Recent deaths raise question of workplace safety: Complaints to province have 'fallen upon deaf ears,' victim's wife says
EDMONTON - Not even two years after Lorna Chandler's husband was crushed in a grain silo at a feedlot near High River, one of his employers also died in a silo-related workplace accident.
Chandler feels sure her 35-year-old husband, Kevan, would have survived if there had been a rope and a way to secure the harness that was on site. Her husband's boss was also unsecured when he fell to his death from the top of a silo last Tuesday, she said.
"If he had a rope and harness, too, I'm quite sure he'd be alive," Chandler said Monday, following an annual ceremony at City Hall honouring lost and injured workers.
Chandler is frustrated because no one in the provincial government seems to be doing anything to stop these easily preventable deaths.
"What I'm trying to say has fallen upon deaf ears."
Last year, 154 Albertans died in workplace accidents, making it the worst year for fatalities since 1982. In addition, more than 175,000 people were injured while working.
It's time to connect the tragedy of workplace deaths with the causes, Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, said at the ceremony. Weak safety laws and lax enforcement send a message that the government doesn't take worker safety seriously, he said. "A worker is injured every three minutes every day in Alberta. We all know Albertans like to be number one. We're number one in investment. We're number one in growth. We're also number one in workplace deaths."
Simple guardrails costing as little as $30 could have saved the life of his grandson, said Leonard Brennan. But no one was doing the inspections required to find the "ongoing death trap" at his grandson's worksite.
Jahryn Kozak, 20, was killed Dec. 13, 2004, while working for Fitzgerald Construction. He became entangled in an unguarded tail pulley while cleaning excess gravel from the ground under a rock crusher. He was pronounced dead at the worksite.
Brennan noted that the company got a charitable donation receipt for almost all of the $300,000 it was ordered to pay as punishment because it went towards the Alberta Workers' Health Centre, a non-profit society which assists workers to improve workplace health and safety. Though he praised the work done by the centre, Brennan found it disturbing that the company would benefit in any fashion from what was supposed to be punishment. "I felt like throwing up when I heard that," he said.
Meanwhile, the Alberta NDP slammed the government for refusing to place limits on working alone in a worksite.
Employment critic Rachel Notley released a government official's e-mail from last week that nixed a proposal to let the employment minister ban working alone on certain unsafe sites.
A working group of industry, government and labour officials asked for the move.
Kenn Hample, provincial safety specialist co-ordinator, rejected that idea outright, saying in the e-mail that the province doesn't want to be "interjecting a government decision into the operation of a worksite," when the government prefers companies practice "internal responsibility" for their actions.
Notley called the proposal "hesitant first steps" that would have modestly improved worker safety in Alberta.
Edmonton Journal, Tues Apr 29 2008
Byline: Hanneke Brooymans and Jason Markusoff
The elimination of health-care premiums will pump $1 billion annually into the economy beginning next January and some of that cash could wind up in employees' pockets, say business and union officials.
While no one can say for sure who will reap the benefits of the massive tax cut announced Tuesday, the savings give businesses that paid the fee for their employees a host of options, says Danielle Smith, Alberta director of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
"We get the strong indication from the business community that they recognize they have to be competitive on wages and benefits," she said. "I imagine by having more money in their pockets to devote to increasing employee pay that will be one of the main places they decide to reinvest. It may not be immediate, but I imagine throughout the course of the year there will be a lot of that money going back to employees."
While 2.6 million Albertans face health-care premiums, 1.6 million pay for them through benefit plans that are often subsidized by employers.
The CFIB surveyed Alberta businesses last summer on what they would do with any savings from a tax cut and the majority responded they would invest in new equipment and increase employee wages, Smith said.
Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said it's an issue that unions haven't yet had time to digest.
"We're talking about hundreds of millions of dollars here that will be freed up as a result of the elimination of the premiums and the big question is where does that money go," he said. "Obviously, employers will have a lot of ideas for it, but it does at least open the possibility for some of the money going into the employees' pockets.
"It puts a little more money on the table at a time when the labour market is tight and workers are in a better position to ask for wage increases."
