(Canadian OH&S News) — A new report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) has charged that federally regulated industries in Canada have become more dangerous for workers over the past decade, due to funding cuts and understaffing of safety inspectors.
Waiting to Happen: Why we need major changes to the health and safety regime in federally regulated workplaces, written by CCPA research associate John Anderson, updates a previous report from 2010. Published on the Ottawa-based think tank’s website on Sept. 30, the new study examined occupational health and safety statistics in federally regulated sectors — such as banks, communications, Canada Post, transport and government — from 2007 to 2012.
Anderson found that improvements in the injury rates had been insignificant when compared with those at the provincial level. “Even though 60 per cent or more of the workers are doing office jobs in the federally regulated sector, the fatality rate has basically remained unchanged,” he told COHSN. “You’ve got over 50 workers a year dying, huge death, in road transport.”
The 58-page report stressed a sharp decrease in the number of health and safety officers (HSO) between 2005 and 2012, while the number of federally regulated workers in Canada had increased by more than 175,000 over the same period.
“There are less than half as many health inspectors as there were a decade ago,” explained Anderson, “and there are more jobs than people live in Manitoba or Saskatchewan.” The ratio of employees to HSOs, he added, “is so high now, they cannot possibly inspect, on a regular basis, the workplaces anymore.”
But Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) has claimed that it plans to increase the number of HSOs in its Labour Program.
“The number of officers exclusively dedicated to delivering the health and safety program in the Labour Program is 92. This number of health and safety officers will increase to 100 in the near future,” said an e-mailed statement from ESDC. “The current number of labour-standards officers is 74. These numbers may fluctuate from year-to-year as a result of normal turnover, such as retirements and departures.”
Waiting to Happen also noted policy changes that had been hidden in Bill C-4, which concerned the 2013 federal budget. “They have also eviscerated the Canada Labour Code in terms of the definition of danger and the right to refuse work,” said Anderson. “They’ve taken out the words ‘health and safety inspector’; it’s been cut out and replaced by ‘minister’. So in other words, they’ve taken away powers from health and safety inspectors that they had historically.”
“Enforcement of Part II of the Code in the federal on-board transport sectors… and in the oil and gas pipeline sector is conducted by Transport Canada and the National Energy Board, who have 162 trained officers,” said ESDC.
“The Labour Program helps prevent accidents and improve overall health and safety in federally regulated workplaces.”
The CCPA report made 10 recommendations for change in federally regulated industries, including the following:
— repealing the Labour Code amendments in Bill C-4;
— conducting regular safety inspections of all workplaces;
— increasing surprise inspections of high-risk workplaces;
— increasing the number of HSOs; and
— making all oh&s data open and transparent.
Anderson said that these were urgently needed reforms. “It needs to be done right away, and it isn’t an expensive thing to fix. We’re not talking about billions of dollars,” he said. “Any government can do this, right now, with the existing budget.”
He also cited the Stephen Harper government’s ideology as a reason for the low priority on oh&s. “The government has the ideological idea that we can just leave it to employers to self-regulate, and that’s very dangerous. We’ve seen that at Lac-Mégantic,” he said. “They need to have some check on what they’re doing. Some inspection on a regular basis, and that’s not being done.
“This is not a good situation.”
Waiting to Happen is available to read online at https://www.policyalternatives.ca/sites/default/files/uploads/publications/National%20Office/2015/09/Waiting_to_Happen.pdf.