Workers Health & Safety Centre

Worker participation and unions keys to safer workplaces

Workers participate in creating a safer workplace
Direct worker participation makes a big difference in reducing workplace injury rates, according to a fact sheet published by the University of Alberta’s Parkland Institute.
The fact sheet, entitled Making it Home: Alberta Workplace Injuries and the Union Safety Dividend, highlights research showing this to be the case in both non-union and unionized workplaces. Though, worker participation tends to be more effective in larger and unionized workplaces. 
“We are not trying to imply that unionization is the only way to improve workplace safety,” says Bob Barnetson, author of the fact sheet and associate professor at Athabasca University. “But the data certainly shows that unions provide a significant safety dividend that benefits all Alberta workers.”
A paper published in 2011 by the Trades Union Congress in the United Kingdom, reports similar findings. In this report entitled The Union Effect, the importance of access to training for safety representatives is a key reason unions make a difference.
In most jurisdictions the worker right to participate in health and safety is realized through joint health and safety committees (JHSC) or worker health and safety representatives. Alberta, however, is the only jurisdiction in Canada that does not mandate JHSCs. As a result, unions often negotiate JHSCs into their collective bargaining agreements. 
The fact sheet Making it Home also focuses attention on the significant underreporting of work-related injuries. The author claims official government statistics in Alberta represent just one in 10 actual worker injuries. The Workers Health and Safety Centre (WHSC) recently published an article exploring this issue and how underreporting can hinder prevention efforts in the workplace.
The Workers Health & Safety Centre is the leading provider of health and safety training for workers, their representatives, joint health and safety committees and other workplace parties in Ontario.
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