Mike Percy, the University of Alberta's dean of the business faculty, said the tax cut could have the same impact as former Premier Ralph Klein's $400 resource dividend, but this tax cut isn't just a one-time shot. Albertans will save that money annually, he noted.
"It will have a positive effect, but it will be very difficult to say how much," he said. "It's complex."
Edmonton Journal, Thurs Apr 24 2008
Byline: Darcy Henton
Alberta's provincial opposition is calling for the province's labour standards code and job safety legislation to include farm workers.
Liberal Leader Kevin Taft on Monday called for the Stelmach government to expand the Employment Standards Code and the Occupational Health and Safety Act to include protections for farm workers and adopt a farm safety program to promote safety in the farming community.
"Alberta's farm workers have no protection regarding hours of work and overtime, no statutory holidays or vacation pay, no right to refuse unsafe work, and no compensation if they are injured on the job," Taft said, accusing the Tories of dodging the issue of farm safety.
"Injuries and deaths on Alberta farms continue to be a burden on farm families. In some of these cases, farm worker safety standards could have prevented incidents from happening, and provide the needed support when incidents do occur."
Edmonton MLA Hugh MacDonald, the Liberals' employment critic, said in a release Monday that safety standards for all workers must be improved and properly enforced.
The Liberals made their statements as part of the International Day of Mourning for Workers Killed or Injured on the Job. According to the Alberta Federation of Labour, 166 Albertans, including 154 of what it called "officially 'recognized'" workers and 12 farm workers, lost their lives for work-related reasons in 2007.
AFL president Gil McGowan said in a separate release that 2007 saw the most work-related fatalities in the province since 1982 and the sixth-highest total in provincial history, with 28 work-related deaths so far in 2008 -- a tally McGowan blamed on the province's current boom.
"Employers are cutting corners on training and safety procedures to meet the huge demand," he said. "The result is more accidents. Many workers choose to walk away from unsafe jobs rather than pressure for more safety, meaning bad employers don't improve. And the government is not doing enough inspections and enforcement."
While it's still early in 2008, he said, "if we continue to lose workers at this rate, we will kill 170 workers in 2008, which will be the highest number since the Hillcrest Mine disaster in 1914."
Lorna Chandler, whose husband died in June 2006 in an accident on a farm near High River, said in the Liberals' release that "farm workers deserve the same on the job protection as everyone else."
Farm Business Communications, Mon Apr 28 2008
The provincial government says in 2007, workplace related deaths rose 24 per cent in Alberta to 154 - the highest number in the last decade.
On Monday, labour groups are gathering to honour those who died in International Day of Mourning ceremonies.
The main one in Calgary is at City Hall at noon. A "death march" begins at 3rd Street and 6th Avenue southeast at 11:45 a.m. - followed by a memorial wreath laying service at noon at city hall.
Alberta Federation of Labour's Gil McGowan says it's a very somber day for workers all over the world.
McGowan says last week alone five people died in work-related fatalities in Alberta - one of those in Calgary.
A father of six was killed at a southeast warehouse when a bunch of pallets toppled onto him.
CHQR Newsroom, Mon Apr 28 2008
Man dies in crash with giant truck: Oil sands hauler collides with pickup at Fort McMurray mine site
An oilsands contractor driving a pickup has died after colliding this weekend with a 400-tonne oilsands dump truck on a mine site that prides itself on its clean worker-safety record.
RCMP and officials with the Albian Sands mine north of Fort McMurray have released few details about the Saturday-night collision, but those familiar with massive oilsands haulers say workers take many precautions to ensure such run-ins never happen.
"To run over something like (a pickup truck) would just flatten it like a pancake. You wouldn't even know you hit it," said Doug Krupa, who works for Heavy Hauler Service and Repair in Edmonton.
The dump truck involved in the accident was a Caterpillar 797B, the largest mining truck in the world. It stands more than three storeys high and is so large that it can't be driven on highways, but must be transported in pieces and reassembled at the mine site.
The driver behind the wheel sits about 6.5 metres above the ground.
