The Labor Studies Journal has released an interesting article about labour-community-university partnerships in Southern California that focus on supporting worker engagement in occupational health and safety (OHS) enforcement in non-unionized workplaces. “Worker Engagement in the Health and Safety Regulatory Arena under Changing Models of Worker Representation” examines how the use of popular education and participatory action research to build the capacity of workers and advocates in low-wage, non-union jobs to participate in state occupational health and safety (OHS) enforcement processes. The five interventions documented appears to have resulted in increased state enforcement.
Worker engagement is important in complaint-drive OHS systems (like Alberta’s) by increasing the risk of an employer being caught violating the law in an era characterized by government’s starving enforcement regimes of resources amid the proliferation of small employers. The strategy explored in this article also identifies well documented worker complaints as being important to successfully remediation of unsafe work. In this way, workers can get around the ability of employers to cover up violations and the unfamiliarity of inspectors with the hazards of individual workplaces. Similarly, workers are able to perform ongoing follow-up won worksites to ensure remediation occurs.
Obviously such strategies are not a panacea for unsafe workplaces (meaningful enforcement is still required). But this article suggests worker partnerships can help to ameliorate some of the effects of the state withdrawal from OHS enforcement. This builds upon Canadian research on joint health and safety committees that suggests the manner in which worker representatives comport themselves can significantly improve the effectiveness of the committees.