Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Research: New open access textbook on OHS

Jason Foster and I recently published a new occupational health and safety textbook with AU Press. You can download Health and Safety in Canadian Workplaces for free from the AU Press website. You can also purchase a printed copy of the textbook for $29.95 (versus the $150 you'd pay for a commercial offering).

The book covers all of the usual OHS topics (hazards, legislation, injury prevention, incident investigation) at a university level. It was funded by the Campus Alberta Open Educational Resource (OER) Initiative.

While we'll be incorporating the text into our occupational heath and safety course over the next few months, the OER nature of the book (free digital copies; low cost print copies) means the book should also be a useful resource for workers, employers, unions and not-for-profits.

-- Bob Barnetson

Friday, August 26, 2016

Labour & Pop Culture: Working from Home

This week’s installment of Labour & Pop Culture is “Work from Home” by Fifth Harmony. At one level, this song is a weak (and occasionally vulgar) double entrendre wherein work is a metaphor for getting busy.

Lyrically, this song is boring. And, as a home worker, I assure you, working at home is nothing like this—it is mostly about unloading the dishwasher while trying to pay attention on a conference call.

Visually, though, the video is worth a look. A couple of things stood out for me:

1. Work is blue collar: The “work” featured in the video is construction (maybe they are building a mall or condo complex?). It would be interesting to know why construction work was chosen to represent work (besides the availability of lots of phallic symbols). Is it because the director sees work as quintessentially blue collar and manual?

2. Work is a thing men do: Construction is one of the most gendered occupations going and all of the “real” workers in this video are men. The only women in the video are singing and distracting the “workers”. In this way, the song constructs work as a male activity while women are cast as hyper-sexualized playmates.

3. Work is white: Recognizing that race is a social construct, a quick spin through the video reveals that none of the “workers” are of colour (despite the profound ethnic diversity among the members of Fifth Dimension). The only non-white guy is Ty Dolla $ign who appears to reinforce the “this song is about having sex with women” message.

That the music industry uses and reinforces stereotypes is hardly an earth-shattering revelation. Yet the brazen sexism and racism in the video is striking and likely reinforces the social norms that contribute to minimal female participation in the construction industry and, more broadly, defining women in narrow, sexualized terms.



I ain't worried 'bout nothin'
I ain't wearin' na nada
I'm sittin' pretty, impatient, but I know you gotta
Put in them hours, I'mma make it harder
I'm sending pic after picture, I'mma get you fired

I know you're always on the night shift
But I can't stand these nights alone
And I don't need no explanation
'Cause baby, you're the boss at home

[CHORUS]
You don't gotta go to work, work, work, work, work, work, work
But you gotta put in work, work, work, work, work, work, work
You don't gotta go to work, work, work, work, work, work, work
Let my body do the work, work, work, work, work, work, work, work
We can work from home, oh, oh, oh-oh
We can work from home, oh, oh, oh-oh

Let's put it into motion
I'mma give you a promotion
I'll make it feel like a vacay, turn the bed into an ocean
We don't need nobody, I just need your body
Nothin' but sheets in between us, ain't no getting off early

I know you're always on the night shift
But I can't stand these nights alone
And I don't need no explanation
'Cause baby, you're the boss at home

[CHORUS]

[Ty Dolla $ign:]
Girl, go to work for me
Can you make it clap, no hands for me?
Take it to the ground, pick it up for me
Look back at it all over me
Put in work like my timesheet
She ride it like a '63
I'mma buy her no Celine
Let her ride in a foreign with me
Oh, she the bae, I'm her boo
And she down to break the rules
Ride or die, she gon' go
I won't judge, she finesse
I pipe up, she take that
Putting overtime on your body

[CHORUS]

Yeah, we can work from home
Yeah, we can work from home
Yeah

-- Bob Barnetson

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Reasons employers don't report injuries

A new US study entitled “Employer reasons for failing to report eligible workers’ compensation claims in the BLS survey of occupational injuries and illnesses” (whew) examines why employers don’t report compensable injuries. This is one of the first studies to examine employer reasons for injury non-reporting when the reports were used to populate an injury surveillance database.

