Alberta lags other provinces in funding work inspector: National Day of Mourning observed

Alberta has less work site health and safety inspectors than many other provinces, even with an increasing number of workers in dangerous industries, according to a new report from the Alberta Federation of Labour.

"Albertans face one of the most dangerous workplaces in the country," said Gil McGowan, president of the federation, which represents more than two dozen Alberta unions.

The federation's report is being released to coincide with the National Day of Mourning, an annual union and community event to remember workers injured or killed on the job.

The report, titled Danger: Workers at Risk, says the provincial government employs 1.4 health and safety inspectors per 10,000 workers, while the national average is 2.08.

Only British Columbia and Quebec employ fewer inspectors, says the report, which examines federal census data.

The federation's report says that spending on Alberta's workplace safety programs has not kept pace with inflation, even as Alberta's oil and gas and construction industries have flourished.

Both industries include large numbers of high-risk jobs.

Alberta's rate of workers killed on the job, nine per 100,000, was the second highest among the provinces in 2008 -- Newfoundland and Labrador was first. The national rate was 7.24.

"If something isn't done, there will be consequences," McGowan said.
In Edmonton today, Alberta Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk will release more of the 2009 workplace injury and disease statistics.

On Tuesday, Lukaszuk said he is open to constructive criticism, but said workplace safety in Alberta is constantly improving. He is working with both labour and employer groups to begin a new era of workplace safety enforcement.

"That means more boots on the ground," Lukaszuk said.

Whether Occupational Health and Safety in the province is underfunded "depends how you measure it," the minister said.

"Let's say only one person perished last year. I still wouldn't be satisfied. I think it's a work in progress," Lukaszuk said.

The National Day of Mourning will be marked by events across the country, including two noontime ceremonies in Calgary.

Julie Hamilton, whose son Timothy died at a golf course near Bragg Creek in 1999, will speak at an event supported by industry safety groups and the Workers' Compensation Board at James Short Park.

Hamilton's 19-year-old son was killed when the pole he and a coworker were lifting from inside a tent struck an overhead power line.

"As parents, partners, siblings and kids of people with a work ethic who go to work every day, we deserve better than this," Hamilton said.

In 2009, the province counted 110 people who died while working, or died from a disease related to work -- the lowest fatality level in seven years.
The lower fatality rate came during an economic slump. Not included in that figure were workers who died on Alberta work sites regulated by the federal government.

"It's really important that people in Alberta recognize that they haven't lost numbers, they've lost people," Hamilton said.

The other Calgary event today will be a wreath-laying ceremony at the workers' memorial at City Hall.

It will "honour all of the Canadian workers who lost their lives, specifically the Albertans -- the 110 of them last year," said organizer Nick Lepora, president of the Calgary and District Labour Council.

A report released this week said federal government neglect is increasingly jeopardizing the safety of truckers, postal employees and other workers regulated by Ottawa.

The report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives said Ontario, Quebec and Alberta have led the provinces in chalking up significant improvements in workplace safety for workers under their jurisdiction.
However, Alberta's auditor general warned this month that the province isn't adequately cracking down on employers who repeatedly flout safety rules and whose workers face a significantly higher risk of injury than most Albertans.

Calgary Herald, Wed Apr 28 2010
Byline: Kelly Cryderman

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