Workers gather to remember fallen comrades in Alberta and B.C.

The construction industry accounted for the highest number of work related deaths in B.C. and Alberta last year.

The fact was brought to light as workers across the nation commemorated the 25th time that a Day of Mourning has been recognized in Canada.

The BC Federation of Labour, the Business Council of B.C. and WorkSafeBC hosted a Day of Mourning Ceremony at the Workers' Memorial Sanctuary in Hastings Park, Vancouver, on April 28.

During the ceremony, Dave Anderson, president and CEO of WorkSafeBC reported that there were 160 work-related fatality claims in B.C. in 2008, which is up from 139 in 2007.

"Those 160 workers died needlessly and preventively, primarily from four causes," said Anderson.

Out of these claims, 76 were the result of occupational disease, mainly from exposure to asbestos.

"We know that number is expected to grow year on year based on the exposure data we have from the past," he said. "While we can't do anything about those past exposures, we do know there is a lot we can do about current exposures, to ensure that this generation of workers is better protected than previous generations."

Last year 21 workers died from motor vehicle accidents, which was the second most common cause of worker death. This effected workers in all industries.

Finally, 43 people died from worksite traumatic injury, which is the lowest number on record.

The construction industry suffered 34 fatalities in general construction, heavy construction and road construction.

"Last year was the worst year on record going back as far as far as I could find for aviation crashes," said Anderson.

"There were five crashes last year. We also had some claims from the previous year. Twenty workers died from helicopter and plane crashes, which were mainly people being transported to work in remote places."

According to Peter Kiewit Sons project manager Greg Dixon, who was at the ceremony in Hastings Park, this year was an extremely difficult one for the company.

On Nov.17, a plane chartered in Vancouver to deliver personnel and supplies to a construction worksite for a hydro electric project crashed on an island north of Powell River, B.C. killing seven passengers and leaving one survivor.

Kiewit is the main contractor on the East Toba River/Montrose Creek run-of-river power project.

The Alberta Ministry of Employment and Immigration reported that there were 164 occupational fatalities in 2008, up from 154 in 2007.

These fatalities are broken down into three categories; 50 were motor vehicle incidents, 51 were workplace incidents, and 63 were occupational disease deaths.

The construction industry and associated trade services, with 59 deaths, accounted for the largest number of workplace fatalities among all sectors in 2008. This is 36 per cent of last year's total.

"Overall we're making progress reducing workplace injuries, but there are still far too many workers in Alberta getting killed on the job," said Hector Goudreau, Minister of Employment and Immigration. "It will be a priority to reduce fatalities, especially related to motor vehicles and disease."

In response, the government increased its occupational health and safety budget by more than $5 million for the new fiscal year.

Hector claimed progress is being made because the disabling injury rate decreased to 3.48 injuries per 100 full time jobs in 2008, from 3.88 per 100 in 2007.

The disabling injury rate includes workers who cannot work their next shift or have to be placed on modified work to accommodate injuries.

The provincial lost-time claim rate for 2008 was 1.8 per 100 full-time jobs, down from 2.12 per 100 in 2007.

This rate compares the number of lost-time claims submitted, but does not include modified work.

However, a union representative in Alberta does not see this as progress.

"2008 was the fourth deadliest year for workers in Alberta's history," said Gil McGowan, Alberta Federation of Labour president. "There were more workers killed last year than in more than 25 years."

The worst years in Alberta history were 1914, which was the year of the Hillcrest Mine disaster, 1980 (169) and 1982 (169). McGowan agreed that the fatalities were avoidable.

"It is wrong to throw up our hands and declare fatalities as 'unavoidable,' or to blame the boom," he said. "We know how to prevent workplace death - we have the technological, scientific and occupational hygiene knowledge to make workplaces safe."

Journal of Commerce, Mon Apr 28 2009
Byline: Richard Gilbert

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.