Edmonton - Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan reacted to a special government health and safety audit of commercial construction sites today, calling the results a "shocking wake-up call," and the "clearest evidence yet of the Alberta government's neglect of worker safety."
The special audits - which involved 298 occupational health and safety inspections of 146 commercial construction employers - resulted in a stunning 214 orders being issued for safety violations.
A quarter of the orders (39) were stop-work orders: meaning the site was too unsafe for work to continue. A full quarter of the orders were for fall hazards.
"The violations uncovered in these audits are obviously just the tip of the iceberg and they demonstrate why Alberta continues to be the most dangerous place in Canada to be a worker," says McGowan, adding that the government is learning all the wrong lessons from the special audits.
"Sadly, the results of the audit are no big surprise to those of us who have been calling for a crackdown on safety violations in construction," says McGowan. "What is a surprise is that the government isn't pledging to provide any more resources to deal with what is obviously a very big and very pervasive problem."
McGowan says that the Department of Employment is trying to spin the audit as a good news story - on the grounds that the audit proves the government is taking safety seriously.
"But this is the opposite of good news. The government has documented a huge problem, but now they say they're going to move on to do audits in other sectors instead of conducting even more random inspections in construction. They've demonstrated that we're facing an epidemic of unsafe work on construction sites around the province - but they don't seem to have a plan to deal with that epidemic.
"These audit results are a wake-up call. But the government seems determined to keep sleepwalking past the problem."
Alberta's workplace fatality rates are consistently among the highest in Canada. In 2008 - the last year for which comprehensive national statistics are available - there were 5.9 deaths per hundred thousand workers in Alberta. In the rest of Canada, the 2008 national average was 4.2 deaths per hundred thousand workers.
AFL research also shows Alberta cut OH&S programs sharply in the 1990s - and that spending on things like worksite inspections has never fully recovered. In 1991, the Government of Alberta spent $11.14 per worker on Occupational Health and Safety programs; in 2009, we spent $10.13 per worker. Alberta also spends less on workplace safety than most other Canadian jurisdictions. For example, in 2009, Ontario spent $10.80/worker, Nova Scotia $13.61, and Manitoba $11.73.
The fact that Alberta spends less on workplace safety is particularly alarming when you consider that, as a proportion of our workforce, Alberta has far more people working in construction and other dangerous industries than other provinces.
"Given the fact that so many Albertans work in dangerous industries, we should be spending more on safety and doing more in terms of inspections and enforcement than other provinces: but we don't. As the economy picks up, especially in the oil patch and construction sectors, the government of Alberta needs to take immediate action to improve health and safety," says McGowan.
"The recession gave us a short reprieve, but if simple and common-sense changes - like hiring more inspectors - aren't made today, Alberta will, once again, regain its title as the province with the highest number of workplace fatalities in Canada," concludes McGowan.
Media Contact:Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour - @ cell 780-218-9888 or office 780-483-3021