COVID-19 one of the biggest causes of workplace illness and death in Alberta
EDMONTON – Newly released data from the Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) shows that COVID-19 is a serious workplace hazard with thousands of infected workers making claims after contracting it at work, and scores killed as a result.
“The most recent data from the WCB proves that the COVID-19 virus is one the most serious workplace hazards in Alberta,” says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour. “For years, the UCP and employer groups have been downplaying its seriousness, but more than 12,000 lost-time claims have been accepted by the WCB and, tragically, 33 workers died as a result of contracting the virus at work.”
The WCB data, available here, shows over the past two years 15,066 lost-time claims were submitted to the WCB. Of those, 12,588 were accepted. An accepted lost-time claim means the worker was unable to do their job due to illness or injury. “Accepted fatality claims” happen when the WCB attributes a death to something that happened in the workplace.
“The latest data from the WCB should put to rest the idea – promoted by the UCP government – that the COVID-19 virus is mild or flu-like,” says McGowan. “The reality is the opposite: the COVID-19 virus is one of the deadliest workplace hazards after only motor vehicle accidents and exposure to asbestos.”
A blog published by the AFL - available here - notes that the WCB data likely underreports the severity of workplace transmission of the virus. Not every Alberta workplace is covered by WCB insurance and there are systemic pressures on workers to avoid making claims.
“The UCP must stop abandoning workers and their safety. We cannot lose sight of the fact that the COVID-19 virus has killed thousands of Albertans, many of whom caught it in their workplace. We’re just beginning to understand the long-term effects of the virus. People can feel its effects for weeks, even months afterwards,” says McGowan, referring the phenomena of “long COVID.”
“The UCP government’s handling of the pandemic has been tragically careless. They’ve consistently downplayed the virus’ impact on workers and workplaces, failed to implement and maintain measures to keep people safe, and, more recently, decided to drop the availability of testing, loosen isolation rules, and send children back to in-school learning without the necessary safeguards to control its spread,” says McGowan.
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Director of Communications, AFL