Recent strong numbers on construction health and safety in Ontario and across Canada mask continuing problems that require immediate rectification, including implementation of significant worker-centric reforms.
That’s the analysis of a new report from the Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario.
The report, written by Carmine Tiano, director for occupational health services at the Building Trades and released Sept. 23, is being submitted to Canada’s Building Trades Unions with the intention of forming the basis for a new national injury prevention strategy, said Tiano.
The report said the positive numbers showing a reduction in construction injuries over the past decade could be misleading and should be reexamined. Tiano said more research is needed to inform better policy; the lack of uniformity in worker insurance programs such as Ontario’s WSIB across the country impedes improvements; and the rise of populist governments with “open for business” policies across the country can only lead to a deterioration of health and safety culture.
I think if the data was standardized across the provinces then it would be better, then we could start targeting hazards,
— Carmine Tiano
Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario
“It’s simple, I would like to have all building trades across the country come up with five or six or seven areas that they would take to their provincial entities to start targeting safety,” said Tiano in an interview. “They should sit down with employers and with their respective WSIBs and start hammering them out.”
Tiano said the idea for the report stemmed from discussions he had with Ontario Building Trades business manager Patrick Dillon. It was thought a national health and safety strategy from a building trades perspective should be the next step in system improvements. And it was noted that the safety statistics in the construction sector, a highly hazardous industry, were actually better than among Schedule 2 employers, which, he said, does not make sense.
All provinces have seen a reduction in lost time injuries (LTI) since 2008. In Ontario, the LTI rate has gone from 1.45 in 2008 to 1.09 in 2017.
Tiano wondered whether the decrease might be linked to employers’ claims-management strategies, or to contracting out to temp agencies.
“Before anybody pats themselves on the back and everybody takes their awards, we need to recognize that a lot of this is being done by claims managements, by contracting out risk, and a lot is being done by offering modified work,” he said.
The report argues that empowerment of workers needs to be the cornerstone of Ontario’s and Canada’s integrated health and safety strategy. Better research and data are the keys to addressing the four main areas of workplace hazards: falls, crushed-bys and struck-bys; occupational disease hazards such as exposure to solar UV radiation, crystalline silica, asbestos and diesel engine exhaust; musculoskeletal disorders; and mental health.
“The other thing I think we need to have a real long discussion about is hours of work as a hazard,” said Tiano. “Maybe we need to curtail hours of work. If you are not cognitively aware because you’re tired, potentially you’re not fit for duty.”
Tiano’s survey of jurisdictions across Canada revealed a patchwork of occupational health and safety administrations. Six provinces have a standalone workers compensation agency with exclusive jurisdiction while others have integrated systems. Worker coverage ranges from 98 per cent in P.E.I. to 71 per cent in Saskatchewan. And there is no uniformity in enforcement, regulation, training and prevention.
Reporting and even definitions of injuries differ as well, the report says.
“I think if the data was standardized across the provinces then it would be better, then we could start targeting hazards,” said Tiano.
“Work is mobile. It would be good if all the compensation boards could have similar rules. Because if a company from Ontario works in B.C., they could understand the way things are. It would be good for employers and good for workers.”
The report argues a worker empowerment strategy should introduce the concept of the “work environment,” and it would include problems of stress, monotony and organization of work. There should be more promotion and enforcement of the legal requirements relating to employee-participation systems and awareness programs should focus on the benefits of employee participation.
The report also calls for the development of an incentive system that encourages workers to raise legitimate health and safety concerns in the workplace without fear of reprisal.
Tiano said he has confidence in the intentions of Ontario’s employers and in the bona fides of health and safety leaders such as WSIB president and CEO Tom Teahen and Minister of Labour Monte McNaughton.
“Maybe what we should say is, employers, organized labour, we all could do better. Instead of saying it’s getting better, we should say, let’s work toward the perfect system,” he suggested.
Follow Don Wall on Twitter @DonWall_DCN.