As the 6th International Day of Mourning approaches, the Alberta Federation of Labour released new figures today showing that the rate of workplace accidents in Alberta has nearly doubled in the past decade.
"The tragic reality is that workplaces are more dangerous today than they were 10 years ago," says AFL Secretary-Treasurer Les Steel. "There are three times as many accidents today as a decade ago. Even factoring in the growth in the workforce, Alberta's accident rate is double what is was."
"April 28 is the International Day of Mourning," added Steel. "Last year 118 workers were killed at work. It is a reminder to all of us that we need to do more to make workplaces safer." It is the fourth straight year in which more than 100 workers were killed.
Steel stated that the Alberta government and WCB are not doing enough to combat unsafe workplaces. "We need stronger enforcement from the government and the WCB needs to pay more attention to injured workers and less to the financial bottom line."
Using figures from WCB, the AFL calculated that in 2000 there were just over 12 accidents for every 100 workers. This compares to 6.3 accidents in 1991. "Accident rates have creeped upward during the past decade, and the Alberta government and WCB have not acted to stem the rise."
"Employers can get away with almost anything in health and safety, because there aren't enough inspectors in the field and there is not enough political will to prosecute employers who break the law," says Steel.
The AFL used the total number of claims accepted by WCB and divided it by the number of workers covered to come up with the accident rate. Total claims include all officially reported accidents.
"The only accurate way to determine how safe workplaces are is to measure how often accidents are occurring."
The WCB presents misleading figures to the public, Steel charges. The WCB commonly refers to the lost-time claim rate, which is the rate of claims that resulted in a worker missing work for more than one day. The measure ignores more than 100,000 claims. Some are less serious injuries, not requiring the worker to miss workdays. Some are serious injuries, but the employer prevents time-loss by offering modified work or other programs to keep the employee at work.
"The trend toward modified work and other "make-work" programs distort the true health and safety picture," observes Steel. "Workers are still getting injured, but employers are just getting better at minimizing the loss in productivity." Steel indicates the growth in modified work programs is due in large part to the fact WCB sets premiums based on time-loss claims only, and not all claims, creating an incentive for employers to hide time-loss.
"WCB should be setting premiums based upon the number of accidents in the workplace, not the number of time-loss claims."
To mark Day of Mourning, the AFL will be holding a ceremony at City Hall on Saturday, April 28 at 11:00 am. The International Day of Mourning was started in Canada by the Canadian Labour Congress. It has now spread to more the 100 countries worldwide. Day of Mourning remembers those workers who were killed at work.
"Instead of more of the same old word games, we should use this year's Day of Mourning to make a new effort to make workplaces safer. Two deaths a week is too many. One death is too many," Steel concluded.
For further information contact:
Les Steel, AFL Secretary Treasurer @ 780-483-3021 (wk)/499-4135 (cell)
Jason Foster, Director of Policy Analysis @ 780-483-3021