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