DMONTON - The Alberta Federation of Labour is chiding the provincial government for no longer reporting farm fatalities.
The union says the move is an example of how — quote — "agricultural workers are being erased in Alberta."
The union says the province is the only one where farm workers aren't covered by occupational health and safety laws.
It says they are also excluded from legislation on hours of work and overtime, statutory holidays and vacation pay.
A judicial inquiry in 2008 recommended the inclusion of farm workers in laws ensuring workplace protections.
The union says the province announced its plans on a government website and offered no meaningful explanation for the change.
Global Edmonton, Mon Aug 20 2012
The Canadian Press
Government Audit Reveals Shocking Number of Safety Violations on Alberta Construction Sites: Commercial construction sector clearly under-regulated; workers at continuous risk of injury o...
Edmonton - Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan reacted to a special government health and safety audit of commercial construction sites today, calling the results a "shocking wake-up call," and the "clearest evidence yet of the Alberta government's neglect of worker safety."
The special audits - which involved 298 occupational health and safety inspections of 146 commercial construction employers - resulted in a stunning 214 orders being issued for safety violations.
A quarter of the orders (39) were stop-work orders: meaning the site was too unsafe for work to continue. A full quarter of the orders were for fall hazards.
"The violations uncovered in these audits are obviously just the tip of the iceberg and they demonstrate why Alberta continues to be the most dangerous place in Canada to be a worker," says McGowan, adding that the government is learning all the wrong lessons from the special audits.
"Sadly, the results of the audit are no big surprise to those of us who have been calling for a crackdown on safety violations in construction," says McGowan. "What is a surprise is that the government isn't pledging to provide any more resources to deal with what is obviously a very big and very pervasive problem."
McGowan says that the Department of Employment is trying to spin the audit as a good news story - on the grounds that the audit proves the government is taking safety seriously.
"But this is the opposite of good news. The government has documented a huge problem, but now they say they're going to move on to do audits in other sectors instead of conducting even more random inspections in construction. They've demonstrated that we're facing an epidemic of unsafe work on construction sites around the province - but they don't seem to have a plan to deal with that epidemic.
"These audit results are a wake-up call. But the government seems determined to keep sleepwalking past the problem."
Alberta's workplace fatality rates are consistently among the highest in Canada. In 2008 - the last year for which comprehensive national statistics are available - there were 5.9 deaths per hundred thousand workers in Alberta. In the rest of Canada, the 2008 national average was 4.2 deaths per hundred thousand workers.
AFL research also shows Alberta cut OH&S programs sharply in the 1990s - and that spending on things like worksite inspections has never fully recovered. In 1991, the Government of Alberta spent $11.14 per worker on Occupational Health and Safety programs; in 2009, we spent $10.13 per worker. Alberta also spends less on workplace safety than most other Canadian jurisdictions. For example, in 2009, Ontario spent $10.80/worker, Nova Scotia $13.61, and Manitoba $11.73.
The fact that Alberta spends less on workplace safety is particularly alarming when you consider that, as a proportion of our workforce, Alberta has far more people working in construction and other dangerous industries than other provinces.
"Given the fact that so many Albertans work in dangerous industries, we should be spending more on safety and doing more in terms of inspections and enforcement than other provinces: but we don't. As the economy picks up, especially in the oil patch and construction sectors, the government of Alberta needs to take immediate action to improve health and safety," says McGowan.
"The recession gave us a short reprieve, but if simple and common-sense changes - like hiring more inspectors - aren't made today, Alberta will, once again, regain its title as the province with the highest number of workplace fatalities in Canada," concludes McGowan.
Media Contact:Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour - @ cell 780-218-9888 or office 780-483-3021
"Workers are entitled to know the full safety records of employers, including their history of violations of the Occupational Health and Safety Code," says Nancy Furlong, Secretary Treasurer of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), which represents 140,000 Albertans.
In 2002, the province promised to reveal Alberta's best and worst employers. What the watered-down website will provide is a long way from fulfilling that promise.
Lost-time claim statistics, by themselves, mean nothing, says Furlong. To encourage bad employers to improve their ways the province should post compliance orders, court orders, and other safety documentation.
Using the website to reveal if employers hold a Certificate of Recognition (COR) sounds good, but unless the problems with the program identified by the Auditor General are fully addressed, it is meaningless.
