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Workplace deaths spiking, study finds

Average of five people die each work day

From Tuesday's Globe and Mail

The number of work-related fatalities is Canada is rising sharply, revealing a dark side to the boom in the oil fields, mining and the construction sector.

It also reflects a steady increase in the number of workers dying from long-ago exposure to dangerous products such as asbestos, according to a report being released today by the Centre for the Study of Living Standards.

In 2005, the number of workplace fatalities totalled 1,097, an average of five every working day, said Andrew Sharpe, executive director of the CSLS.

"The numbers and rates of workplace fatalities are troubling," he said. "Other countries are making progress in this area but we're not."

In fact, only four other countries have higher rates of workplace fatalities than Canada -- South Korea, Mexico, Portugal and Turkey.

Dr. Sharpe cautioned, however, that the lack of standardized measurements makes direct comparison between countries difficult. What is more important, he said, is the trend.

"In almost all other industrial countries, workplace fatalities are going down, but not in Canada."

He said one explanation is that Canada's "goods-producing sector" is booming, and it represents a much larger percentage of the economy than in most countries.

In fact, the industries where workers have the greatest risk of dying on the job are those that typify Canada's image: fishing, mining, forestry and construction.

Canadian workers are also paying the price for the widespread use of asbestos and its continued mining and export. Almost two-thirds of occupational exposure deaths were related to asbestos.

The 119-page report, titled Five Deaths a Day, shows the number of work-related deaths has risen 45 per cent, to 1,097 last year from 758 in 2003.

Of the 1,097 deaths, 491 were due to on-the-job accidents, 557 related to diseases related to occupational hazards and 49 weren't classified. The statistics are drawn from provincial workers' compensation boards and include only deaths for which there was a claim.

The report includes an extensive list of examples of workplace deaths, such as: a ski guide caught in an avalanche; a worker who died of bladder cancer as a result of exposure to chemicals in a smelter; a construction worker electrocuted when aluminum gutters he was installing on a home touched electrical wires; an auto mechanic who died of mesothelioma (a rare form of lung or abdominal cancer) after years of exposure to asbestos in brake pads; and a driver whose truck overturned, crushing him under the load.

The report shows that for every death, there are 390 serious injuries. While the number of injuries has fallen sharply, the number of deaths continues to rise. "I don't really have an explanation for that," Mr. Sharpe said.

Over all, the work-related fatality rate is 6.8 deaths per 100,000 workers in Canada, but there are significant provincial variations, ranging from a high of 11.7 per 100,000 in Newfoundland and Labrador to a low of 1.5 per 100,000 in Prince Edward Island.

Men are 30 times more likely to die of work-related causes than women, according to the report. Older workers are also far more likely than young ones to die from work-related causes.

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