Safety blitz focuses on young workers

Alberta's employment minister says safety inspectors are fanning out across the province for a month-long safety sweep focused on inexperienced employees and the places they work.

Speaking at Bumpy's Cafe in the Beltline on Wednesday, Thomas Lukaszuk said he was issuing a "fair and public notice" to employers and workers to make sure proper training and equipment are in place.

"At the end of the day, this is not a game of hide-and-seek," he said. "We want you to be safe not because of the risk you may be caught, but because of the risk that this is your employee, this is somebody's kid, somebody's husband or wife that can potentially be killed on the job."

From 2006 to 2010, Alberta workers aged 15 to 24 accounted for 27,166 lost-time claims -or roughly 18 per cent provincewide, according to ministry statistics.

During the same time, 37 young workers died.

Employers and workers are each responsible for making the workplace safe, Lukaszuk said.

The targeted inspection is the third safety blitz launched by the government following recent criticism of workplace safety in Alberta.

Results from two previous sweeps -looking at construction sites and forklift safety -have proved disappointing, according to the minister.

Lukaszuk said he was unhappy with the dozens of infractions encountered, noting that the industries were forewarned about the inspections.

However, the minister said he still believes focused inspections are the right way to help change workplace safety culture in Alberta.

Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan called Lukaszuk "the minister of workplace blitzes" and said the short-term inspections only partially address safety concerns.

Alberta must step up its enforcement, including ongoing random inspections, heavier fines and more aggressive prosecution of safety infractions, McGowan said.

"Blitzes breed complacency. Once they're over, employers breathe a sigh of relief and think they can go back to their bad habits."

Diana Doublet, 19, started working at Bumpy's about two weeks ago, when she came home to Calgary on summer break from university in Victoria.

Food preparation at the bustling cafe has been a major change of pace from her previous summer job at a library. The teenager said even in the middle of cafe chaos during peak traffic hours, keeping safe is a priority and often comes down to common sense.

Bumpy's owner John Evans said the average age of staff at the popular cafe is about 23.

In addition to regular training, managers ensure younger staff are only given tasks they're capable of performing as they learn the ropes, said Evans. "We sort of move them up as they're ready to move up."

Renovations just wrapped up at the location. Improvements focused on making the 1,100-square-foot cafe more efficient for staff, Evans said.

"We try to make sure we take care of our staff as much as possible."

Calgary Herald, Fri May 5 2011
Byline: Jamie Komarnicki

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.