Workplace injuries were at a record low in the province last year but there's still a long way to go, Minister of Employment and Immigration Thomas Lukaszuk said.
"No matter how you slice it, no matter how you measure it, there is a decrease in lost-time claims and injuries, which is a good thing," Lukaszuk said Wednesday at a North American safety and health event in Edmonton.
While the injury rates were down from previous years, the changes were slight.
Lost-time claim rates, which track workers who receive reimbursement for full or partially lost wages because of a job-related injury or disease, were down from 1.88 per cent in 2008 to 1.69 per cent in 2009. Those rates were down across all major industries in the province, but the manufacturing, processing and packaging, and mining and petroleum development sectors saw the biggest declines.
There were 3.09 disabling-injury claims for every 100 full-time positions in 2009, down from 3.63 in 2008, which includes employees who had to miss work or be placed on modifi ed duties.
Workplace fatalities were also down last year, from 166 deaths in 2008 to 110 in 2009.
"That's 110 Albertans too many," Lukaszuk said.
Forty-nine deaths were due to occupational disease, 41 from incidents at work and 20 were the result of motor-vehicle accidents that occurred on the job.
The minister said he has taken steps to hire eight additional front-line officers to inspect workplaces, adding that a committee of representatives from organized labour and employers in the province is currently working on the enforcement of existing safety rules.
Lukaszuk also addressed the recent auditor general's report that criticized the government for not cracking down on employers who routinely violate safety violations. The minister has promised to release the list naming those employers, but said he needs to be certain the list is both complete and accurate before he can do so.
"The moment I have a green light from the auditor general and from my department, I will release it," he said.
But critics have expressed their frustration at the minister's delay in releasing the company names.
"We're frustrated and disappointed that the minister continues to refuse to release the list of repeat violators, because Albertans deserve to know if their employers are running safe workplaces," said Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan, adding a public list would provide employers with an incentive to improve their safety practices.
On Wednesday, workers and unions across the province marked the National Day of Mourning to honour workers killed and injured while on the job.
The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees marked the occasion with a ceremony at its headquarters in Edmonton and called on the government to enact a law that makes employee-employer occupational health and safety committees mandatory for most workplaces, a measure every other Canadian province already has in place.
"There has to be a commitment to dealing with these issues on an ongoing basis," said AUPE president Guy Smith.
Lukaszuk said he is willing to work with the union if its recommendations prove to be eff ective, but stopped short of making any promises. "Nothing is off the table," he said. "Everything will be looked at."
Both Smith and McGowan welcomed the minister's announcement that eight new inspectors will be hired, but said the measure doesn't adequately address worker safety.
"Eight health-and-safety inspectors are a welcome addition, but it still falls short of what's necessary," McGowan said. "Alberta has 1.4 inspectors for 10,000 workers, compared to the national average of 2.1. Adding eight inspectors isn't going to change that ratio a whole lot."
Both the AFL and AUPE worry the province will see an increase in workplace injuries and deaths as the economy begins to improve.
"The point is that everybody should be committed to worker health and safety, so nobody gets injured or killed," Smith said. "The most important thing someone can take home from work is their life, health and well-being, and that's paramount."
Edmonton Journal, Thurs Apr 29 2010
Byline: Mariam Ibrahim