"If the government was really committed to promoting forklift-related safety, it would follow the lead of Manitoba and institute a mandatory system for training and certification of forklift operators," says Gil McGowan, president of the AFL, which represents 140,000 workers.
"Forklifts are not toys, they are dangerous pieces of heavy industrial equipment and they need to be treated by employers and governments like other pieces of heavy equipment. Drivers of cars, trucks, cranes, bulldozers and other heavy equipment are required to undergo equipment-specific training and prove their competency through testing, but in Alberta, anyone can get behind the wheel of a forklift and start driving without training and without testing," says McGowan.
This lack of training explains why there are more injuries and fatalities related to forklifts than other pieces of heavy equipment. While increasing inspections will help, it will not solve the problems created by the absence of government enforced standards for training and certification.
"Inspections by themselves aren't the answer because inspectors won't be able to fine or ticket employers for inadequate training, because there are no laws in Alberta under which to charge them. As a result, the inspection blitz will be much less useful than it might otherwise be," he says.
In 2008, 16-year-old Mitchell Tanner died on his second day on the job while on a forklift at a Rona store in St. Albert. An AFL campaign at that time led the creation of a joint government, industry and labour panel to look into the issue of forklift safety. It drafted a set of guidelines which have yet to be released: but even once they are released, the new guidelines will be voluntary, not mandatory.
"Voluntary guidelines are not enough. We can't simply hope that employers will do the right thing. Proper training and certification have to be mandatory," says McGowan. "I know Conservatives are reluctant to get behind regulation for ideological reasons. But ideology should not be allowed to trump safety or common sense."
"Random inspection probably would not have saved Mitchell," concluded McGowan. "But real training to standards set and enforced by the government could probably have made a difference. The government still has an opportunity to do better by introducing mandatory training and certification. Unless Alberta follows Manitoba's example, people will continue to be injured and killed unnecessarily on forklifts in Alberta."
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Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour @ cell 780-218-9888 or office 780-483-3021