A recent spate of construction workplace deaths in Alberta, Canada has prompted strong backlash from both industry members and the public.
Five workers have died over the past week. The news of the high death toll comes after a series of highway construction deaths across North America, sparking doubt over safety standards as they pertain to increased industry activities.
The first of the five incidents involved the death of a 56-year-old man who was standing on scaffolding that rolled into a 1.2 metre hole. The man was taken to hospital last Monday, but died that Thursday.
Later last week, another worker was pinned between a forklift and shed on Wednesday, with the victim later dying in hospital. A third worker was killed on Thursday after falling inside a chimney stack. That same day, a 19-year-old man was pronounced dead after being crushed by a ramp. A fifth fatality involved the death of a 29-year-old man, who was also crushed by a heavy piece of machinery on the Friday.
The succession of deaths has shocked and devastated all involved.
According to Occupational Health and Safety spokesperson Brookes Merritt, the incidents amounted to ‘a very tragic coincidence’.
“Any time we see a fatality at the workplace it’s tragic,” he says. “Investigating this number of fatalities in such a short period of time is equally tragic, if not more so.”
Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan, however, disagrees that the rapid-fire nature of the deaths could be written off as coincidence. McGowan says the unprecedented death toll is a sign of much-needed industry OH&S improvements, labelling the fatalities a ‘red waving flag’ for leadership safety inquiries.
“Five fatalities in a week, even in a face-paced economy like this, is almost unprecedented, and certainly unacceptable,” says McGowan. “It demonstrates there is still a lot of work to be done.”
As it stands, a series of investigations are now underway. According to Merritt, the recent accidents are a major launching pad for occupational health and safety education that seeks to deter incidents such as these happening in the future.
“Our Occupational Health and Safety investigators are determined to investigate each incident rigorously and ensure that the results of this investigations help us learn how to prevent similar incidents in the future,” says Merritt. “The department is continuously looking at how best to use its resources to achieve its ultimate goal — to have no workplace injuries or fatalities in the province.”