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City union raises safety alarm

Mike W. Bryant
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Mar 22/06) - The union representing city staff says the fire hall isn't the only department with serious safety problems.

Although he declined to offer many specific examples, Norm Smith, president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada local representing city employees, said the fire department is just the "tip of the iceberg."

NNSL Photo/graphic

Norm Smith works for the public works department. He was seen here patching potholes in downtown Yellowknife. He says the city lacks safety procedures for employees. - NNSL file photo

The fire department has come under intense scrutiny after its chief and deputy were charged earlier this month for failing to ensure safe work practices and proper training for firefighters.

Year-long investigation

The charges were laid following a year-long investigation by the Worker's Compensation Board into the deaths of firefighters Lieut. Cyril Fyfe and Kevin Olson, killed on the job last year.

The WCB also handed the city 12 safety orders to be completed within the next five months.

"In the end, we want all our members to come home at night," said Smith.

"We don't want anything tragic to happen."

He said staff are often inadequately trained on safety procedures when they take on a job at the city, and safety manuals are nowhere to be found.

The problem extends all the way from work sites for public works crews to the Multiplex, Smith said.

The 130-member union wants the WCB to conduct a safety audit of the city. They also want City Hall to hire a full-time safety officer to ensure proper rules and procedures are in place.

Smith said management have continued to ignore complaints raised by staff members.

He denied that the union's complaint about lax safety rules at City Hall was an attempt to take advantage of the controversy surrounding the WCB charges against the city and fire hall management.

"I think the (charges) have opened their eyes," said Smith. "We've been pushing for safety because of concerns of our members."

Mayor Gord Van Tighem was quick to jump on the union's accusation that City Hall is unsafe, saying that management themselves invited the WCB to conduct an inspection about two months ago.

He said Smith, as co-chair of the city's occupational health and safety committee, had the opportunity to bring forward concerns there, but hasn't.

"It was a little bit of a surprise to the city that he would make that claim," said Van Tighem.

He said an annual survey put out to city staff typically finds that 88 to 98 per cent are satisfied with the city's efforts to promote health and safety.

Nonetheless, Van Tighem said he asked city administrators to "follow-up" on the union's concerns.

Dave Grundy, the WCB's communications manager, meanwhile, said he wasn't sure if an investigation of City Hall has begun, or whether the WCB plans on taking the city up on its invite.