Alberta ramps up inspections of residential worksites

Residential construction sites in Alberta are being targeted by occupational health and safety officers for surprise inspections during a month-long inspection blitz.

"We launched a focused campaign on residential construction in September," said Barrie Harrison, spokesperson for Alberta Occupational Health & Safety (OH&S).

"When we choose the sectors to be targeted for our safety campaigns, we look at specific factors, such as the current state of the industry. The residential construction sector has been on our radar for a number of years."

As construction activity on residential sites ramps up for the summer, OH&S officers are increasing inspections of single and multi-family projects in Alberta.

"Several officers from each of the three regions in Alberta are dedicated to this campaign, while other officers will participate as able," said Harrison.

"We know a majority of the orders we write are in relation to a lack of fall protection, which is the number one culprit in residential construction.

"Officers will arrive unannounced at a site to look for everything and anything that contravenes the safety code."

Almost 1,700 inspections of Alberta's residential construction sector were undertaken in 2010, which resulted in 1,000 orders being issued.

A lack of proper fall protection topped the list of infractions, followed by issues with hazard assessments, safeguards, and clear entrances, walkways and stairways.

"The campaign is expected to last at least one month," said Harrison. "Once the results of the inspections are compiled, we will share them with the public."

This information will include the number of sites visited, the total number of inspections, and the number and types of orders issued.

"Throughout the province, we're beginning to see an increase in new home construction," said Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk.

"We need to ensure safety on these job sites is a priority. I've said all year long that increased attention on residential construction projects was on my to-do list. My message to Alberta's home builders and their contractors is that we are on our way."

According to the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), the blitz of residential construction sites by inspectors is a welcome step in making worksites safer.

However, the AFL said the campaign is not the solution to the provinces safety problems.

"Employers have been warned inspectors are on their way and have been told how long the blitz will last," said Gil McGowan, president of the AFL.

"They will make an effort to clean up their acts and follow Occupational Health and Safety rules for a few weeks but, once the blitz is over, they will be free to return to their dangerous ways, knowing that they are unlikely to see more inspectors until another blitz is announced."

McGowan said regular and random inspections, that come without warning, are needed to encourage permanent change in worksite practices. The Alberta government is implementing a series of changes to its workplace enforcement system after numerous problems were exposed by the auditor general.

In a five month period in 2007-2008, the auditor general identified 63 companies that repeatedly failed to comply with health and safety laws for one year or more.

This group of employers had a Disabling Injury Rate that is three to four times greater than the provincial average

Inspectors don't have the power to issue fines for infractions, but Lukaszuk is signaling he wants to start ticketing people, who break laws designed to protect workers.

"To make our workplaces safer – to save lives and prevent injuries – blitzes must also be backed up with more concrete action, including hiring more inspectors and giving them increased powers to issue on-site tickets for violations," said McGowan.

Currently, officers secure jobsites and issue orders or stop work orders when infractions are found.

Journal of Commerce, Mon Sept 19 2011
Byline: Richard Gilbert

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