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Workplace deaths on pace for a grim record

Alberta could soon see a record high in the number of people killed on the job.

Workplace fatalities have shot up 18 per cent from this time last year.

The province saw 104 people die in the first half of the year, and that number could surpass 200 by the end of 2013.

Of the deaths, 54 were from occupational-related disease, 22 were killed in a motor vehicle and 28 of them were workplace incidents.

The construction industry had the largest number of fatalities last year, followed by the transportation, communications and utilities sectors.

Last year, Alberta saw 145 deaths for all of 2012; the highest number of workplace fatalities in recent memory happened in 1982, when there were 169.

Occupational Health and Safety Spokesman Brookes Merritt attributes a lot of it to upswings in the population.

“As the population of Alberta grows, we’re going to see – we do see – increased numbers for all of kinds of unfortunate statistics; including people killed on job sites,” he tells The Calgary Herald.

Another reason for this year’s upswing may be that the amount of disease accepted by the Workers’ Compensation Board has soared.

Alberta Liberal Human Services Critic and Calgary Mountainview MLA, Dr. David Swann, says he needs more answers.

“An increase of 20 per cent needs to be investigated and if there are new risks and old risks that aren’t being addressed, then they need to be,” he tells 660News.

“We can’t accept this as a norm,” he says. “Albertans expect and want in all conscience … the best and safest workplaces in the country and we’re not getting it.”

Swann plans to ask Human Services Minister Dave Hancock for an investigation.

Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan calls the numbers disturbing and adds something needs to be done to address this ‘carnage.’

McGowan doesn’t buy the reasoning that a lot of it has to do with population.

“We have fewer inspectors than anywhere else in the country and we have a provincial government that doesn’t put its money where its mouth is when it comes to prosecution,” he explains.

According to the labour leader, employers in the province are almost never prosecuted unless it involves a horrific fatality.

He says the lion’s share of what needs to be done lies with corporations, but adds don’t expect much unless the province aggressively enforces the rules.

“What I’d like to see first and foremost is the provincial government step up and actually put its money where its mouth is,” he says. “Put more inspection officers on the ground and give them more tools to use.”

McGowan says he’d like to see an inspector be able to shut down a site if it’s deemed unsafe.

OHS is planning on introducing a new system of safety fines for both employers and workers.

It includes a $500 ticket for those caught on a work site without a hard hat, and penalties upwards of $10,000 for those businesses that repeatedly ignore regulations.