Alberta employment minister vows 'hammer' will come down on workplace safety violators

CALGARY - Alberta Employment Minister Thomas Lukaszuk said today the levying of workplace safety charges in the death of an employee at an oilsands tailings pond shows the province is willing to get tough with alleged violators.

"The hammer will come down, and as you can see, charges were laid," the minister said in Calgary today. "The system works."

The province, however, has faced staunch criticism over its enforcement and prosecution record.

A Herald investigation published in June found that between 2003 and 2007, the province rarely prosecuted companies for safety breaches linked to fatalities on the job. In April, the auditor general criticized the government for inadequately cracking down on employers who repeatedly break safety laws.

The Alberta Federation of Labour wants the province to unveil a plan for more aggressive prosecutions.

"Employers must be made to pay the price for putting the workers' lives at risk, but this is still not being done," Nancy Furlong of the Alberta Federation of Labour said in a statement earlier this week.

On Thursday, the province laid two workplace safety charges against Canadian Natural Resources and seven counts against Clayton Construction of Lloydminster in connection with the death of Rick Boughner.

Boughner died in September 2008 after the floating excavator he was using to clear debris and muskeg from a tailings pond tipped over and sank several metres to the bottom, trapping the 47-year-old father of three.

Lukaszuk didn't address whether the province has enhanced inspections of Canadian Natural Resources' workplace safety program in light of this and other incidents.

In all, Canadian Natural Resources now faces safety charges in four separate cases involving the deaths of four workers and the serious injury of a fifth, according to Alberta Employment.

All of the employees killed or injured worked for companies contracted by Canadian Natural Resources.

The four cases - which are before provincial courts - span from 2006 to 2008, a period when the province surged with economic activity. The most high-profile incident involves the 2007 deaths of two temporary foreign workers from China at the company's oilsands site north of Fort McMurray.

Calgary Herald, Fri Sept 3 2010
Byline: Renata D'Aliesio

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