Workplace deaths hit 26-year high in Alberta: Fatalities took biggest toll on older men

Older, male workers and employees in the construction industry accounted for the largest number of workplace deaths in Alberta in 2008 -- with total work fatalities reaching a 26-year high -- according to new data released Friday by the provincial government.

Once-booming Alberta saw 165 occupational deaths last year, the most in more than a quarter century and up 33 per cent from 2006, although the number of disabling injury claims decreased slightly in 2008.

Of the 165 Albertans who died because of their job last year, about seven in 10 were aged 45 and older (114 occupational fatalities), while roughly one-quarter were workers between 25 and 44 years old and five per cent of occupational deaths befell employees aged 24 and younger.

About 91 per cent of the workplace victims (150 deaths) were men.

"We're making progress reducing workplace injuries, but there are still far too many workers in Alberta getting killed on the job," said Employment Minister Hector Goudreau.

Included in the on-the-job fatalities were 51 direct workplace accidents, 50 motor vehicle incidents and 64 occupational disease deaths.

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

Over the last five years there have been 253 occupational deaths in Alberta's construction industry.

On a more positive note for the province, the tally of disabling injury claims in Alberta decreased about three per cent in 2008 and six per cent over the past two years.

All told, there were 60,692 disabling injury claims last year, while the number of lost-time claims (another measure of on-the-job injuries) decreased about eight per cent, to 31,410.

Yet, the rising death toll has come amid a province-wide campaign by the Stelmach government to reduce workplace fatalities.

In response, the government has beefed up its occupational health and safety budget by more than $5 million for the new fiscal year for additional enforcement. The allocation of the cash will be determined following a workplace safety conference this fall with various industry groups, said Alberta Employment spokesman Chris Chodan.

But the Alberta Federation of Labour says far more dollars must be invested into workplace inspections and enforcement of occupational health and safety rules.

The AFL is demanding mandatory workplace safety committees for all employers, and has thousands of signatures on petitions urging the move, that will be presented to government on Tuesday -- a day of remembrance for those who've died on the job.

"We are not surprised by the number (of deaths), but we are deeply troubled," said AFL president Gil McGowan. "What it shows is that neither employers or government are taking workplace safety as seriously as they should."

McGowan noted the large number of deaths among older workers is a bit of an eye-opener, figuring younger employees would have accounted for a greater percentage of the death toll.

Alberta's now-deflated boom saw a slew of older employees jump back into the workforce or change jobs over the past few years, lured by skyrocketing salaries amid a once-crippling labour crunch.

Calgary Herald, Fri Apr 25 2009
Byline: Jason Fekete

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