Alberta workplace fatalities close to record numbers in 2013, led by a near doubling of fatalities caused by occupational disease

Workplace fatalities close to record numbers in 2013 by Darcy Henton, February 11, 2014, Calgary Herald
Alberta workplace deaths increased dramatically in 2013 to a near-record provincial high of 188, led by a near doubling of fatalities caused by occupational disease.

Statistics quietly released on the Alberta Human Services website show 99 workers perished in 2013 of work-related diseases like black lung, asbestosis and mesothelioma incurred decades ago — near double the 58 similar deaths reported in 2012.

The WCB said Tuesday there is no official explanation for the spike in disease deaths. “It is not as a result of a new occupational disease or that we’ve changed anything we’re accepting,” said WCB spokeswoman Dayna Therien.

But Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan said he believes the real numbers are significantly higher than those reported and called for a public inquiry to investigate the cause and prevention of workplace fatalities.

“The numbers are up, but we do believe it’s just the tip of the iceberg,” he said Tuesday. “We think that occupational cancers are still dramatically under-reported.”

An inquiry is necessary to determine the true scope of workplace exposure to carcinogens and to find ways to minimize exposure to them, McGowan said.

A 2010 Alberta Health Services study suggested more than 760 workplace cancers are developed in the province each year and there are about 2,700 Albertans currently living with cancer related to their jobs, he noted.

NDP critic Rachel Notley echoed concerns about the under-reporting of workplace diseases and blamed the situation on the government. “We absolutely don’t have enough laws and regulations around workers education for them to even make the connection to a disease that is related to their workplace,” she said.

Human Services spokeswoman Lisa Glover said the spike in the reporting of workplace disease deaths could be as a result of work the government has undertaken to improve awareness of the issue in the medical community. “Fatalities in the past that may not have been reported to WCB now are,” she said. “A large part of it is our work with the health practitioners to report it.”

Glover said government is working with industry to identify [or cover up?] new hazards to ensure there won’t be an increase in fatalities in the future.

The number of workplace accident fatalities in 2013 was up slightly to 52 in 2013 from 51 reported the previous year. The number of job-related motor vehicle accidents deaths also climbed marginally to 37 in 2013 from 36 in 2012. [Emphasis added]

Year Fatalities

2001 — 118

2002 — 101

2003 — 127

2004 –124

2005 — 143

2006 — 124

2007 — 154

2008 –164

2009 –110

2010 –136

2011 –123

2012 –145

2013 –188

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