Ordinary-sized vehicles are normally not allowed near giant trucks, Krupa said.
The collision happened shortly after 8 p.m. Saturday at the Albian Sands Energy Muskeg River Mine site, about 75 kilometres north of Fort McMurray, said RCMP Const. Ali Fayad. Albian emergency crews responded, then called RCMP at 9:30 p.m.
The pickup driver died shortly after he arrived at a nearby hospital. RCMP and Workplace Health and Safety officers are investigating and a stop-work order has been written.
Shell Canada spokeswoman Simone Marler said the crash happened on the mine site, not in the mine. The mine is a joint venture between Shell Canada, Chevron and Marathon Oil.
The victim's name and age were withheld pending notification of next of kin.
Marler said this was the first fatality in the six-year history of the oilsands project. Until the accident, the roughly 1,000 employees at the site went through three million hours of work without a lost-time incident.
"Our commitment is to fully understand the cause and circumstance surrounding the accident ... to ensure that it never happens again," she said Sunday. "We're deeply saddened by this and our thoughts are with the contractor and (his) family."
John Payne, an instructor in the Mine Operations program at Fort McMurray's Keyano College, has driven the Caterpillar 797 and said operators have to be on guard all the time.
"Your visibility is limited. You have clear vision straight ahead through the windshield and then there's a blind spot on either side," Payne said, because side mirrors can only do so much.
The truck's height means "it's quite a ways in front before you can see a hard hat standing in front of you. They're extremely dangerous if you're on the ground near it, even for light-duty pick-ups."
Payne said he has heard of incidents similar to what happened Saturday night, but said that the 797 is "probably one of the safest machines on the road."
Today is the international day of mourning to recognize workers killed and injured on the job.
A ceremony is planned for 7 p.m. tonight at Edmonton City Hall, where victims' families will be speaking out, said Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan.
Workplace fatalities hit a 25-year high last year, but the large dump trucks are considered quite safe, he said. "Those trucks are less likely to be in an accident than a truck on the highway simply because they are driven by well-trained professionals.
"The oilsands trucks don't drive around willy-nilly," McGowan added. "They have clearly identified tracks ... and everyone else on the worksites know about the routes that they follow."
Krupa transports smaller dump trucks to oilsands sites. He drives 50-tonne trucks off and on their trailers, and at times it can be unnerving to drive a vehicle when you can't see what you're driving onto.
"You take it real slow," he said.
Facts on the Caterpillar 797B heavy hauler involved in the deadly collision with a pickup truck:
- Designed for high-production mining and construction.
- Hauling capacity: 400 tonnes
- Gross machine operating weight: 623,700 kg
- Maximum speed: 67 km/h
w Dimensions: 7.6 metres high by 14.5 metres long by 9.8 metres wide. It's so large it can't be driven on the highway, so it is shipped in pieces and built on site.
- Cost: $5 million to $6 million. A single tire costs more than $35,000, is four metres high and weighs over 15,000 kilograms.
Edmonton Journal, Mon Apr 28 2008
Byline: Elise Stolte and Steve Lillebuen
The provincial government came under fire in the legislature Wednesday for its lack of workplace safety laws for farm workers, the day after a feedlot owner fell from a silo to his death west of High River.
This is not the first farm death in the area. The 52-year-old man -- identified as Brian Morrison -- died at Roseburn Ranches on Tuesday, just a short distance from where one of his family's employees was killed in a silo two years ago.
Kevan Chandler, 36, died in June 2006 after being buried by an avalanche of grain at the Morrison family's nearby Tongue Creek Feeders.
Ever since his death, Chandler's widow Lorna has made it her self-described mission to push for workplace safety laws for farm workers. She said Tuesday this most recent death just goes to show how badly the Alberta government needs to take action.
"I thought they would have learned something or done something," said Chandler, 32, who works as a high school janitor in Black Diamond.
"I think they should get off their butts and improve the safety standards."
Alberta and Nova Scotia are the only provinces where workplace safety standards don't apply to farms. In Alberta, farm owners don't have to be part of the workers' compensation program, and the government doesn't have to investigate fatalities like it does for other industries. Farm workers are also barred from unionizing.
