Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Workplace fatalities in Alberta

Following a recent Calgary Herald series that addressed how the provincial government handles workplace fatalities, the Alberta Federation of Labour has conducted some additional research into Alberta prosecution rates.

The crux of the AFL's complaints are that (1) it takes a long time (often 4 years) to get a conviction, (2) convictions are sought and achieved in a small minority of cases, and (3) fines are low and sometimes not collected. Overall, delay and low fines create little incentive for employers to change their occupational health and safety practices.

There is some literature to support this assertion. A 2007 study (E. Tompa, S. Trevithick and C. McLeod, “Systematic Review of the Prevention Incentives of Insurance and Regulatory Mechanisms for Occupational Health and Safety,” Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health 33(2) (2007): 85-95) found limited evidence that health and safety inspections resulted in fewer or less severe injuries. There was also only mixed evidence that the prospect of being penalized for health and safety violations lead to fewer or less severe injuries.

The researchers suggest several possible explanations, including the penalties may not be significant enough to motivate compliance. It may also be that organizations do not always act rationally. Tompa et al. did find strong evidence that actually being penalized led to a reduction in injuries. This suggests that enforcement of regulations can positively affect workplace safety. All of this and more is available in my new book, The political economy of workplace injury in Canada which you can download for free as an open-source e-book.

-- Bob Barnetson

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