Governments report workplace safety is improving over time

Labour unions in British Columbia and Alberta held ceremonies April 28 to remember workers who have been killed on the job, while the governments in both provinces say injury rates are at record lows.

"Workers in B.C. continue to pay far too high a price for simply going to work to support themselves and their families," said B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair at a ceremony in Vancouver's Hasting Park,

Sinclair said 179 workers were killed in the province in 2010, a very troubling statistic because the vast majority of these deaths and injuries were preventable.

According to WorksafeBC, 143 workers died on the job in 2010. Of those fatalities, 68 were traumatic deaths and 75 were the result of occupational diseases, mainly from exposure to asbestos.

The construction sector recorded the most fatalities overall with 27, followed by 26 in transportation, and 15 in mineral products.

In Alberta, there were 136 workplace-related fatalities in 2010, up from 110 in 2009.

A lower number of fatalities in 2009 is believed to be a result of the economic downturn.

"We warned the government time after time that more needed to be done to save lives and prevent injuries as our economy recovered," said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.

"Sadly, our warnings were largely ignored and the result has been more preventable deaths — more families missing loved ones."

The number of fatalities in Alberta peaked at 165 in 2008 at the height of the economic boom. In each of the five years between 2004 and 2008, there were between 124 and 165 workplace fatalities.

Despite the increase in the number of fatalities in Alberta, the 2010 lost-time claim rate is 1.41 injuries for every 100 full-time jobs, the lowest in 20 years.

This compares to a rate of 1.53 last year, down from 4.13 in 1991, marking 10 straight years of decline. The disabling injury claim rate, which includes workers injured yet able to perform modified work, also decreased to 2.67 in 2010 from 2.79 per 100 full-time jobs in 2009, and 3.34 per 100 in 2008.

"We've certainly come a long way over the last two decades," said Thomas Lukaszuk, Minister of Employment and Immigration, responsible for occupational health and safety. "However, as far as we've come, there's still a long way to go. We won't rest until the rate is zero." Others agree there have been some encouraging improvements in workplace safety over previous years.

"In 2010, for every 100 workers in B.C., about two were injured – that's the lowest injury rate in our province's history,"said Stephanie Cadieux, B.C.'s Minister of Labour, Citizens' Services and Open Government. "While that's good news, no fatality is acceptable and injuries can and must be prevented." Both Sinclair and McGowan criticize the provincial governments in B.C. and Alberta for not making enough progress in reducing workplace injuries and fatalities.

Sinclair is calling on the B.C. government to:

• Hire more prevention officers, with a focus on enforcement in high-risk industries;

• Develop a comprehensive public awareness campaign about exposure to substances, combined with stricter enforcement of the regulations surrounding occupational chemical hazards;

• Establish a registry of public buildings and workplaces that are known to contain asbestos; and

• Increase criminal prosecution of employers who wilfully ignore worker safety.

McGowan is calling on the Alberta government to:

• Improve workplace safety, including posting the full safety records of employers online;

• increase the prosecution of employers whose unsafe worksites cause injury and death (the prosecution rate for workplace fatalities is 2.8 per cent);

• Give inspectors the power to issue tickets for violations during inspections; and

• Introduce mandatory worksite health-and-safety committees that include workers.

Journal of Commerce, Wed May 4 2011
Byline: Richard Gilbert

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