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Ontario’s best safety strategies buried in a mass of data

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by Ian Harvey

The second phase of research into Ontario construction injury data comparing union and non-union job sites hopes to reveal what strategies lead to better safety records.
Ontario’s best safety strategies buried in a mass of data

The first phase of the report was published in September 2015 and since then the principals involved have been drilling back into to it to find patterns and connections which may explain why union workers have fewer safety incidents than non-union workers.

Protecting Construction Worker Health and Safety in Ontario, Canada Identifying a Union Safety Effect was written by Benjamin C. Amick III, Sheilah Hogg-Johnson, Desiree Latour-Villamil and Ron Saunders of the Institute for Work & Health (IWH) for the Ontario Construction Secretariat.

It sifted through claims data for 5,800 unionized firms and 39,000 non-unionized companies from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) from 2006 through 2012.

Adjusted for sample size, the data suggested non-union companies see 13 per cent more total injury claims and 28 per cent more approved no-lost-time claims but 14 per cent lower rates of approved lost-time claims and eight per cent fewer musculoskeletal injuries.

However, the raw data shows unionized workers have 13 per cent more total claims and 35 per cent higher no-lost-time claims but 23 per cent fewer lost-time claims and 17 per cent less musculoskeletal injuries.

They were also 29 per cent less likely to suffer critical injuries.

The issue falling out of that was why? The theory is that unionized workers are more likely to report injuries, Amick said at the time, noting the study isn't conclusive.

Now the team is back running search queries through the data to analyze and find patterns.

At the same time many construction unions are pointing to the study as they push back against some details buried in last year's budget which they say will make job sites less safe.

A section of Bill 70, schedule 17, would shift powers from the industry-run Ontario College of Trades (OCOT) to the College of Trades Appointment Council (CTAC), a government agency.

This would put the CTAC in charge of determining which trades require certification and which do not. Unions say that will mean more risk and more injuries.

"Since we presented this report last year we've received funding from the Ministry of Labour to drill down and try to understand what might explain the union safety effect," Amick said.

He added that the work in progress should be tabled sometime in the spring of 2017.

The team has since surveyed 700 construction companies asking them about their health and safety practices, said Hogg-Johnson.

"We were so happy to get that many, it was difficult to get but we did it," she said.

"We've linked to the WSIB claim statistics and we are looking at the relationship between how they responded on the survey and the actual data."

She said IWH was founded by the WSIB and the relationship to the database stretches back 25 years.

"We're also getting information from the Ontario labour ministry inspections and investigations on construction worksites. We are analyzing that as to what they find when they go in and whether there are more violations on unionized jobsites versus non-unionized jobsites."

"Our approach is to take off a piece of it you think you can answer with good science and keep moving forward," explained Amick.

"The big issue is training. The union has training centres and they are very different than what others are doing, so we've been told. It would be good to look to see what the impact of those are. It's interesting. We're not looking at that yet, but what we are doing is saying there is something different about a unionized construction company than a non-union company."

The analytics are focused on distilling out the essence of that difference, whether it is safety leadership, safety practices, ergonomics, hazard identification and control and training.

How that all adds up into a culture of safety is what the team are looking for and what components are the critical factors.

"We're trying to touch a piece of the elephant. We're confident we have the analysis to show there is a union safety effect in ICI construction," Amick said.

"And we're hoping to update that analysis and explain."

They've also developed a weighting factor for the 38 different classifications within Ontario ICI which they think will also be more representative across the board.

No one has done a study of this nature with this type of data so the results are going to be eagerly anticipated, said Amick.

"We're both very excited and humbled because it is great science and that we have a chance to do this," he said.

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