The disappointing results of a recent blitz of forklift-safety inspections should come as no surprise to Alberta’s employment minister, says the province’s largest labour organization.
“We have told Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk repeatedly that occasional safety blitzes are not enough to solve forklift-safety problems in Alberta,” says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), which represents 140,000 workers.
“If the government was really committed to promoting forklift safety, it would follow the lead of Manitoba and institute a mandatory system for training and certification of forklift operators. We require people to pass licensing tests before they can get behind the wheel of a car or a truck. But no such requirements are in place for forklifts. It just doesn't make sense."
McGowan points out that forklifts are potentially dangerous pieces of heavy industrial equipment - and they're involved in thousands of injury incidents every year. "I can't understand why the Minister and this government continue to reject mandatory training and licensing. It's a common-sense solution to a serious problem,” he says.
A total of 214 orders were issued by health and safety inspectors against employers for forklift-related safety violations after the recent inspections blitz in February and March. Of the 87 employers visited, 65 were found to have failed to maintain or inspect their forklifts or did not properly train workers.
“The Minister's recent safety blitz is welcome because it reveals just how serious the problem is. But it's obvious that such blitzes are not enough," says McGowan. "Mandatory training and certification for forklift operators, as happens in Manitoba, would be much more effective in saving lives and preventing injuries. We also need on-going random inspections as opposed to one-off safety blitzes. Without on-going inspections, employers get complacent.”
McGowan points out that even the Alberta Construction Association, which represents employers, prefers on-going, random inspections over one-time blitzes.
The issue of forklift safety rocketed to public attention in 2008 after 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 to the creation of a joint government, industry and labour panel to look into the issue of forklift safety.
The panel drafted a set of guidelines which were quietly released earlier this year. Over the AFL's objections, the new rules provide only voluntary "guidelines and best practices" instead of the kind of mandatory rules found in Manitoba's Code of Forklift Safety.
“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'm convinced that Mitch would be alive today if he had received proper training. Unless Alberta follows Manitoba’s example, people will continue to be injured and killed unnecessarily on forklifts in Alberta.”
For more information call AFL President Gil McGowan @ (780) 218-9888