Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Interactive safety statistic data

Jason Foster and I have been looking at media representations of occupational injury. Coverage tends to be episodic and framed such that injuries and fatalities are viewed as “freak accidents” for which no one is responsible and about which nothing can be done.

An interesting project I heard about this week out of the US dynamically and visually tracks fatalities in the construction industry. This presentation of injury data allows instructors, operators and apprentices to see and read about fatalities in their own city or region.

It also visually demonstrates that fatalities are not rare or isolated events, but are part of a pattern, with startlingly high numbers. This particular project combines several data sources to generate its map. The screen cap on the top right doesn't really convey how dynamic the map is (it allows zooming, each pin can be clicked for detailed information and there are maps for each year).

This kind of approach might be a way for governments to better present information around injuries and get around the filtering and framing that occurs when relying upon media reports to convey injury information.

-- Bob Barnetson

Friday, February 5, 2016

Labour & Pop Culture: Money's Too Tight to Mention

This week’s installment of Labour & Pop Culture is Simply Red’s “Money’s Too Tight to Mention”. This song was a hit in about 1985 (I think) during the height of Reaganonmics with its ridiculous trickle-down theory. I was thinking about the song the other day when reading about various debunked economic theories that just won’t die.

The Phillips Curve is one such notion. It basically asserts that there is an inverse relationship between unemployment and wages and, thus, prices (i.e., inflation): when unemployment goes up, wages and prices come down and vice versa. This (now debunked) theory suggests that governments can shape (and limit) inflation by controlling unemployment.

Newspaper reporters often use (however unconsciously) this theory when reporting upon unionized wage settlements. In effect, they link wage increases to inflation (even though there is a large body of literature suggesting price increases drive wage increases) and, subsequently, job losses. The result of this frame is that unions are seen in a negative light.

I been laid off from work
My rent is due
My kids all need
Brand new shoes

So I went to the bank
To see what they could do
They said son - looks like bad luck
Got-a hold on you

Money's too tight to mention
I can't get an un-em-ploy-ment ex-ten-sion
Money's too tight to mention

I went to my brother
To see what he could do -
He said bro-ther like to help you
But I'm unable to

So I called on my fa-ther fa-ther
Oh my fa-ther
He said

I can't even qual-i-fy for my pension

We talk a-bout rea-gan-on-ics
Oh lord down in the con-gress
They're passing all kinds - of bills
From down cap-it-ol hill - (we've tried them)


Money's too tight to mention
[spoken] cut-back!
Mo-ney mo-ney mo-ney mon-ey
We're talk-in' a-bout mon-ey mon-ey
We're talk-in' a-bout mon-ey mon-ey
We're talk-in' 'bout the dollar bill
Now what are we all to do
When the mon-ey's got a hold on you?

Mo-ney's too tight to mention
Oh mon-ey mon-ey mon-ey mon-ey
Mo-ney's too tight to mention
A-mero - mon-ey oh yeah

We're talk-in' a-bout mon-ey mon-ey
We're talk-in' a-bout mon-ey mon-ey
We're talk-in' a-bout mon-ey mon-ey
We're talk-in' a-bout mon-ey 

-- Bob Barnetson

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Sexual harassment in emergency services

Sexual harassment remains an endemic issue. Recently there have been a spate of stories about sexual harassment of female firefighters. About 600 of Canada’s 22,000 firefighters are women. You can see an interesting documentary from the fifth estate below.

This month, half of the volunteer fire department in Spaniards Bay, NL resigned amid allegations of sexual harassment. The town’s lone female firefighter (who also happens to be the most qualified firefighter...) alleged that a long-term pattern of sexual harassment. For example, an instructor concluded a fire training session by showing hard-core pornography.

As is often the case in sexual harassment, the alleged perpetrators have closed ranks and the victim has been subjected to abuse, both in the workplace and in the community. This includes an attempt to remove the victim from her seat on the town council. The town eventually apologized and is now rebuilding its fire department by seeking new volunteers.

