Additional health and safety inspectors ‘good news’

Friday's announcement of additional Occupational Health and Safety inspectors is one more step to ensuring Fort McMurray residents make it home safely from work at the end of the day.

So says Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk who announced that 30 new officers will be hired over the next three years with greater northern focus. They will conduct on-the-spot inspections of Alberta companies, educate employers and workers on OH&S legislation and investigate serious incidents.

In addition to the 16 officers hired in the 2010-11 fiscal year, another 10 will be added for each of the next three years. By 2014, the province will have 132 OHS officers, a 55% increase from the 86 officers in early 2010.

"It's good news for Fort McMurray and it's definitely good news for families in Fort McMurray," said Lukaszuk this morning. He noted that when a workplace fatality occurs it's someone's father, mother, brother, daughter who doesn't come home.

"This hopefully will be another step in keeping residents of Fort McMurray safe."

A couple of factors played into the announcement, said Lukaszuk.

He said that since he took over the ministry, has has made it his mission to bring balance between the educational and enforcement components of health and safety

While he quickly concluded the educational component was superb, he recognized some definite improvement was needed on the enforcement side.

"So I have provided our offices, and I will continue providing our officers with additional enforcement tools. In order for them to be effective and do the work I expect them to do, they need re-enforcement as well."

During recent visits to Fort McMurray, Lukaszuk said it was obvious that the economy is really starting to pick up, and that means not only more workers, but new workers coming here from other parts of Canada and abroad, and some of those new to the industry.

With those workers arriving in the area and as oilsands production increases, Lukaszuk said it's just a mater of being proactive to ensure workers remain safe in the region.

"It's obvious the region is very specialized. The oil and gas industry is overwhelming, a very particular skill set not many have so our Occupational Health and Safety officers will have to be more specialized in their region to be able to not only better interact with employers and employees and speak the same language, but to have a better understanding of the industry and it's requirements.

"A more familiarized officer makes better decisions, makes better investigations and I think we'll see results."

Over the coming weeks, occupational health and safety enforcement, inspections and investigations in Alberta will be divided into three regions instead of two. The traditional regions of north and south, divided near Red Deer, will become north, central and south, providing a greater focus in northern Alberta: the site of major economic activity, particularly in the oil and gas, and construction sectors.

While the Alberta Federation of Labour welcomed the announcement of additional officers, it says more needs to be done and questioned where the money was coming from to pay for the inspectors as the recently announced budget only allowed for a 1.5% increase for inspections.

"The answer is obvious to everyone. Occupational Health and Safety initiatives, all of them, education and enforcement, none of it is paid for by taxpayers, none of it appears in the budget. It's paid for by the WCB it's paid by employers in Alberta. They cover the entire bill for all the officers all the educational programs, prosecutions, everything.

"The AFL should be aware of that if they want to competently represent labour."

Lukaszuk also mentioned an announcement he made a few weeks ago about focus inspections that will be taking place this year. He likened the initiative to a drinking and driving checkstop by police when motorists are given fair warning the enhanced enforcement will be taking place. Once the initiative is complete, usually over the holiday season, police announce the number of vehicles stopped and charges laid.

"We're doing the same thing. Up and above our regular random inspections of all employers and places of employment in Alberta, we will be focusing on certain infractions. We already started focus inspections on forklifts and similar equipment, and that's based on my review of statistics," said Lukaszuk noting that type of equipment has proven to be dangerous.

The next focus will be young and inexperienced workers.

"The economy is really picking up so we're attracting workers to this province again, and many of them come from other industries so they're new to our Alberta industries, but also the school year will be ending very soon and we'll have a lot of students getting their summer jobs; often not familiar with the industrial environment ... their first time doing a particular job; often not very well trained," said Lukaszuk.

"I want to make sure these students, at the end of vacation, go back to school unharmed."

Fort McMurray Today, Mon Mar 7 2011
Byline: Carol Christian

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