Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk made the announcement Friday at a meeting of the Edmonton chapter of the Canadian Society of Safety Engineering, saying it is part of his commitment to making Alberta workplaces safer.
"This plan addresses the needs of today and the demands of tomorrow knowing full well that Alberta's economy is on the verge of an increase," he said. "I hope this sends a very strong signal to any company in Alberta who think the law, and particularly occupational health and safety law, does not apply to them."
Ten new inspectors will be added in each of the next three years, bringing a total of 132 inspectors to the province by 2014.
Lukaszuk told the audience employers who ignore safety at their businesses will face serious pressure to shape up.
"That is 132 workplace health and safety investigators sending a clear message that no company, no individual is above the law."
The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), a frequent critic of the government's workplace efforts, applauded the sentiment but said the new inspectors still come well short of addressing the problem.
In a press release issued Friday afternoon, AFL president Gil McGowan said many inspectors were cut from the province in the 1990s even while new workers were coming in to Alberta and that these new inspectors don't make up for it.
"Hiring these new inspectors may help us crawl some way back out of the hole that Klein dug, but it will not make us the leaders in safety that we need to be."
McGowan argued that, given the many dangerous industries that operate in the province, more inspectors are needed in Alberta to keep workers safe.
Lukaszuk said the system was not performing where he wanted it to be when he took over the ministry and he will continue to work towards reducing workplace deaths.
"It wasn't working to my standard by all means. A lot of the criticisms that were identified I agreed with," he said. "I am continuing to look and continuing to improve the system."
The department is currently doing an inspection blitz of forklift operators in the province, checking to see if the machinery is being used safely because of the role they have played in a number of workplace accidents.
The department announced the inspections in advance and Lukaszuk said that approach is similar to police forces that announce seat belt or impaired driving blitzes before heading out on the road.
"At the end of the day my goal is to make sure that equipment is being operated safely and that there are no accidents, so I am giving all employers fair warning."
McGowan also challenged the province to change the system so inspectors fine employers on the spot when they find safety infractions rather than issuing stop-work orders or other corrective actions.
Lukaszuk said the province is studying that idea and it could be coming to Alberta.
"We are looking at the possibility of administrative fines and other fines to be implemented in Alberta."
St. Albert Gazette, Sat Mar 5 2011
Byline: Ryan Tumilty