Recent deaths raise question of workplace safety: Complaints to province have 'fallen upon deaf ears,' victim's wife says

EDMONTON - Not even two years after Lorna Chandler's husband was crushed in a grain silo at a feedlot near High River, one of his employers also died in a silo-related workplace accident.

Chandler feels sure her 35-year-old husband, Kevan, would have survived if there had been a rope and a way to secure the harness that was on site. Her husband's boss was also unsecured when he fell to his death from the top of a silo last Tuesday, she said.

"If he had a rope and harness, too, I'm quite sure he'd be alive," Chandler said Monday, following an annual ceremony at City Hall honouring lost and injured workers.

Chandler is frustrated because no one in the provincial government seems to be doing anything to stop these easily preventable deaths.

"What I'm trying to say has fallen upon deaf ears."

Last year, 154 Albertans died in workplace accidents, making it the worst year for fatalities since 1982. In addition, more than 175,000 people were injured while working.

It's time to connect the tragedy of workplace deaths with the causes, Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, said at the ceremony. Weak safety laws and lax enforcement send a message that the government doesn't take worker safety seriously, he said. "A worker is injured every three minutes every day in Alberta. We all know Albertans like to be number one. We're number one in investment. We're number one in growth. We're also number one in workplace deaths."

Simple guardrails costing as little as $30 could have saved the life of his grandson, said Leonard Brennan. But no one was doing the inspections required to find the "ongoing death trap" at his grandson's worksite.

Jahryn Kozak, 20, was killed Dec. 13, 2004, while working for Fitzgerald Construction. He became entangled in an unguarded tail pulley while cleaning excess gravel from the ground under a rock crusher. He was pronounced dead at the worksite.

Brennan noted that the company got a charitable donation receipt for almost all of the $300,000 it was ordered to pay as punishment because it went towards the Alberta Workers' Health Centre, a non-profit society which assists workers to improve workplace health and safety. Though he praised the work done by the centre, Brennan found it disturbing that the company would benefit in any fashion from what was supposed to be punishment. "I felt like throwing up when I heard that," he said.

Meanwhile, the Alberta NDP slammed the government for refusing to place limits on working alone in a worksite.

Employment critic Rachel Notley released a government official's e-mail from last week that nixed a proposal to let the employment minister ban working alone on certain unsafe sites.

A working group of industry, government and labour officials asked for the move.

Kenn Hample, provincial safety specialist co-ordinator, rejected that idea outright, saying in the e-mail that the province doesn't want to be "interjecting a government decision into the operation of a worksite," when the government prefers companies practice "internal responsibility" for their actions.

Notley called the proposal "hesitant first steps" that would have modestly improved worker safety in Alberta.

Edmonton Journal, Tues Apr 29 2008
Byline: Hanneke Brooymans and Jason Markusoff

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