The Auditor General reported that half of the employers who had failed to comply with occupational health and safety orders continued to hold valid CORs, which helps them win contracts and qualifies them for reduced workers' compensation rates.
As well as lacking the courage to reveal the names of employers who violate the safety code, the government has taken no action to improve its dismal record of prosecuting those who break the law. Alberta currently prosecutes at much lower rates than other provinces, even in cases involving workplace fatalities. Since 2006, the province has prosecuted in less than three per cent of workplace fatalities.
"Employers must be made to pay the price for putting the workers' lives at risk, but this is still not being done," says Furlong. A plan for more aggressive prosecutions should be a core part of the minister's plan.
The AFL also believes that making Joint Worksite Health and Safety Committees (JWHSCs) a mandatory structure in the Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) Act is vital to improving safety at worksites.
These committees provide an avenue for concerns, complaints and issues to be addressed. They help employers and workers talk about safety issues and find common ground. These roles are key to establishing a positive and effective health and safety environment in a workplace.
"The government still has an opportunity to take real action to save the lives of working Albertans and to prevent workplace injuries. It should do so," says Furlong.
Nancy Furlong, Secretary Treasurer, Alberta Federation of Labour @ 780-720-8945 (cell)
A new Alberta safety code is coming into effect in July after a lengthy public consultation process.
"Our members are supportive of the changes to legislation that improve safety, but they must be reasonable and practical to implement," said Ken Gibson, executive director of the Alberta Construction Association.
"Our biggest concern right now is that the timeframe to implement the changes is only three months. There is a lot of burden being put on employers because they have to change their training materials and courses, labeling on equipment and processes on the worksite."
OHS Code updates that will impact the construction industry include:
- New requirements for lift calculations, tag lines and personnel baskets;
- Distinguishing between 'confined' and 'restricted' spaces for entry permit systems;
- Requirements applicable to respiratory protection against airborne biohazardous material;
- Mobile equipment requirements specifically for concrete pump trucks;
- New, specific safety factors for rigging components.
Alberta is the only jurisdiction in Canada to update its workplace safety rules through public consultation rather legislation.
"The process we follow in Alberta is different," explained Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"We are the only province in the country that has adopted this approach to updating and reviewing the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Code."
The code has been updated three times in six years, but employers are still operating under the 2006 version of the code until July 1, when the new code comes into effect.
"The rules are significantly different than they were before, because there are exact specifications now," said Chris Chodan, public affairs officer with the Ministry of Employment and Immigration.
"In 2004 the OHS Act was revamped so updates could be made by changing technical requirements, rather than being specified through new legislation."
Under the new system, the code is updated and reviewed by a government minister in consultation with industry representatives.
"We took recommendations from various members of the public and put them in front of our technical specialists, who in turn made recommendations of what changes could be made," said Chodan.
"The changes were put up on a website for comment. The changes went back to the OHS council, who determined which ones were appropriate. Finally, the OHS council makes recommendations to the minister responsible."
The consultation process uses a model that gives industry 15 representatives and labour and government four representatives each.
"The big difference is that Alberta has essentially pulled the OHS rules outside of the legislative process," said McGowan.
"This is fundamentally undemocratic and dangerous. Legislative scrutiny is at the heart of our democracy. The public should be worried when any laws are taken out of the hands of the legislature and put into the hands of individual politicians or cabinet ministers."
Gibson said that he agrees with most of the changes in the new code, but has some concerns about the process.
He also expressed concern that frequent change to the entire safety code is putting an undue burden on employers.
"Moving things into the safety code and leaving legislation intact is more responsive and flexible in practice," he said.
"But, now we see annual changes to the whole code, so it is way too responsive. We were never supposed to change huge parts of the code or the entire code at once."
According to Gibson, the consultation process, which includes attending meetings and pouring over the changes to give a reasoned response, is very time consuming.
He added that when changes are made every couple of years, there is not enough time to see if the industry has significant concerns.
The ministry spokesman sees things in a different light.
Chodan said that since the code has been changed several times in the last few years, there my not be a need for frequent changes.
"We are reviewing the code every two to three years, but it may not be that frequent in the future," he said
"It will depend on how many recommendations we get from stakeholders and industry, as well as how fast the industry changes."
The 2009 OHS Code can be found online at: http://employment.alberta.ca/whs-ohs.
Journal of Commerce, Wed May 13 2009
Byline: Richard Gilbert