Monday, May 9, 2022

2020 national work-related fatality and injury stats

Sean Tucker and Anya Keefe from the University of Regina have released their annual report on workplace fatalities and injuries. This year’s report rolls up the 2020 data but also includes a section on COVID-related injuries and fatalities from 2020 and 2021.

The nub of the report is that, nationally in 2020:
  • There were 924 accepted WCB claims for fatalities, with about two-thirds being caused by occupationally-related diseases.
  • There were also 254,000 accepted claims for lost-time injuries.
Specific to Alberta in 2020:
  • Among provinces, Alberta had the second highest five-year average injury fatality rate, although there was a slight decline noted in 2020’s injury fatality rate.
  • Among provinces, Alberta had the third highest five-year average disease fatality rate, although there was an increase noted in 2020’s disease fatality rate.
  • Among provinces, Alberta had one of the lowest five-year average lost-time claim rates, although there was a slight increase noted in 2020’s lost-time claim rate.
I have nicked the relevant graphs from the report:

Looking at COVID claims:

Alberta had the second highest number of COVID-related fatality claims accepted (31) in 2021.
  • Alberta had the third highest level of COVID-related injury claims accepted (7846) on 2021. There were 4800 accepted in 2020.
Alberta seems to be performing markedly worse than BC (despite BC’s slightly higher population). That said, it is a bit hard to know what to make of COVID claims data at this point because they may be affected by WCB policies as much as anything else.

-- Bob Barnetson

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Alternative-causation arguments effective at sowing doubt

One strategy that manufacturers and employers use to delay the regulation of and liability for harmful substances is to make alternative-causation arguments. Basically, they say that the apparent effects caused by a harmful substance or process are actually the result of something else.

The journal Population Health has an interesting article examining the efficacy of alternative causation arguments on individual uncertainty or false certainty about the risk associated with products.

The upshot is that individuals exposed to industry-generated alternative causation messaging (that downplay the risk of harm) were more likely than a control group to be uncertain or false certain about the harms of certain products. Individuals with lower levels of knowledge about the topic were more likely to be affected.

The suggests that the alternative causation strategy is an effective one. It is one aspect of a well-established playbook of techniques that manufacturers use to avoid or delay regulating hazardous materials.

-- Bob Barnetson

Thursday, March 17, 2022

More data on underreporting of workplace injuries in Ontario

The Institute for Work and Health has released results of a new study that matches emergency room visit records with workers' compensation data. In theory, all work-related injuries requiring medical treatment should be reported to Ontario's WSIB to avoid employers transferring the cost of treating workplace injuries onto the public health-care system.

The study finds that 35% to 40% of ER visits for workplace injuries were not reported to the WSIB from 2004 to 2017. This is broadly consistent with other data on under-reporting, which finds 40% to 60% of work-related injuries are not reported. 

Of the cases reported by health care professionals, 15% are not followed by workers (who should file a worker report). Further, there was a big drop in reporting beginning in 2008.

This study further demonstrates that workers' compensation injury data underreports the true level of workplace injury, even in the case of serious injuries. This raises questions about the utility of this data to assess and guide injury-prevention work. It also suggests significant cost-shifting around injury from employers to other groups (e.g., taxpayers, workers, private health benefit providers). 

Finally, this study suggests a useful way to begin correcting for under-reporting. For example, workers' compensation board could begin more aggressively following up on medical reports that do not generate worker reports to ensure these injuries are captured.

-- Bob Barnetson

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

The Porter on CBC

CBC has an interesting new series on called The Porter. It is set in the 1920s (in Montreal, mostly) and follows a group of Black railway porters who seek to unionize. The result is the world’s first Black union.

I’m two episodes in and quite enjoying it. There is a pretty readable introduction to this topic available here.


-- Bob Barnetson

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Unions positively impact US workers' wages, benefits, democracy

There is an interesting new study out the US that documents the impact of unions on workers lives. Among its findings are:

On average, the 17 U.S. states with the highest union densities have:
  • higher than average minimum wages, and minimum wage sup to 40% higher than those in low-union-density states
  • higher median annual incomes 
  • more unemployed workers eligible to receive unemployment insurance benefits
  • fewer workers without health insurance
  • a greater likelihood of legislated paid sick leave laws and paid family and medical leave laws 
  • fewer restrictive voting laws.
You can read the full study at the link above.

-- Bob Barnetson

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Alberta hamstrings union dues collection

In early January, my colleague Jason Foster and I wrote about Alberta’s efforts to hamstring its unions through oppressive union financing laws. The gist of the issue is that unions will now have to categorize their expenditures as either core (basically bargaining and grievance work) or non-core (lobbying, political activity). Then unions will need to go each year to each member to get them to agree to pay dues related to non-core activities.

This policy will reduce the funding available to unions to influence labour laws and public policy, both by giving members an opt out and by forcing unions to expend more money to collect their existing dues. The political goal is to reduce an important source of public opposition to the UCP government.

It is unclear how this is going to play out. Unions may decide to just label all activities as “core activities” on the argument that everything a union does provides benefits to members in the workplace. Or they may just ignore this requirement. Or they may challenge it in court.

This policy reflects a protracted attack by the government of Jason Kenney on workers and their unions. This has included making it harder to certify a new union, binding the hands of public-sector employers with secret bargaining mandates, passing laws that allow the government to declare pickets illegal, and requiring unions to get permission to picket certain worksites.

Since it appears the UCP will be a one-and-done government, it is hard to say how much impact these dues changes will have before they are likely repealed.

-- Bob Barnetson

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Alberta guts OHS rules

In late December, my colleagues Jason Foster, Susan Cake and Jared Matsunaga-Turnbull and I wrote about Alberta’s efforts to gut Alberta’s joint health and safety committee rules and undermine workers’ right to refuse unsafe work.

The short of it is that joint committee have fewer duties and fewer powers and are much more creatures of the employer. This will undoubtedly reduce their already limited effectiveness. While it was there, the government also eliminated the requirement for periodic inspections of the workplace, regular meetings of the committee, ongoing training for committee members, and most rights to see information about workplace safety.

The right to refuse dangerous work has also been watered down, with term dangerous work being dropped in favour of the weaker term “undue hazard”. An undue hazards is a hazard that poses a serious and immediate threat to the health and safety of a person. The use of the terms “serious” and “immediate threat” narrow the kinds of danger work that can be refused. Most chemical and biological hazards, for example, do not pose an immediate threat.

The bar on employers’ retaliating for refusals has also been weakened. Previously, the employer could not discriminate against a work for refusing unsafe work. That has been narrowed to a bar on disciplining a worker. Practically, what this means is that an employer can now do things like assign a refuser crappy work or crappy shifts (because that is not discipline) if they refuse unsafe work.

Overall, this is part of the UCP governments efforts to reduce the financial cost to employers of safe workplaces. The negative impact on workers (in terms of injuries and deaths) is simply waved away. About the only good news is that the UCP is likely headed for electoral oblivion in May of 2023 so these changes stand a good chance to being scraped.

-- Bob Barnetson