In Alberta last year, there were 12 farm-related fatalities, according to Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development. This year, including the most recent death in High River, the figure sits at four.
The opposition Liberals grilled Agriculture Minister George Groeneveld on the issue during question period Tuesday.
"Will this government finally concede that workers on corporate farms need the same protection through workplace safety legislation as other workers in the province?" Liberal Leader Kevin Taft said.
"How many farmers have to die in Alberta before this government takes action?"
Groeneveld said: "Farms are very unique worksites . . . families live, work, they play in these areas. We're talking about education, I suspect, more than rules."
He added that farms are dangerous places to work, but suggested that more rules aren't the answer. "We make seatbelt rules and look at what happens."
Later in an interview, Groeneveld said his government will have another look at the issue.
"A lot of these farms are big business now and they're corporate farms, and I will sit down with the minister of employment and immigration."
Regarding his comments in the legislature, Groeneveld added: "I'm certainly not against seatbelt legislation."
But those who have pushed for laws for farm workers say the government is unwilling to consider workplace safety laws for the sector, and promises to take another look at developing rules ring hollow.
"I will believe it when they actually do something," said Jason Foster, director of policy analysis at the Alberta Federation of Labour.
Shortly after Kevan Chandler's death in 2006, then-human resources minister Mike Cardinal said he would review whether workplace safety standards should be extended to farm workers. The NDP later obtained documents showing that Cardinal had rejected a recommendation from a government panel to do so, just weeks earlier.
Foster said the provincial government favours the interests of corporate farms rather than workers. Other provinces have been able to make workplace safety laws for workers at larger corporate farms without introducing onerous rules for family farms, he said.
However, Danielle Smith of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business said farms are different from other businesses, and tax incentives for purchasing safety equipment would be a better strategy for the government to pursue.
She said it's difficult to draw the line between a family farm and large-scale operations.
"When you've got this hybrid home/farm operation, it gets really tricky," Smith said.
In High River on Wednesday, family and friends were focused on their mourning for Morrison.
"It's very sad news. He was a great neighbour," said Mac Brocklebank, who farms near both Roseburn Ranches and Tongue Creek Feeders.
- - -
Recent Farm Deaths
- April: A 52-year-old man is killed after falling almost 30 metres from a grain silo at Roseburn Ranches Ltd., just west of High River.
- March: A 52-year-old man, a resident of a Hutterite colony near New Dayton, southeast of Lethbridge, dies after becoming entangled in farm machinery.
- December 2007: Michael Collett, 46, dies while loading grain into a truck from a wooden bin on his farm, 12 kilometres south of Taber. He was buried under grain while working alone in the bin.
- June 2006: Kevan Chandler, a 36-year-old father of two from Black Diamond, dies after an avalanche of grain buries him inside a silo at Tongue Creek Feeders, a High River feedlot.
Calgary Herald, Thurs Apr 24 2008
Byline: Kelly Cryderman
Globalization has increased acceptance of a multi-racial world and provided endless supplies of skilled and other labour, so what's not to love about mass immigration?
While Canada's opposition parties quibbled over modest measures expediting the arrival of skilled immigrant workers, one answer to that question appeared in a report from the British House of Lords. Stunningly, it concludes that record levels of immigration bring no economic benefits.
The Economic Impact of Immigration argues that immigration addresses neither labour shortages nor problems associated with an aging society. Rather, low-paid and young workers are being placed at a disadvantage because of competition from immigrants; worse, strains on public services and Britons being priced out of the housing market risk stoking social tensions.
According to the Telegraph, the British government welcomed this contribution to its "huge immigration shakeup."
Here in Canada, few noticed the British report or even Britain's "immigration shakeup," though for similar reasons cracks have been appearing in Canada's immigration portfolio too, and a small but growing number of academics, former civil servants and diplomats knowledgeable about Canada's complex and inefficient immigration system are speaking out.
