Employment safety standards in Canada are being called into question in the aftermath of a tragic workplace accident. Chris Lawrence — a 15 year old who was two days away from his 16th birthday — died when he was caught in a conveyor belt owned by the gravel crushing company the minor worked for.
Work has been halted at the site while Occupational Health and Safety investigate the incident. Alberta’s Employment Standards branch is also conducting its own investigation to determine whether Arjon Construction, the company that employed Lawrence, was complying with existing labor laws. According to Lauren Welsh, an OHS spokesperson, the investigation was made “given the young age of the worker.”
In Alberta, people between the ages of 15 and 17, who are classified as “young workers,” can legally work any top of job — even something as dangerous as gravel crushing. The only exceptions between young workers and adult workers is that the former must be in the continuous presence of an adult, and needs the written permission of a parent or a guardian to work between midnight and 6 AM.
It’s for reasons like these that the Alberta Federation of Labour’s Siobhan Vipond says that the province’s labor laws are “among the worst in Canada.”
A spokesperson with the federation says that the government will only come out to inspect a work site if someone calls in about something that may be questionable or unsafe. This is particularly troubling for young workers, like Lawrence, who may be reluctant to come forward because they fear losing their jobs.
Now, the Alberta Federation of Labour is calling for tougher rules, citing the death of Lawrence as case in point.
“What we’re asking is that regulations be put in — some training opportunities for the employer so they know how to deal with young workers on their site,” said Vipond. “And we’re asking for targeted inspections, especially on work sites where we have 15 to 17-year-olds.”