Before turning to the results, it is useful to consider the impact the methodology (i.e., asking employers why they didn’t report) may have on the conclusions. Basically, there is a significant risk that employers will respond with socially acceptable explanations (e.g., ignorance) rather than socially unacceptable answers (e.g., evasion of surveillance). In this way, we see how methodology can shape the direction and validity of the conclusions.

Five broad categories of explanations were developed from employer answers:
  1. noncompliance with OSHA recordkeeping rules; 
  2. (noncompliance with SOII reporting instructions; 
  3. the employer did not consider the injury work-related; 
  4. data entry errors; and 
  5. claims with indeterminate SOII eligibility.
Most of these explanations suggest non-reporting is an innocent error (and, indeed, much of it may be). Some respondents noted that they chose not to report injuries that were deemed compensable by the state’s workers’ compensation system. The authors note that some employers may have been uncomfortable discussing willful under-reporting.

-- Bob Barnetson

Friday, August 19, 2016

Labour & Employment: Tom Cat Prowl

This week’s installment of Labour & Pop Culture is “Tom Cat Prowl” by Doug and the Slugs. This video was shot in Vancouver workplaces (often with the barest of permissions) in the late 1980s (note the mullets). I think it was also used in the film Iron Eagle (or Iron Eagle 2)?

Doug and the Slugs have always positioned themselves as a working man’s party band and this song directly speaks to that experience.
I've been punching out a clock since fifteen.
I've been living on a working wage.
Ya keep paying me and I'll keep lifting.
I keep a-lifting 'til the end of the day.
The song contains some rather puerile double entendres (the ‘80s were a lyrically subtle time… of course, nobody was twerking in the videos, either). But, much like last week’s song by Loverboy, Doug’s plan to cope with the difficult jobs he’s doing (watch the video!) is to have a few drinks and try to get lucky. Maybe you could stretch the lyrics to suggest that he’s also looking to find a sugar momma, although I think the case there is kind of sketchy.



Been working like a dog gone crazy,
Been giving everything I've got,
I need something short and sweet to save me.
A little something that can hit the spot.

I've been living like a man in a prison.
I've been living like a monk in a cave.
I need a woman with a good position.
I start searching at the end of the day.

Pack it in and go to town
When the sun goes down.
And do the Tomcat prowl
When the sun goes down.

I've been punching out a clock since fifteen.
I've Been living on a working wage.
Ya keep paying me and I'll keep lifting.
I keep a-lifting 'til the end of the day.

Then pack it in and go to town
When the sun goes down.
Do the Moondog howl
When the sun goes down.
Do the Tomcat prowl
When the sun goes down.

Gotta find a way to ease that pressure.
Gotta find a way to ease that pain.
Gotta find myself some buried treasure.
Gotta find it before the sun comes up again.

It doesn't matter if you're sane or crazy.
It doesn't matter if you're weak or strong.
It doesn't matter if your past is hazy.
It doesn't matter, you can all come along.

Pack it in and go to town
When the sun goes down.
And do the Tomcat prowl when the sun goes down
(down down down - sun goes down)

Pack it in and go to town when the sun goes down
(sun goes down, yeah)
And do the Tomcat prowl when the sun goes down
Do the Moondog Howl when the sun goes down
Oh .. I'm howlin' baby!

-- Bob Barnetson

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Refuse unsafe work and get sacked?

Over the summer, I have been working with two BC workers who allege they got sacked in 2014 after they refused unsafe work. You can read their story here on rabble.ca.

Both men are knowledgable about their safety rights and their employer's obligations to provide safe work. Both flagged problems that were ultimately deemed by WorkSafeBC to be serious safety issues (often multiple times).