Martin Collacott and James Bissett have reached conclusions similar to the new thinking on immigration now gripping most Western democracies, as did the late Bernard Ostry, while economists and professors emeritus such as Alan Green (Queen's University) and Herbert Grubel (Simon Fraser) are backing them up with far-reaching data and analysis.
Citizen groups, too, like Canada Immigration Watch are organizing to counter the vast stakeholder industry of immigration lawyers, consultants and advocacy groups that has so far monopolized Canada's immigration file. Out west, the Alberta Federation of Labour is squaring the debate with today's labour market realities.
A paper by Herbert Grubel, for instance, blames Canada's poor selection criteria and high rates of immigration for the failure of recent immigrants to achieve incomes comparable to resident Canadians, even though previous immigrants did so within 10 years of arrival. Accordingly, Immigration and the Welfare State in Canada, published by the Fraser Institute, estimates a cost to Canadian taxpayers of more than $18 billion for immigrants who arrived between 1990 and 2002.
To understand Canada's selection criteria, it's helpful to see how the numbers align under Canada's two largest classes of immigrants to Canada: economic and family.
In 2002, 23.3 per cent of all Canadian immigrants were principal applicants, that is skilled workers who acquired sufficient points for language, skills, etc., under Canada's selection criteria to gain admission to Canada while their spouses and dependents, who are allowed automatic entry, comprised a further 30.5 per cent. Together, at 53.5 per cent of total immigrants, they made up the bulk of Canada's Economic Immigrants.
Family-class immigrants, at 28.5 per cent of the total in 2002, are the other dominant set. Consisting of parents and grandparents (9.8 per cent) and "immediate" family members (18.7 per cent), these immigrants must be sponsored. Like parents and grandparents, the myriad cousins, uncles, in-laws, sisters and fiancés are then able to sponsor other "immediate" family members, leading to a phenomenon known as "chain" migration.
In other words, family-class immigrants meet no selection criteria. This means they often arrive with no language or job skills and a commensurately diminished capacity for paying taxes and social integration.
The economic success of immigrants is also affected by the rate at which they arrive. Having levelled out at 0.5 per cent of the population or less after the Second World War, it skyrocketed in the 1990s to today's one per cent - the highest in the world. These high rates, combined with slow economic growth in the 1990s, says Grubel, affected the income of new immigrants and those arriving in the previous decade who now had new competition for jobs. It was in this period, too, that the number of ethnic enclaves - defined as "census" regions where at least 30 per cent of the population is of a particular ethnic background - rose to 254 by 2001, from six in 1981.
Despite similar economic conditions during the same period, Australian immigrants fared better than Canada's. Migrants there must meet more stringent requirements for skills, credentials and language. Australia also denies entrants social benefits for two years and admits a higher proportion of work-age immigrants. Parents of principal applicants, for instance, may enter only if the majority of their independently qualified children already reside in Australia.
If economic realities matter, the new thinking on immigration may find its ultimate home among the stewards of today's labour market. After appearing before a Commons standing committee where he opposed employer exploitation of temporary workers, the president of the Alberta Federation of Labour told me how, even in booming Alberta, there is no blanket shortage of labour.
"Overall, the market is tight but absolute shortages exist only in certain sectors. In others, like natural gas, forestry and agriculture, workers are being laid off," Gil McGowan said
So why aren't we employing the people who are here, aboriginals for instance? Provincial training programs are what need fixing, he suggests. "Politicians have a cartoon understanding of what is happening in the labour market."
Montreal Gazette, Mon Apr 21 2008
Byline: Margret Kopla
Just because students across Alberta will soon be moving from classrooms for jobsites, doesn't mean the learning should stop, according to the province - while the Alberta Federation of Labour questions the approach.
Employment and Immigration has launched an advertising blitz designed to educate young workers about their rights and responsibilities on the job.
"Parents and kids are thinking about summer jobs and, as younger people are going to be moving into the workforce in the next little while, we want them to know the kinds of things to be aware of - the kinds of things to ask about on the job," spokesman Janice Schroeder said yesterday.
"We found that younger workers are the least likely to know what their rights are and they're also the least likely to ask what their responsibilities are."
