, launched a website with records of companies and reviewed the Work Safe Alberta initiative.

The remaining six items are still underway.

Edmonton Journal, Fri Nov 5 2010
Byline: Karen Kleiss

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