The most preceptive commentary on the issue is from vice.com.
Spaniard's Bay is a small, close-knit community. It is not surprising that many people resent Brenda Seymour for disrupting its idyllic atmosphere by alleging that many of its firefighters are complicit in sexual harassment. Volunteer firefighting is a genuinely noble calling and no one wants to believe that the people they love could do anything heinous. 
This might explain why an act of courage—a lone woman speaking out against powerful figures in a small town—appears to others in the community as a deceitful act of cowardice. She must be a liar or a "conniving witch," because these "fine young men with nice families" would never do anything wrong. No one wants to believe that the people they love can do bad things, however unwittingly. This is the mechanism by which sexism is reproduced. 
There are two sides to every story. So which side is more plausible? 
That a bossy shrew is conspiring to single-handedly bring down the Spaniard's Bay fire department and its beloved chief out of spite? Or, that an ambitious, assertive woman ran afoul of a well-documented culture of pervasive and casual sexism in a fire department that operated more like a frat house? 
"Please do not post any more statuses, opinions, etc," [Kate] Davis [daughter of assistant firechief Randy Davis] posted to the Facebook support group after the rally. "Our men have this under control now!" 
Yes, they do. And in Spaniard's Bay, they always have.
-- Bob Barnetson

Friday, January 29, 2016

Labour & Pop Culture: 40 Hour Week

This week’s installment of Labour & Pop Culture is Alabama’s “40 Hour Week”. This is a pretty facile tune that valourizes various occupations. What’s interesting about this song is, in labour relations terms, the ins and the outs. Basically who counts as a worthy worker in this song?

The song mentions autoworkers, steel mill workers, construction workers, cashiers, firefighters, postal carriers, farmers, coal miners, truck drivers, warehouse workers, waitresses, mechanics, and police officers.

Run through the list and look for the women (or, more accurately, occupations traditionally associated with female employment). I see cashiers and waitresses. While this may say more about my male-and-pale biases than those of Alabama, but what I see in the song is that workers—especially workers whose efforts receive praise—are mostly men in mostly blue collar jobs. 

Fair enough--that is likely who buys Alabama records! But there is school of thought that suggests that entertainment (e.g., songs and television shows) has a greater ability to influence our beliefs and values than news programming and other factual presentations because what we see and hear in entertainment tends to be integrated into our thoughts less consciously and thus triggers little conscious refutation.

Think about the TV show Friends. Chandler’s dad (Charles Bing) is a gay drag queen. Chandler is profoundly uncomfortable with this and there are lots of fairly mean jokes about his sexuality. This clearly homophobic behaviour totally got a pass in the 1990s and early 2000s because it was styled as entertainment. Would the same ideas presented as an argument have skated by as easily? Probably not.

There are people in this country
Who work hard every day
Not for fame or fortune do they strive
But the fruits of their labor
Are worth more than their pay
And it's time a few of them were recognized.

Hello Detroit auto workers,
Let me thank you for your time
You work a forty hour week for a livin',
Just to send it on down the line
Hello Pittsburgh steel mill workers,
Let me thank you for your time
You work a forty hour week for a livin',
Just to send it on down the line.

This is for the one who swings the hammer,
Driving home the nail
Or the one behind the counter,
Ringing up the sale
Or the one who fights the fires,
The one who brings the mail
For everyone who works behind the scenes.

You can see them every morning
In the factories and the fields
In the city streets and the quiet country towns
Working together like spokes inside a wheel
They keep this country turning around.

Hello Kansas wheat field farmer,
Let me thank you for your time
You work a forty hour week for a livin',
Just to send it on down the line
Hello West Virginia coal miner,
Let me thank you for your time
You work a forty hour week for a livin',
Just to send it on down the line.

This is for the one who drives the big rig,
Up and down the road
Or the one out in the warehouse,
Bringing in the load
Or the waitress, the mechanic,
The policeman on patrol
For everyone who works behind the scenes.

With a spirit you can't replace with no machine
Hello America, let me thank you for your time...

-- Bob Barnetson

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

CP Rail dinged for worker fatigue

A student flagged this article for me about CP Rail getting dinged by federal safety regulators for work systems that result in worker fatigue. Basically scheduling issues means workers often can’t predict their work schedule (and thus adjust their sleeping scheduling) so often arrive at work fatigued. This creates imminent danger, says the Transport Canada Report.

