EDMONTON - Five people are dead in as many days after a spate of workplace accidents around the province this week.
Occupational Health and Safety spokesman Brookes Merritt said the incidents are not related but appear to be "a tragic coincidence."
Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said the number of workplace deaths is deeply troubling.
"Five fatalities in a week, even in a face-paced economy like this, is almost unprecedented, and certainly unacceptable," he said. "It demonstrates there is still a lot of work to be done."
Merritt said the first fatality happened Monday and involved a 56-year-old man who was on a scaffold that rolled into a 1.2-metre hole on a work site near Wainwright. Merritt said the worker was ejected from the scaffold, hit his head during the fall and was taken to hospital by air ambulance. The man died on Thursday morning.
On Wednesday afternoon, a man fuelling a forklift at Mo Tires in Lethbridge was pinned between the vehicle and a shed. He was pronounced dead in hospital.
A third worker died about 10 a.m. Thursday after falling inside a chimney stack at the Battle River power plant southeast of Edmonton. He died at the scene.
Later that day, around 1:30 p.m., a 19-year-old man died after a ramp fell on him at the Blackgold oilfield site near Conklin.
A fifth worker was killed at about 4:45 a.m. Friday at a work site 25 kilometres south of Grande Prairie. In that case, a 29-year-old man died after being crushed between a piece of heavy machinery and a tank.
"Any time we see a fatality at the workplace it's tragic," Merritt said. "Investigating this number of fatalities in such a short period of time is equally tragic, if not more so."
Merritt said investigators are also looking into a case where three workers were injured at a site northwest of Edson on Thursday morning. The three were hit by a disconnected snubbing hose and were taken to hospital, one by air ambulance, with undisclosed injuries.
Stop-work orders have been issued at all of the sites, and investigators are looking into what happened in each case.
"Our Occupational Health and Safety investigators are determined to investigate each incident rigorously and ensure that the results of this investigations help us learn how to prevent similar incidents in the future," Merritt said.
McGowan said the deaths should be a "red waving flag" for government and industry, showing that the issue of workplace injury and death is still not being properly addressed.
He said the deaths underline a need to increase the number of workplace safety inspectors in the province, which he said still lags behind other provinces.
With about 20 per cent of the province's population working in high-risk industries such as construction and the oilfield — more than double the percentage in most other provinces — McGowan said Alberta should also have a greater than average number of inspectors.
"We hear a lot of rhetoric from the government and employers, but neither group seems to be putting its money where its mouth is," he said. "The death toll continues to mount."
Human Services Minister Dave Hancock was not available for comment on Friday.
There have been 103 work-related fatalities in Alberta this year; 37 workplace fatalities, 28 motor vehicle accidents, and 38 from occupational diseases. There were 43 deaths from workplace fatalities and 28 from motor vehicle accidents in 2011.
Merritt said there are currently 122 OHS investigators in the province, and there will be 132 by the beginning of 2013, an increase of 30 officers from 2009.
"The department is continuously looking at how best to use its resources to achieve its ultimate goal — to have no workplace injuries or fatalities in the province," he said.
Edmonton and District Labour Council president Brian Henderson called the week's deaths "horrible."
"When we have this many fatalities in one week, it just further elaborates how much workplace safety needs to be given priority with this government," he said.
Henderson said in addition to more investigators he wants to see stiffer penalties for companies found guilty of workplace health and safety violations.
"It's not just finding an employer guilty and giving them a fine ...," he said. "With five (deaths) alone this week, what is really being done out there?"
Jeff Wilson, Human Services critic for the Wildrose Party, said he, too, thinks government should do more to support workplace safety, including by further increasing investigators and identifying high-risk employers.
"The strength of our economy rests on workers being safe and secure in our workforce, and we have to do what we can to make sure they get home safe every night," he said.
The Edmonton Journal, Friday Oct 19 2012
Byline: Jana E. Prudent