OCS-sponsored study confirms ‘Union Safety Effect’ on building trades construction sites

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Ontario Construction News staff writer

A unionized construction job site is a safer job site, according study sponsored by the Ontario Construction Secretariat (OCS), which represents Ontario construction trade unions and unionized contrators.

The study, Updating a Study of the Union Effect on Safety in the ICI Construction Sector, by the Institute for Work and Health has found that lost-time injury claims to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) are 31 per cent lower on unionized building trade construction jobs than they are in a non-union environment. The study also found that claims for severe injuries are 29 per cent lower on union job sites.

“The data doesn’t lie, and reaffirms what we have always suspected,” OCS CEO Robert Bronk said in a statement last Tuesday. “Preventable incidents hurt people, reduce productivity and affect worker morale. It is encouraging to see data that assures a unionized job is being done properly and safely by people who are fully trained in what their tasks are.”

The study analyzed WSIB data from more than 50,000 companies representing 1.7 million workers in the Industrial, Commercial and Institutional (ICI) construction sector between 2012 and 2018. The study is a follow up to a similar analysis completed in 2015 with data up to 2012, with similar conclusions: unionization is associated with lower risks of lost-time claims including both musculoskeletal and the more severe critical injuries.

Furthermore, the updated study has found the “union safety effect” has strengthened over the past five years, when claims from unionized construction workers were 23 per cent lower compared to unrepresented construction workers.

The current study also found that as the size of the company grows, the incidence of claims drops, with 36 per cent fewer claims in unionized companies with more than 50 employees — and the bigger firms tend to be unionized.

“Unionization in ICI construction results in safer workplaces,” says Patrick Dillon, business manager of the Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario. “Building trades unions insist on a higher level of construction trades training, which results in safer workplace practices, as well as educating tradespeople to recognize unsafe working conditions. This results in a healthier and safer workplace and provides confidence that a unionized workforce will get a job completed on time, on budget and, most importantly, safely.”

While the researchers did not investigate why unionized workers are filing fewer WSIB claims, they do note that ICI building trades unions and their contractor partners make significant investments in health and safety training and that unionized building trades employees are more likely to report unsafe working conditions, refuse unsafe work and ensure enforcement where needed.

Building trades union work sites also tend to employ more registered apprentices and have higher journeyperson-to-apprentice ratios according to their trade’s respective collective agreement. Building trades union signatory contractors also tend to have less worker turnover and longer job tenure.

“Strong partnerships make for safer workplaces,” says Wayne Peterson, executive director of the Construction Employers Co-ordinating Council of Ontario. “The ICI building trades construction sector benefits greatly from the joint partnerships between our contractors and their unions. This collaborative working relationship has made the unionized building trades construction sector a safety leader in the construction industry.”


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