As Jason Foster and I note in our forthcoming OHS textbook, fatigue is a legitimate health and safety concern because workers who are experiencing fatigue are more likely to be involved in workplace incidents. Research has shown that fatigue can impair judgment in a manner similar to alcohol. WorkSafeBC reports the following effects: 
  • 17 hours awake is equivalent to a blood alcohol content of 0.05 (legal limit in B.C. and Alberta) 
  • 21 hours awake is equivalent to a blood alcohol content of 0.08 (legal limit in Canada) 
  • 24-25 hours awake is equivalent to a blood alcohol content of 0.10
Most cases of fatigue are resolved through adequate sleep. The average person requires 7.5 to 8.5 hours of sleep a night (remember, this is an average – some require more, some less). While an employer cannot control how well a worker sleeps, they can adjust the workplace to militate against fatigue.

Shift scheduling is one of the most important administrative controls of fatigue: employers can ensure shifts are not too long and too close together as well as avoiding dramatic shift rotations. Employers can also ensure workplace temperatures are not too high, work is interesting and engaging without being too strenuous, and provide adequate opportunities for resting, eating, and sleeping (if necessary).

In the wake of this unprecedented regulatory action, CP has agreed to review shift scheduling but basically blames the workers and the union for it.
In a follow-up statement Monday, CP spokesman Martin Cej said, "Crews are not on call 24/7. Crews have significant and often unutilized opportunities to schedule rest. 
"CP has been taking steps to ensure crew members take more rest, but union collective agreements have been a barrier to change."
This explanation sits uneasily with the working conditions reported by workers:
He said a routine scenario could see him driving a train from his home community to another location between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m. but then having to wait 12 to 24 hours not knowing when he'll be assigned to drive a train back home.

"You get into your away- from-home terminal, say, at 6 a.m. in the morning. Then you go to bed, and you sleep until two o'clock in the afternoon. You get up. You're wondering when you're going to go back to work, And you look on your screen, and it's showing you not out of your away-from-home terminal now until midnight!" he said. 
That means he'll be awake for 10 hours before reporting for his next eight-hour shift, leaving him tired and, at times, nodding off at the train controls. 
"You're fatigued," he said. "You're done. Your brain is mush. You want to go to sleep. You're fighting constantly with your body. Your body is telling you one thing, but you know that on the other hand, you've got to get that train home … 150 miles of track."
One of the most interesting aspects of the CBC story is actually the correction printed at the bottom:
An earlier version of this story said CP was ordered to improve freight train scheduling. In fact, the Transport Canada order requires improvements to train line-ups, which allow employees to estimate when they'll be called to drive a train.
What this shows us is that, despite the imminent danger posed by fatigued crews, the government is only prepared to tell the employer to better communicate when the workers will work (so the workers can adjust their sleep scheduled). The government isn’t prepared to tell the employer to do a better job of scheduling trains to avoid lay overs that are often 20-hours.

This basically dumps the responsibility for being alert back on crews. In the example above, the worker would have be able to sleep (or otherwise rest) for 14- or 16-hours at a crew rest facility. That is better than the current situation (where the worker wouldn't know when to sleep longer), but it only addresses the proximate cause of fatigue (bad communication), not the root cause (bad scheduling).

-- Bob Barnetson

Friday, January 22, 2016

Labour & Pop Culture: Busted

This week’s installment of labour & Pop Culture is Ray Charles’ 1963 hit “Busted” (which was also a hit for Johnny Cash the same year). 

The song is basically about unemployment during a market downturn—something many Albertans can likely relate to:
My bills are all due and the baby needs shoes and I'm busted
Cotton is down to a quarter a pound, but I'm busted
The third verse is the most interesting part of the song:
Well, I am no thief, but a man can go wrong when he's busted
The food that we canned last summer is gone and I'm busted
The fields are all bare and the cotton won't grow,
Me and my family got to pack up and go,
But I'll make a living, just where I don't know cause I'm busted.
This verse hints at two important effects of unemployment: crime and economic migration. Crime rates tend to get less attention in Alberta, but there are some suggestive and gendered effects. Alberta domestic violence, for example, was up 40% in 2015.
Abuse victims say layoffs and job hunting have ratcheted up stress in some homes, according to the domestic violence workers. 
"Whereas before the abuser might have been at work during the day" now they're home, [Andrea Silverstone, co-chair of the Calgary Domestic Violence Collective] said. Women feel more monitored and controlled if the partner stays home, she said, making it harder to leave or call for help.
This pattern seems consistent with that seen during other economic downturns, yet the underlying explanation is contested. A paper that lays out the evidence (mixed) and theories that attempt to example what (if any) connection exists between domestic violence and economic is available here.

