Workers Health & Safety Centre

New Ontario study finds unionized construction sites are safer

Unionized workers on a construction site
A new Institute for Work & Health (IWH) study confirms the “union safety effect” in Ontario’s construction industry.
The “union safety effect” a short-hand phrase for the role unions play in improved occupational health and safety outcomes has been researched and demonstrated in other jurisdictions. Here in Ontario however few studies have considered this issue.
The IWH study called Protecting construction worker health and safety in Ontario Canada set out to examine whether workers in unionized construction companies experience fewer workplace injuries than workers in non-unionized construction companies. To do so, they examined Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) claims data from more than 40,000 construction firms across Ontario. They concluded, workers in unionized construction workplaces have higher rates of no-lost-time injury claims, but 23 per cent less lost-time claims (resulting in time off work) than their non-unionized counterparts.
Unionized workers were also 17 per cent less likely to experience muscle, tendon, and nerve injuries that affect mobility. They were almost 30 per cent less likely to suffer critical injuries—defined as those that place workers’ lives in jeopardy.
The study was funded by the Ontario Construction Secretariat (OCS) a tripartite organization of government, employer and trade union representatives that promotes the value of organized industrial, commercial and institutional construction in Ontario. Research results were recently published online by the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. The OCS has also published an engaging summary of the findings.
“Creating safe and healthy workplaces continues to be a core value of the unionized construction industry in Ontario,” says Sean Strickland, Chief Executive Officer of the Ontario Construction Secretariat. “This first-of-its-kind study shows that the “union safety effect” is having a tangible impact in Ontario’s ICI construction sector and through our investments in safety, specialized training and apprenticeship programs the unionized sector in Ontario is showing its commitment to being a leader in worksite safety and productivity.”
“The lower rates of lost-time claims might also suggest that unionized workplaces are safer,” says IWH associate scientific director, and project co-lead, Dr. Sheilah Hogg-Johnson. “It could be they do a better job of educating workers, in part through apprenticeship training. They may have more effective health and safety programs and practices. They may give workers more voice to influence the health and safety of their work environments, and to report not only injuries, but also near-misses.”
Similar studies in Canada and internationally have found this to be true in other sectors. Some have also looked at the experience of construction workers. For example, a University of California study found statistically significant differences between union and non-union construction workers’ perceptions of workplace safety. Another study in Utah found the fatality rate from trench cave-ins among union construction workers was one half that of non-union workers.
An important and growing body of research by LOARC, a labour-driven group of researchers has also been examining the factors that contribute to worker representative success in achieving safer, healthier work.
IWH study in construction sector suggests unionized firms are safer
Want to read the OCS summary of its findings?
Want to read about another study on the effectiveness of union participation?
Want to read about some of the work of LOARC?
For our part the WHSC offers a wide range of training programs and resources including MOL‑approved Working at Heights training to help employers and other workplace parties better understand their legal obligations relating to the protection of worker health and safety in the construction industry and all sectors. 
To learn more:
Call:     1-888-869-7950