Union workers safer in construction trades: study



A study conducted by the Institute for Work & Health for the Ontario Construction Secretariat shows that unionized construction workers in Ontario suffer fewer on-the-job injuries than their non-union counterparts. The study looked at Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) claims data from more than 40,000 construction firms between 2006 and 2012. It found clear evidence that union workers were safer, and generally more likely to report workplace incidents than non-union workers.

Unionized workers reported 23 per cent fewer injuries that kept them from working than non-union workers. They were also 29 per cent less likely to suffer a critical or potentially life-threatening injury at work. Interestingly, the unionized workers also reported more incidents that did not result in lost time or any form of impairment or disability. The higher level of incident reporting was found in construction firms of all sizes, not only in larger firms that might be expected to have greater workplace health and safety resources.

One of the investigators on the study suggests that the higher level of reporting could mean that union workers are being encouraged to report all injuries, whether they require time off work or not. The high level of reporting also helps construction unions to “proactively manage” workplace hazards, which in turn contributes to a safer workplace.

This “union safety effect” could be the result of other factors as well, including more stringent training programs for apprentices and other workers in union shops and better safety programs for reducing construction work hazards. The influence that unions can exert on governments in bringing about tougher health and safety regulations is another likely factor.

On average, twenty construction workers are killed on the job in Ontario each year. Falls are the most common cause of injury and death. Other common causes of fatal injury are cave-ins, on-site vehicle accidents and crushing. The number of non-fatal workplace accidents on construction sites is much higher, in the thousands. Workplace health and safety professionals often cite non-compliance with existing safety regulations, by both employers and workers, as one of the main reasons for the high numbers of accidents.

The OCS represents twenty-five unionized ICI construction trades. The secretariat says that hiring unionized workers has significant advantages for contractors, including saving them money and giving them access to the best trained workers in the province.

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