Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Research: Making Alberta workplaces safer

Last week, the Parkland Institute and the Alberta Workers’ Health Centre jointly published as report entitled Safer by design: How Alberta can improve workplace safety. This report was based upon a 2000-worker survey funded by the Government of Alberta OHS Futures Grant program.

The crux of the report is this:

1. Most workplace injuries in Alberta are not reported. For example, 69% of respondents who experienced a disabling injury did not report it to the WCB. This suggests Alberta’s injury statistics are skewed radically low.

For example, in 2016, Alberta reported 44,543 serious (disabling) injuries. Our study suggests that true number is ~170,700. Overall, it is likely there are over 400,000 workplace injuries in Alberta each year.

2. Most employers violate Alberta’s safety laws. Only half had hazard assessments (which identify hazards and set out controls). Less than half involved workers in hazard identification. Only 59% told their workers about hazards and how to control them.

3. Many workers are scared to exercise their health and safety rights. Between 10 and 23% of workers feared negative consequences if they exercised their rights—such as asking for safety information or refusing unsafe work. In workplaces where workers are routinely exposed to many dangers (i.e., the workplaces where workers get hurt the most), fears levels were up to four times higher.

This suggests that there is a fundamental problem with the internal responsibility system that underlies workplace safety in Alberta. Employers often don’t hold up their end of the bargain (controlling hazards). Workers are fearful of exercising their safety rights. And government enforcement is virtually non-existent. This creates a vicious circle that helps explain high injury rates.

While Alberta did make significant changes to its health and safety legislation, legislative change alone will not be sufficient to alter the behaviour of employers. The report makes 13 recommendations that should make workplace safer.

-- Bob Barnetson

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