Workers Health & Safety Centre

Alberta needs “worker-operated” OHS training, says new study

A survey report of Alberta workers reveals they are afraid to exercise their health and safety rights, their employers violate the law and injuries go underreported.

To help address these concerns, the report, co-authored by the Parkland Institute and the Alberta Workers' Health Centre, also makes several recommendations for change, including government support for worker training, independent of employer and government influence.

The findings and resulting recommendations also provide important context for recent changes to Alberta health and safety law which come into effect June 1, 2018 and which expand workers’ right to refuse unsafe work and protection against employer reprisals, mandate joint health and safety committees, and require employers to protect workers against violence and harassment on the job.

Key findings  

Researchers conducted an online poll of 2,000 Alberta workers to learn of their actual workplace experience. Key findings include:
  • About one in five Alberta workers experienced a work-related injury in 2016, of which 69 per cent went unreported.
  • Of workers refusing unsafe work (33.6 per cent), only 24 per cent said the employer took steps to make work safer. Even when this occurred, nearly a quarter report being punished for refusing.
  • Workers exposed to the greatest number of hazards were also the most fearful of reporting hazards.
  • Half of employers violate basic health and safety requirements like written hazard assessments.
  • One-third of workers who made a complaint to the government, said no inspector came to the workplace, and 11 per cent were punished by their employer for doing so. Statistics show less than 2 per cent of Alberta workplaces were inspected in 2016.

Workers cannot rely on the law alone to improve working conditions leaving the authors to conclude, “Unfortunately, research suggests that enacting additional rights and obligations does not, by itself, reduce injury rates. Other important factors include workers’ willingness to exercise those rights and employers’ willingness to comply with their OHS obligations.”

Areas for improvement

Report recommendations for improving workplace health and safety focused on three areas:
  • Inspection levels (increasing the number of inspectors, conducting more targeted, proactive inspections and allowing inspections by civil society groups including unions and worker centres)
  • Meaningful and mandatory consequences for violations (greater transparency in tracking and enforcing orders, and penalties that are mandatory and escalating)
  • Worker-focused occupational health and safety education (government funding for independent health and safety education for workers including training for worker JHSC representatives).

Expanding on this last set of recommendations the report observes: “Alberta allows workers paid time off for training to prepare them for their role on a Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC). The government should fund the provision of such training by worker-operated agencies. In addition to orientation training, these agencies should also be funded to provide ongoing advice and access to resources (such as research expertise). These agencies could be funded by an employer levy or through current surpluses generated by the WCB.”

Consistent findings

These latest findings build upon a 2013 Report which also identified significant underreporting of work-related injuries and illnesses. It also found greater worker participation in occupational health and safety is associated with better outcomes and fewer injuries, in both union and non-union settings.  
Report findings are consistent with experiences in other jurisdictions including Ontario, where worker fear of employer reprisal, underreporting of work-related illness and injury, lack of enforcement and worker access to quality, trusted training are also of concern.
Fortunately, the need for an independent, worker-focused, health and safety training and information organization was first identified by a Royal Commission on the Health and Safety of Workers in Mines more than 40 years ago and subsequently funded by the Ontario government. Since then, governments of all stripes have supported this essential need with sustained recognition and funding for the Workers Health & Safety Centre.

Read related WHSC articles:
Alberta legislative overhaul to enhance worker safety
Ontario study finds unionized construction sites are safer
Worker participation and unions keys to safer work
Inspecting workplaces and issuing-penalties leads to lower injuries
New guide offers insights on effective health and safety representation

Need help understanding, exercising and complying with Ontario’s workplace health and safety laws, including extensive employer training obligations?  Workers Health & Safety Centre offers a wide range of information resources and training programs to help workplaces meet and exceed all legal training requirements

To learn more:
Call:     1-888-869-7950 and ask to speak to a WHSC training services representative.