More Albertans dying on the job as government fails to act: Warnings to improve workplace safety have been ignored, says AFL

The number of Alberta workers killed on the job jumped by 24 per cent last year while the provincial government failed to fulfill its responsibility to protect its citizens in the workplace.

New government figures show that 136 workers lost their lives in 2010, up from 110 in the previous year.

 “We warned the government time after time that more needed to be done to save lives and prevent injuries as our economy recovered,” says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, which represents 140,000 workers. “Sadly, our warnings were largely ignored and the result has been more preventable deaths – more families missing loved ones.”

Hundreds of workers are attending a wreath-laying ceremony in Calgary at noon today at the City of Calgary Workers Memorial, on the southwest corner of Calgary City Hall at 9th Avenue and Macleod Trail S.E. They will march there carrying union banners from the Westin Hotel at 320 4th Ave. S.W., where they are attending the biennial AFL convention. The ceremony is part of the International Day of Mourning to remember those killed and injured on the job.

“These new fatality figures make a mockery of last year’s claim by Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk that the province was making ‘good progress’ in reducing workplace injuries and accidents,” says McGowan.

While the province has taken small steps, including a limited increase in the number of safety inspectors, the AFL says much more must be done. The government has still failed to respond to a judge’s two-year-old recommendation to include agricultural workers in healthy and safety legislation after an inquiry into the death of Kevan Chandler. It has failed to fully respond to the shocking gaps in health and safety enforcement revealed by the Auditor General last year.

The AFL has repeatedly called for simple action to improve workplace safety, including posting the full safety records of employers online, rather than the meaningless statistics now provided; increasing the province’s dismal record for prosecuting employers whose unsafe worksites cause injury and death (the prosecution rate for workplace fatalities is 2.8 per cent); giving inspectors the power to issue tickets for violations during inspections; and introducing mandatory worksite health-and-safety committees that include workers.

McGowan noted that, in 2010, up to 49 Alberta workers died from being exposed to asbestos. “Only a few days ago, Stephen Harper was campaigning on expanding asbestos exports to nations with lower workplace standards than Canada, while scores of his fellow citizens have died or are dying because of exposure to this hazardous substance,” says McGowan.

Contact:               Gil McGowan, president, Alberta Federation of Labour @ 780-218-9888

Terry Inigo-Jones, AFL Communications Officer, 780-910-1137

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