Hazardous material violations lead pack of workplace safety infractions: Lukaszuk announces results of targeted inspections

EDMONTON - Provincial inspectors found at least one safety violation in 70 per cent of workplaces that often employ young people.

No workplaces were issued a stop-work order for the most serious safety issues.

Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk announced the results of the targeted inspection Tuesday. The inspectors targeted places like fast food restaurants and convenience stores, which commonly employ young people between 15 and 24 years old.

Lukaszuk said the results were an improvement from previous inspections, but there's still a long way to go.

"They handed in their homework, but they didn't pass," he said of employers.

The campaign was part of a round of inspections that Occupational Health and Safety are conducting in addition to regular inspections. Commercial construction sites and workplaces that use forklifts have also been inspected in the past year, where stop-work orders were issued.

Bob Barnetson, a professor of labour relations at Athabasca University, said these are not positive findings, and they fit with results of other targeted inspections.

"The general pattern is widespread non-compliance with Alberta's safety laws," he said.

Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, said more inspections are a big step in the right direction, but necessary follow-ups haven't happened.

"Wherever the government looks, they're finding a disturbing number of violations. That tells me that there is a very serious problem with the workplace safety culture here in Alberta," he said.

Barnetson said that these results are "just more evidence that we need something between asking politely and prosecuting."

He said Lukaszuk promised the tools to address the issues in the spring, but hasn't introduced them.

"My guess is he's going to introduce ticketing, so, if there's an infraction, investigators will be able to issue a ticket on the spot," he said.

The government chooses inspection campaigns based on where it knows infractions occur most often.

"Young workers are typically thought particularly vulnerable, in part because they're inexperienced, but also because they're hired into crappy jobs," Barnetson said.

Young people are often afraid to speak up, said Joan Schiebelbein, director of the University of Alberta career centre CAPS.

"Young people say, well, if I speak up, I'm going to lose my job," she said.

"Some people would say, I just don't want to work for that employer anymore, and leave it at that."

Occupational Health and Safety inspected 118 workplaces. There were 181 orders issued for hazardous materials, hazard assessment, first-aid training, emergency preparedness and other violations.

Edmonton Journal, Tues July 5 2011
Byline: Lana Cuthbertson

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