Residential building sites getting blitzed by inspectors

The current safety blitz under way by Alberta Occupational Health and Safety is a good step in making construction sites safer, but the province's largest labour organization says a one-off isn't enough.

On Monday, Employment Minister Thomas Lukaszuk announced his ministry is increasing inspections of single and multi-family construction projects in Alberta, the third of three planned focused inspections for 2011.

"Throughout the province, we're beginning to see an increase in new home construction. We need to ensure safety on these job sites is a priority," said Lukaszuk. "I've said all year long that increased attention on residential construction projects was on my to-do list. Today's the day."

Given that OH&S has an office in Fort McMurray, ministry spokesman Barrie Harrison confirmed Wood Buffalo construction sites will "without question" be included in the provincewide campaign.

Last year, nearly 1,700 inspections of Alberta's residential construction sector resulted in 1,000 orders being issued. According to an OH&S statement, a lack of proper fall protection topped the list of infractions, followed by issues with hazard assessments, safeguards, and clear entrances, walkways and stairways.

Once the focused inspections and re-inspections are complete and the results are tabulated, the findings will be shared with Albertans. These will include the number of sites visited, the total number of inspections, and the number and types of orders issued, said the statement.

"Several officers will be wholly dedicated to this campaign for at least the next month," said Lukaszuk. "My message to Alberta's home builders and their contractors is that we are on our way."

However, the blitz of residential construction sites by inspectors is a welcome step in making worksites safer, but the Alberta Federation of Labour says this short, one-off campaign is not the solution to safety woes.

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

They will make an effort to clean up their acts and follow OH&S 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.

"What is really needed to encourage permanent change in worksite practices are regular and random inspections that come without warning," he said.

"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."

The AFL has released a 10-point plan to improve safety with these and other recommendations including more prosecutions of problem employers, protection for workers who blow the whistle on unsafe practices, the posting of all safety records and violations online and mandatory joint worker-employer safety committees.

"This is not rocket science, nor is it revolutionary," said McGowan. "Most of these policies are already in place in other provinces. Alberta workers deserve at least the same level of protection."

He quipped Lukaszuk has become the minister of blitzes, having already announced focused inspections this year on commercial construction sites, young workers and forklift operators. Each time, despite employers being warned in advance, the inspectors uncover lots of problems.

Just imagine what the inspectors would find if their visits weren't broadcast in advance, offered McGowan.

"The AFL has been offering the same simple advice on how to save lives and prevent injuries for many years. It is disappointing that the minister says this issue is a priority, but lacks the will to take real action to protect workers," he said.

"It seems he prefers to play politics and create a false impression for the media that something is being done."

Fort McMurray Today, Wed Sept 14 2011
Byline: Carol Christian

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