The Alberta government released a set of Web-only safety ads today aimed at young workers. The ads are graphic and gory and attempt to highlight dangers common in youth workplaces. But after reviewing the ads, the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) said in a recent press statement that they are a tragic missed opportunity.

“Edgy ads aimed at youth is a good idea, one long overdue,” says AFL President Gil McGowan. “However, Alberta has botched the concept by narrowing the message too much. The core message of the six ads is that young workers shouldn't be ‘stupid’, and that is the wrong message.”

McGowan points out that in the ads, the young worker does something stupid to cause the accident. In four of the ads, there is no hint of employers’ or others’ errors leading to the accident — it is just poor decisions by the worker. The other two imply other co-workers were equally to blame. None of the ads look at employer actions or systemic shortcomings in the workplace, which are the things more likely to cause accidents.

“Accidents are not caused by one action. Injuries are caused by a series of poor decisions by both the employer and worker. Lack of training, rushed pace of work, and cutting safety corners lead to injuries — a point completely missed by these ads,” says McGowan.

McGowan contrasts the Alberta ads to Ontario’s attempt to reach out to young workers. The Ontario Web site,, also offers graphic ads of workplace accidents. Ads also have been distributed via e-mails as a viral campaign. However, the Ontario ads try to highlight how employer decisions AND worker decisions combined to cause the accident. In one Ontario ad distributed by e-mail (available from the AFL on request), a dead electrical worker rises from his coffin to proclaim, “Accident? What are you talking about? Your company never fully trained me to work on high voltage wires.” The corpse also regrets not using his safety equipment.

“The Ontario campaign is much more effective because it tries to convey a full message about how to prevent accidents. Alberta should have adopted their approach,” says McGowan.

McGowan says the ads and accompanying Web site should be telling young workers what their rights are. “This government is allergic to telling workers they have rights.”

The Web site offers questions workers should ask their employer and some tips for how to prevent the accidents depicted in the ads, but nothing about what a worker can actively do to prevent it happening to them. “The Web site fails to offer the tools young workers need to stay safe.”

“Gore and blood might be appropriate to shock us just before Halloween, but it is not enough to make sure our young workers make it home safely. The government has failed young workers yet again,” McGowan concludes.