My bills are all due and the baby needs shoes and I'm busted
Cotton is down to a quarter a pound, but I'm busted
I got a cow that went dry and a hen that won't lay
A big stack of bills that gets bigger each day
The county's gonna haul my belongings away cause I'm busted.

I went to my brother to ask for a loan cause I was busted
I hate to beg like a dog without his bone, but I'm busted
My brother said there ain't a thing I can do,
My wife and my kids are all down with the flu,
And I was just thinking about calling on you 'cause I'm busted.

Well, I am no thief, but a man can go wrong when he's busted
The food that we canned last summer is gone and I'm busted
The fields are all bare and the cotton won't grow,
Me and my family got to pack up and go,
But I'll make a living, just where I don't know cause I'm busted.

I'm broke, no bread, I mean like nothing, It's over

-- Bob Barnetson

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Manager gets 3.5 years for killing 4, maiming 1

On Christmas Eve 2009, six employees of Metron Construction were repairing balconies at a Toronto high-rise apartment. All the men were newcomers to Canada, hailing from Latvia, Uzbekistan and Ukraine. They were on a swing-stage scaffolding (the type of suspended scaffolding you often see on the outside of tall buildings) working on a 13th floor balcony. 

Their project manager, Vadim Kazenelson, was on the balcony handing them tools. As Shohruh Tojiddinov, one of the workers on the scaffolding, later reported, Kazenelson decided to climb on to the scaffolding. “He said ‘where is the lifeline’ and (the site supervisor Fayzullo) Fazilov said ‘don't worry’. … (Kazenelson) jumped into the stage and the stage broke. … I had this harness and I was sort of hanging in the air. I looked up and I saw Vadim pulling me up. … I saw four deaths and one was still alive. I vomited.” 

As Kazenelson landed on the scaffolding, it split in two. Kazenelson was able to scramble back onto the balcony. The other five men fell to the ground, instantly killing four (Alesandrs Bondarevs, Aleksey Blumberg, Vladamir Korostin and Fazilov). The fifth, Dilshod Marupov, was left permanently disabled. The scaffolding had only two lifelines available for the seven men and Tojiddinov was the only one using the fall protection. The scaffolding had been provided to Metron by Swing N Scaff Inc., a scaffolding supply company.

The investigation that followed the incident revealed the scaffold was faulty and had not been designed or inspected properly by Swing N Scaff. It also found the men, whose knowledge of English was limited, were provided no training about working at heights or using fall protection. There was insufficient fall protection gear available to secure all the men. Following the incident Kazenelson attempted to cover up the incident. He instructed Tojiddinov to say that Kazenelson had been on the ground and gave him a safety manual on fall protection (in English, which Tojiddinov could not read), instructing him to say he had received it before the incident.

The owner of Metron Construction, scaffold supplier Swing N Scaff, and project manager Vadim Kazenelson were all convicted of offenses after the Toronto scaffolding collapse. Metron was fined $750,000 for offences under the Ontario OHS Act. Swing N Scaff was ordered to pay $400,000, also under the OHS Act. In June 2015, Kazenelson was convicted under the Criminal Code for criminal negligence causing death and criminal negligence causing bodily harm. He was sentenced about 10 days ago.
During sentencing on Monday, Judge Ian MacDonnell said he needed to impose a "significant term" on Kazenelson to make it clear to others that they have a "serious obligation" to ensure the safety of workers.  
MacDonnell said Kazenelson "decided it was in the company's interest" to allow men to work in "manifestly dangerous conditions." 
Court heard the work repairing balconies was behind schedule as Christmas Eve approached and that the company, Metron Construction Inc., would get a $50,000 bonus by finishing the project by Dec. 31.
Kazenelson’s sentence for negligence causing four men to die was three and a half years in jail. Successful prosecutions for OHS deaths are rare in Canada (there have been fewer than 10 since the Westray amendments were enacted in 2004). Hopefully this sentence sends a message to other employers considering trading their workers’ health for profit.

-- Bob Barnetson