Interestingly, in late 2014, both men were laid off, allegedly due to lack of work. The workers contest their layoffs, noting other workers were retained after (or hired shortly before) the workers' lay offs. In effect, the workers are suggesting that their employer used its power to hire and fire (a power used frequently on construction sites) to retaliate against them for exercising their safety rights.

Both men have complained to WorkSafeBC but, more than a year and a half later, neither has had his case heard. In the meantime, they must bear the costs of their unemployment. Not surprisingly, relative few workers ever exercise their right to refuse.

-- Bob Barnetson

Friday, August 12, 2016

Labour & Pop Culture: Friday Night

This week’s installment of Labour & Pop Culture heads back to the classic rock vault to find “Friday Night” by Loverboy. I couldn’t find a video to share, although the link above will take you to an audio recording of the song.

This song valorizes the weekend as a relief from the drudgery of work. Here, as Mike Reno tells it, he’s worked very hard for a jerk in order to afford to ride a motor cycle that allows him to escape the horror of his job:
I've been bidin' my time, listen to the Boss man scream
Workin' forty hours, payin' for this dream machine
What’s interesting is that that even classic rock bar bands intuitively understand Marx’s theory of alienation. Here, I’m going to crib from Wikipedia:
The theoretic basis of alienation, within the capitalist mode of production, is that the worker invariably loses the ability to determine life and destiny, when deprived of the right to think (conceive) of themselves as the director of their own actions; to determine the character of said actions; to define relationships with other people; and to own those items of value from goods and services, produced by their own labour.
So basically, forced to work in a job designed to steal the maximum surplus value from his work, Reno becomes alienated from work and working and seeks periodic escape on a “high-heeled Venus, doing twice the speed of light.” And who said classic rock can’t teach us anything…


Burning up the miles, there's a full moon out tonight
I've got a high-heel Venus, doing twice the speed of light
Crank it up through the gears--see what she can do
Women and cars--everything they say is true

Stand in line--No! No!
Wasting time--No
Friday night, Friday night
I just got paid--no sleep 'til Monday
Friday night, Friday night
Who cares, it's only money

I've been bidin' my time, listen to the Boss man scream
Workin' forty hours, payin' for this dream machine
'Cause I'm living proof--every mad-dog has his day
I'm going to find me a woman--head out on the Old Highway

Stand in line--No! No!
Wasting time--No
Friday night, Friday night
I just got paid--no sleep 'til Monday
Friday night, Friday night
Who cares, it's only money

I've been bidin' my time, listen to the Boss man scream
Workin' forty hours, payin' for this dream machine
'Cause I'm living proof--every mad-dog has his day
I'm going to find me a woman--head out on the Old Highway

Friday night, Friday night
Friday night, Friday night
It's only money
Friday night, Friday night
I just got paid, no sleep 'til Monday
Friday night, Friday night
Who cares it's only money

Friday night, Friday night
Friday night, Friday night
It's only money
Friday night, Friday night
I just got paid, no sleep 'til Monday
Friday night, Friday night
Who cares it's only money

Friday night, Friday night

-- Bob Barnetson

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Adequacy of wage-replacement benefits for injured workers

The Institute for Work and Health issued a new study this spring that looked at the adequacy of workers’ compensation benefits in Ontario. The original intent of workers’ compensation was (in part) to prevent workers from experiencing a catastrophic loss of income due to their injury (although I acknowledge that this is a contested assertion).

Looking at permanently disabled workers who were injured between 1998 and 2002, the IWH study found that these workers had (on average), full compensation for wage losses when compared to a control group. That said:
… there is some variation around the average in the earnings replacement rates. About 46 per cent of the sample had replacement rates of 100 per cent or more, while 25 per cent had replacement rates of under 75 per cent… .
What this means is that some of these injured workers did not see their wage-loss fully replaced by the various benefit programs (e.g., workers’ compensation benefits, Canada Pension Plan disability benefits). Ontario’s target was to ensure injured workers had an earnings replacement rate of at least 85%--a goal achieved for only 65% of the injured workers in the sample.

-- Bob Barnetson