Labour groups blame province for high number of workplace deaths

Alberta labour groups are calling on the province to do more to prevent a growing number of workplace fatalities.

The call for action comes a day after an Edmonton worker was killed by a steel beam that collapsed at a west-end jobsite.

The employee's death marks Alberta's 14th workplace fatality this year, which is four more than in all of 2010 - a disturbing statistic for those working in the construction sector.

"Nobody's actually taking it serious so it is becoming more dangerous," says construction worker, Ali Fattah. "Construction people should stop and think about what they're going to do...and we could prevent some of this stuff."

Barrie Harrison, with the Occupational Health and Safety board, is among those at the provincial level working to prevent what he admits are too many injuries and fatalities in an inherently dangerous construction sector.

"Look at the equipment they're working with and the jobs they perform. That's why Occupational Health and Safety has laws in place. That's why we expect them to be followed. Many times when they're not, they end up with serious injuries or fatalities," he says.

Harrison cites worker and employer safety education as a crucial part of the provincial safety strategy. He also points to the hiring of new OHS inspectors and targeted jobsite inspections that are intended to make jobsites safer.

While the Alberta Federation of Labour agrees education is part of the solution, it feels what the province is doing isn't enough.

The labour group's Gil McGowan says Alberta the new inspectors only replace the inspectors who were laid-off during the Klein years, and employers receive advanced warnings about the targeted inspections, which defeats their purpose. He believes these factors contribute to our province lagging behind all others when it comes to safety.

McGowan also blames the high workplace fatality numbers on the province ignoring warnings, and not taking advantage of a lull in development to adequately prepare for safety issued related to our province's returning growth.

"All the more experienced people are going to work on the more lucrative oilsands-related projects," he says. "So the employers in those sectors are throwing basically every warm body they can on the work site. Sometimes they're not well-trained, sometimes they're going inexperienced, and you couple that inexperience with a go, go, go mentality that a lot of these employers have to get the job done, and it's a recipe for accidents and fatalities."

McGowan feels further tragedies could be averted if the government puts what he believes is just talk into action - specifically more unannounced inspections, and a more aggressive approach to prosecuting employers who put their workers at risk.

"If we don't get our act together now on inspection, enforcement and prosecution, then we're going to see more incidents like the one that we saw yesterday."

Global TV Edmonton, Wed Oct 19 2011

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