03/08/2014 08:33 EST | Updated 05/08/2014 05:59 EDT

Workplace safety infractions drop at Alberta ski hills, report says

EDMONTON - Working at Alberta ski hills appears to be getting safer, according to a report by the province's labour department.

Occupational Health and Safety officers targeted the 28 employers who operate Alberta ski hills in an inspection campaign that ran from the pre-season in October, through the peak season at the end of January.

The results of the inspection showed a 59 per cent drop in the number of infractions from a similar inspection campaign during the previous ski season.

The inspections focused on industry hazards, worker training, supervision and equipment maintenance.

Ski hills were targeted for the inspections because the labour department says workers there have suffered a higher rate of disabling injuries over the last number of years.

According to the report, the industry traditionally employs a transient workforce with a high percentage of temporary foreign and young workers.

"Albertans love to work and play at our amazing ski resorts and it's encouraging to see operators make this kind of progress," Labour Minister Thomas Lukaszuk said in a news release about the decline in safety infractions.

"Ski hill operators have set the bar high when it comes to health and safety, and employers in other high risk industries should take notice. We're coming to visit them next."

The inspectors didn't issue any stop-work orders at the ski hills either this season or last season. One stop-use order was made this year, the report noted, which related to worker noise exposure.

On Aug. 31, 2004, Jan-Karl Stunt, 25, of Manotick, Ont., died after being severely injured while working on a chair lift at Sunshine Village near Banff in August 2004. He was riding on a work platform that was being transported by a ski lift when a raised set of stairs struck the lift terminal, and Stunt was hit in the head by both a piece of broken stair and the terminal itself.

Earlier this month, three resort workers and a guest were injured at the Crystal Mountain ski resort near Kelowna, B.C. when one empty chair began to swing, hit a support tower and derailed the cable — dropping several loaded chairs more than six metres to the snow.

The Alberta government said that after last season's inspections, provincial officials met with bosses at the ski hills to stress the importance of strong health and safety programs. In addition to the social importance, the province said the officials also noted that safety also brought economic benefits.

Provincial workplace health and safety officials also spoke at the Canadian Western Ski Association Alberta annual conference last spring.

A joint inspection of chair lifts at ski resort operations will be conducted in the summer of 2014, the department said.

The report said the number of follow-up visits to ski hills could rise over the next number of weeks as inspectors return to ensure that problems discovered during their original visits have been addressed.

Barrie Harrison, a spokesman with the labour department, said a decision on whether to target ski hills for a third year of inspections hasn't been made yet.

The department says the next targeted inspection campaign for 2014 will focus on residential construction, framing and roofing.