One ad, titled "What you need to know about working this summer," lists points including that overtime must be paid if a shift is longer that eight hours; a workday cannot be more than 12 hours, including breaks; minimum wage is $8.40 an hour; and parents must provide written consent for children between the ages of 12 and 14 who are working.
The ad also provides a link and telephone numbers for more information.
LISTENING AND WATCHING
Schroeder said the department polices the system through a combination of listening and watching.
"If parents are concerned or if young workers or colleagues or anybody is concerned, they can call our contact centre and indicate their concerns - and what workers are being asked to do," she said.
"And we also have the inspection-driven side, so where there are sectors where we might be concerned, we'll go visit employers."
Schroeder said Employment and Immigration received 4,100 complaints and performed 278 payroll inspections during the 2006-07 fiscal year.
But Nancy Furlong, secretary-treasurer of the 140,000-member AFL, questioned the department's ability to set or enforce standards - and workers' ability to insist on them.
She said the department is more focused on mediation than enforcing the law in individual cases.
"You might see an adult standing up for themself, but even that is rare because they're at risk - Employment Standards doesn't take on employers and doesn't protect (workers) from dismissal when they raise those kinds of issues."
Furlong conceded the booming economy means students have a fair bit of employment choice. But she worries employers stretched for staff can still insist on long hours or inappropriate working conditions.
And while children as young as 12 are barred from certain kinds of work, Furlong wonders if the move to allow Albertans so young to work in the first place - and help alleviate the labour shortage - even makes sense.
"It's our point of view that the 12-year-olds should be playing and going to school rather than working," she said.
Furlong added the government should consider reaching teens through popular youth-oriented Internet sites.
Edmonton Sun, Sun Apr 20 2008
Byline: Daniel MacIsaac
Fatal accidents on Alberta job sites increased substantially last year, nudging closer to the alarmingly high occupational death rates recorded during the province's previous boom of the early 1980s.
Safety statistics released by the province yesterday revealed the 2007 overall injury rate as the lowest in Alberta's history. That accomplishment was muted, however, by 154 on-the-job deaths -- up from 124 in 2006.
In the early '80s, when Alberta was in the throes of a similarly super-heated boom, 169 workers died on the job in both 1980 and 1982.
Employers cutting corners on safety is a common theme in both eras, said Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan.
"Workplace injuries and fatalities have spiked because of the overheated pace of economic development," he said.
"We're seeing young people thrown on construction sites and not being provided with the necessary safety training."
But drawing parallels between the two booms fails to take into account Alberta's population growth over the past three decades, said Employment and Immigration spokesman Barrie Harrison.
"It's safe to say our workforce was not near the size back then as it is now," he said. "But no one in our office is looking through rose-coloured glasses -- we're not happy with it. We know every one of those was preventable."
Harrison said the scarcity of labour could actually behove employers to ensure their workers are safe.
"Does one counter the other? I don't know if we have the answer to that right now ... but one year does not a trend make, so I think it's premature to suggest that," he said.
Nevertheless, McGowan called the province's claim of record-low injuries "disingenuous" in its reliance on lost-time claims, which dropped for a seventh straight year.
He said this fails to take into account the number of workers injured on the job who remain on modified duties.
"While it's true the accident rate declined slightly from 2006 to '07, the fact remains, those two years are the highwater marks in Alberta history for workplace accidents and fatalities," said McGowan.
He said Workers' Compensation Board numbers show total claims dropped from 181,000 to 175,000 from 2006 to '07, but are vastly increased from the 98,000 recorded in 1996.
The worst year was 1914 with 221, the bulk of them victims of the Hillcrest Mine Disaster, said Jason Foster, AFL director of policy analysis.
Calgary Sun Media, Fri Apr 18 2008
Byline: Doug McIntyre
The number of workplace deaths in Alberta soared 24 per cent in 2007 -- to one of the highest numbers on record -- highlighting occupational dangers and inadequate safety training provided to workers flooding into an overheated economy.
