Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Injury data shows no improvement in Alberta

April 28 was the Day of Mourning for Injured and Killed workers. As usual, academics from the University of Regina released a report on workplace fatality and injury rates. Due to delays in reporting, the data in the 2020 report is based upon accepted workers’ compensation claims from 2018.

There are a number of methodological caveats that go with these numbers. The key one is that the data represents accepted WCB claims, rather than the true number of work-related fatalities and deaths. Fatalities are likely 10-13 times higher than the WCB numbers. An all encompassing injury count could be similarly out by an order of magnitude, although serious injuries (which is the focus of this WCB injury data in this report) are probably 2 to 3 times higher than reported (although this will vary by jurisdiction).

Among the larger provinces (>100k workers), Saskatchewan and Alberta again led the pack in terms of the injury-related fatality rate (deaths per 100,000) in 2018, with 5.1 and 3.8 respectively. Most jurisdictions saw increases in their rate over the previous three-year average, with Manitoba (241%), Nova Scotia (137% and Saskatchewan (65% should the greatest percentage increases.

Newfoundland and Labrador (8.7), Nova Scotia (5.1) and Alberta (3.9) had the highest rates of occupational disease related deaths in 2018. Again, rates went up everywhere.

Lost-time claim rates (LTCs being a proxy for serious injuries) were also broadly up in 2018, with Manitoba, BC and Saskatchewan with the highest rates. The greatest increases were seen in Ontario, New Brunswick and Alberta.

Table 2 looks at the absolute number of fatalities by jurisdiction, You’ll see that Alberta has the highest number of injury-related fatalities and the third-highest number of disease-related fatalities, despite being the fourth most populous province.

These numbers sit uneasily with Alberta’s five-year average lost-time claim rate (Table 11), which is among the lowest in Canada.

The most probable explanation for this is that there is a high level of under-reporting of serious injuries in Alberta (several studies have found that about two-thirds of serious injuries are not reported in Alberta).

What this suggests is that Alberta’s injury data is likely not valid (i.e., it is misleading) and workplaces are much less safe than this data (which is used in government annual reports) would suggest.

Even if we accept Alberta’s data is valid, Figures 2 and 11 indicate there has been little improvement in Alberta’s fatality and injury rates over the past decade.

This, in turn, suggests that neither employers nor the government have made workplaces significantly safer. Put another way, the maiming and killing of workers remains acceptable to politicians and employers.

-- Bob Barnetson

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