Workers Centre polls Ontario Workers
The myth of the careless worker
is alive and well in Ontario. Workers in this province also worry more about terrorist acts than work-related injury or illness.
And yet, workers in all sectors report experiencing unsafe work conditions. For example two out of five workers are exposed to repetitive motions. A similar number are exposed to extended shifts, loud noises and working alone. Approximately one in four deals with chemicals fumes and vapours, extreme heat or cold, or heavy equipment. Young workers are most likely to perform work that exposes them to five or more hazards. Finally, almost one in four workers report having suffered a work-related injury or illness.
To address these hazards employers are most likely to take action where personal protective equipment is an option. Most workers receive no health and safety training; and the majority of those who do, receive no more than an hour or two. Most workers also believe they have a joint health and safety committee in their workplace, but less than one in ten can name a member on the committee.
Such is the harsh reality of Ontario workplaces, as workers know them.
These facts and opinions were recently presented to Workers Health and Safety Centre constituents and staff at their annual strategic planning session (see cover story). The gathering of information though did not come from periodicals or some distant data. Like their approach to the hazards themselves the Workers Centre went to the source — they went directly to workers with their questions.
As part of their planning cycle each year the Workers Centre is required to file a formal occupational health and safety trend analysis with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. Up until now this process has always included a comprehensive examination of the most recent demographics, economic forecasts, WSIB and Ministry of Labour statistics, scientific literature reviews and expressed member organization needs.
This year though, the Centre set their sights on enriching the scope of their analysis by surveying Ontario workers for their opinions and experiences of working conditions. Accordingly they contracted Vector Research + Development Inc. to conduct a random telephone poll of union and non-union, full-time and part-time workers. Thousands were contacted, over 400 hundred responded. Regardless, the sample size was adjusted to reflect the characteristics of Ontario’s work force.
Marc Zwelling, president of Vector Research presented the survey findings to participants of the Strategic Planning Session and most recently to the full Workers Centre staff contingent. “If you want to know what workers think, just ask them. You can’t get any more democratic then that,” says Zwelling.
“To my knowledge the Workers Centre poll is the first of its kind in the province. It is yet another strong indicator of serious problems confronting workers. But of course polls are not the answer to every problem. You don’t want a survey. You want a solution,” he adds.
To arrive at solutions Zwelling recently advised Workers Centre staff to consider how this information will influence priorities. In other words, given the data, should the Centre emphasize training and information that addresses the most dangerous jobs or the most pervasive hazards? Similarly should the Centre develop initiatives targeted at the most vulnerable workers or the most accessible workers?
Hard questions — but with the help of workers and their representatives, Workers Centre staff are confident of the outcome.
To view a complete summary of the poll results be sure to visit the Workers Centre online InfoCentre at www.whsc.on.ca/InfoCentre/Index.htm