Occupational fatalities in the province jumped to 154 in 2007 from 124 in 2006 -- numbers the Stelmach government says are symptomatic of inexperienced workers entering potentially dangerous workplaces.
"There's no denying that 154 workplace fatalities is way too many," Employment and Immigration Minister Hector Goudreau told the legislature Thursday. "One fatality is way too many."
The minister noted, however, the provincial injury rate hit an all-time low in 2007, based on the lost-time claim rates.
Nevertheless, as Alberta's population has exploded in recent years with the economic boom, so, too, have the number of workplace deaths. The 154 fatalities in 2007 were the most in at least 10 years and approached the record 169 deaths recorded in both 1980 and 1982.
But the 24 per cent spike in deaths in 2007 far surpassed the 3.3 per cent increase in the size of Alberta's workforce, which reached almost two million people.
For Rich Smith -- who lost his son Sean in December to a workplace accident -- the jump in the fatality rate is "disturbing."
"That's not a good figure," Smith told the Herald.
He noted, though, the family does not make a connection between the statistics and Sean's death, and he would be disturbed by the numbers even if his son had not died.
"Our son is not a statistic. It's an accident, whether it's one of 154 or one in 10 makes no difference," he added. "The impact on us is the same."
Sean Michael Smith, 28, was killed when a drill crew was moving a rig near Waterton Lakes National Park on Dec. 28 and a "clamshell" lid collapsed, hitting Sean on the head. An investigation into the incident by Workplace Health and Safety officials is ongoing.
Smith said he believes Alberta is, overall, a safe place to work, but that the current pace of life and work is probably impacting safety.
Included in the 2007 fatalities were 44 motor vehicle incidents, 47 workplace incidents and 63 occupational disease deaths, such as asbestosis. The true number of deaths is probably higher because the province won't cover many farm workers in provincial workplace legislation.
Many 2007 workplace incidents included employees being crushed to death by equipment, killed by long falls or electrocuted.
One of the most unfortunate fatalities -- also a stark example of how workplace deaths can affect anyone -- involved a 54-year-old restaurant worker who tripped over a case on the floor while carrying several trays. The worker broke a leg and died subsequently in hospital due to complications brought on by a serious post-operative wound infection.
Goudreau suggested the alarming numbers result from several factors, including a fresh wave of new workers being hired who aren't ready for a certain line of work, as well as companies failing to properly train all their employees. He said the government will ratchet up its efforts with employers and workers in hopes of curbing the disturbing trend.
The spike in the fatality rate between 2006 and 2007 should raise alarm bells for both the government and employers, said Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan.
"It's an indication there's a real and growing problem with safety on worksites across the province," he said. "Workers are paying with their bodies and sometimes their lives."
McGowan said government has an "obligation" to step up enforcement during times of economic boom because employers often cut corners, usually relating to health and safety. Instead, it has been "business as usual," he said.
McGowan acknowledged there had been a slight dip in the number of work-related accidents between 2006 and 2007, but said over the long term, both years saw dramatically higher rates than the province has traditionally experienced.
In 1996, there were 98,000 workplace accidents; in 2006, there were 181,000, McGowan said, adding the workforce has not doubled during that time.
"For them to say we're moving in the right direction is to ignore what has actually been happening in the last decade," he said.
Opposition parties demanded the government immediately increase the number of workplace safety inspectors and random inspections of job sites.
"The government has paid nothing but lip service to this issue," said NDP Leader Brian Mason. "They've never taken effective action to reduce workplace injuries."
Liberal employment critic Hugh MacDonald said all Albertans -- including employers, workers and politicians -- have a responsibility to ensure the alarming fatality rates quickly improve.
"Everyone has an obligation to ensure that trend is not only halted, but reversed," MacDonald said.
Workplace fatalities in Alberta 2007: 154 2006: 124 2005: 143 2004: 124 2003: 127 2002: 101 2001: 118 2000: 118 1999: 114 1998: 105
Record number of fatalities: 169 in both 1980 and 1982
Calgary Herald, page A1, Fri Apr 18 2008
Byline: Jason Fekete and Gwendolyn Richards