Canadian study confirms the union “safety dividend”

The shocking extent and causes of workplace injury under-reporting have been exposed by a Canadian study that also reveals how unions protect workers both from unsafe workplaces and a government keen to downplay the risks.

The province of Alberta is under-counting workplace injuries by a factor of 10, according to Athabasca University’s Professor Bob Barnetson, who also identified a significant union “safety dividend”.

The Parkland Institute researcher calculates that while the Alberta government only talks about injuries that resulted in lost or modified work – some 53,000 in 2009 – the real total is around 500,000, with over 446,000 going uncounted. “The reason for the discrepancy,” said Barnetson, “is that the only injuries the government discusses in public are the disabling injury claims. By not reporting on those injuries which do not result in lost or modified work, they are under representing the true rate of injury by a factor of ten.”

He said what truly makes a difference in reducing injury rates is direct worker participation in occupational health and safety efforts. He concluded this is one of the reasons that unionisation provides workers with a “significant safety dividend”, especially in Alberta, the only jurisdiction in Canada where joint worker-employer health and safety committees (JHSCs) are not mandatory for any size of workplace.

Other union-related factors include better safety education and representation, more power to refuse dangerous work and union lobbying power. “We are not trying to imply that unionisation is the only way to improve workplace safety,” said Barnetson, “but the data certainly shows that unions provide a significant safety dividend that benefits all Alberta workers.”


Parkland Institute news release, statement and executive summary

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