Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Alberta Labour 2023 Annual Report

Alberta has released its 2023 annual report for the part of the government that was at one time called Labour and that relate to Albertans being safe and treated fairly in the workplace.

Fairness at Work Declines

The number of employment standards complaints filed were up by about a third in 2022/23. Complaints tend to reflect a fraction of overall violations; most workers don’t bother reporting things like wage theft.

This is an interesting reversal of a long-term decline in employment standards complaints.

Notably, the time to begin an investigation tripled and the time to resolve a complaint doubled. This has long been a bugbear in the employment standards system. The report asserts this reflects increasing volume and complexity.

The number of complaints investigated with signs of human trafficking jumped from 102 in 2021/22 to 208 in 20223/23.

The number of administrative penalties issued to employers dropped from 3 in 2021/22 to zero in 2022/23.

Safety: Losing the Will to Enforce

Worksite inspections plus re-inspections totalled 13,717 in 2023/23, down 12% from 15,569 in 2021/22. If you look later in the report for some context, this is about 6% fewer inspections/re-inspections than in 2018/19 (14,590), which was the last full year when the NDs were in power. At this rate, the inspection cycle is theoretically about once every 15 years (give or take).

About 80% of inspections were the results of complaints while the remaining 20% were targeting industries with safety problems. There were 1207 proactive inspections in 2022/23 resulting in 1725 orders issued. This is down from 2021/22, with 2100 inspections and 2548 orders. I couldn't find any historical data in this to provide context.

The number of investigations (e.g., of injuries) dropped by 60%, from 2245 in 2018/19 to 888 in 2022/23.

Orders written were up slightly over 2021/22 to 9099. This may be good (more enforcement) or may be bad (more violations occuring)—hard to say. If you look at 2018/19, there were 16,680 orders issued.

Ticketing of violators was down. There were 27 tickets with a total value of $11,280 issued in 2022/23. This is slightly fewer than in 2021/22 (32 tickets, $11,500). This reporting leaves out important context. If you look at 2018/19, there were 479 tickets issued.

Administrative penalties were also down. There were 17 penalties worth $62,025 issued in 2022/23. This is notably fewer than in 2021/22 (37, $314,250).

Convictions were also down, with 2022/23 seeing $1,740,750 in fines assessed. This is down from $1,919,000 in 2021/22. There was no reporting of the number of convictions but a hand count suggests the number is stable the last few years at around (hand-waggle) 10 per year, down from more than 20 in 2018/19.

Injury Rates are Up: Yeah, it’s mostly COVID.

The lost-time claim rate rose for at least the seventh straight year. Much, but not all, of this increase is due to COVID-19 injuries.

The disabling injury rate (lost-time plus modified work) is also up. Again, much but not all of the increase is due to COVID injuries.

The absence of meaningful government protocols related to aerosol spread put responsibility for these COVID-related increases squarely on the shoulders of government.

Interestingly, the absolute number of accepted fatalities is down to 120 (from 136). There is no real analysis of that change. It could be the result of changes in the workforce composition. It could also just be random variation (small numbers tends to be swingy).


Overall, it looks like the government continues to lose the will and/or capacity to meaningfully enforce workplace safety rules under the UCP. Not surprisingly, the rate of injury has risen, likely because workplaces are more dangerous.

There has also been an uptick in complaints about employment standards (basically wage theft). This could be caused by more workers knowing to and being willing to come forward. I’d guess, though, that this reflects employers knowing it is open-season on workers under the UCP and, thus, stealing wages more frequently.

-- Bob Barnetson

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

John Oliver on Union Busting

A friend sent me this clip of John Oliver exploring union busting in the United States.

Very applicable to Canada as well.

-- Bob Barnetson

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Climate change and safety: treeplanters and wildfire smoke

A few weeks back, the Tyee ran a story on the effect of increasing levels of wildfire smoke on tree planter OHS. This story is interesting because it looks at the effect of climate change on worker safety.

There are several reasons why this particular hazard and worker group are worth examining:
  • Intensity of exposure: Tree planters often work in close proximity to wildfires and their work is physically demanding (increasing respiration and heart rate). Consequently, they are likely to have one of the highest intensities of exposure to wildfire smoke.
  • Duration of exposure: In addition to long working days, most tree planters live in camps (e.g., tents) and lack any respite from the smoke in their off hours. This means these workers have a much longer duration of exposure than, say, a worker who might face dust in the workplace but then go home to clean air at the end of the day.
  • Lack of specific controls or OELs: There are no specific occupational exposure limits (OELs) for wildfire smoke and general OELs for dust were not designed with wildfire smoke (which has very tiny particles) in mind.
  • Latency: Injuries due to inhalation often have long latency periods and murky causality, thus the link between the work exposure and the ill-health can be hard to see.
  • Proxy for nonworkers: The exposures experienced by tree planters can be useful in predicting larger population effects caused by increased wildfire effects (essentially the dangerous working conditions experienced by these workers create a natural experiment).
  • Compliance: PPE slows tree planting work. Tree planters are generally paid on piece-rate basis. This pay structure basically forces tree planters to trade off their own health against their need to earn an adequate income and almost certainly reduces compliance. Contractors also have production targets, which means they too have an incentive to trade worker safety for profit.
A notable take-away from the article is the complete lack of a regulatory response to the risk posed by wildfire smoke. WorkSafeBC acknowledges the risk but can’t be arsed to issue any directives. Alberta’s OHS minister couldn’t even be bothered to respond to the reporter. This likely reflects regulatory capture of regulators by the forestry industry.

By contrast, Oregon and California require air quality monitoring and the availability of respirators when air quality gets to a specific point. This doesn’t mean these controls are adequate, but they are at least something.

-- Bob Barnetson