OHS Canada Magazine

Alberta misrepresenting work injuries: report

(Canadian OH&S News)


(Canadian OH&S News)

A research institute at the University of Alberta is charging that the provincial government is misrepresenting the total number of annual workplace injuries, a claim the province categorically dismisses.

On Sept. 26, the Edmonton-based Parkland Institute released the Making It Home: Alberta Workplace Injuries and the Union Safety Dividend fact sheet, which contended that while the government only reports injuries that resulted in lost or modified work (some 53,000 of these disabling injuries in 2009), the total number of annual injuries is nearly ten times that number (500,000).

“Talking about only 50,000 injuries misleads Albertans about the true level of injury in Alberta workforces by a factor of 10,” said Bob Barnetson, the author of the report and an associate professor at Athabasca University. “Talking about 50,000 injuries also suggests that Alberta’s OHS system is much more effective than it actually is.”

To arrive at the 500,000 figure, Barnetson’s 2012 source paper, The Validity of Alberta’s Safety Statistics (http://www.justlabour.yorku.ca/volume19/pdfs/01_barnetson_press.pdf), claimed that there were 95,854 medical aid-only claims (an injury reported to and accepted by the workers’ compensation board (WCB) that required medical intervention); an estimated 22,000 injuries for industries not covered by the WCB; more than 114,000 unreported injuries (based on estimations that 40 per cent of injuries eligible for WCB compensation go unreported); and more than 214,000 non-reportable injuries (injuries that do not have to be reported to the WCB).

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Combining the approximately 53,000 reported and the 447,000 “unreported” brings the number to about 500,000.

Brookes Merritt, a spokesperson for the Occupational Health & Safety division of Alberta Human Services (AHS), said that AHS and the provincial WCB dispute the numbers. “WCB has confirmed for me that the numbers in the fact sheet are not correct, and not from the WCB,” Merritt said. “They are not aware of where the medical aid-only claim number comes from or how it was determined.”

Merritt added that as of August, there were 2,345,200 workers in Alberta. “There is no evidence whatsoever to support the claim that 20 per cent of them have been injured on the worksite,” he said. “The estimates published by Parkland are statistically unfounded.”

Interestingly, the source paper acknowledged that there is “no way to accurately estimate” the number of minor injuries that did not trigger a WCB claim. It went on to say that “discussion among practitioners suggests accounting for disease and minor injuries would push the number close to 500,000 injuries per year, but for the purpose of this analysis, this estimate will be ignored. Consequently, this analysis suggests defining workplace injuries as LTCs [lost-time claims] under-reports workplace injury by a factor of at least 10. And defining them as DIs [disabling injuries] under-reports injuries by a factor of at least 5.4.”

The report also noted that Alberta is the only Canadian jurisdiction where joint health and safety committees (JHSCs) are not mandatory for any size of workplace, adding that provincial unionized workers are much more likely to have access to a JHSC because this is often required by a collective agreement.

This prompted Alberta NDP labour critic Rachel Notley to call on the government to mandate JHSCs for all workplaces with ten or more employees.

But Merritt said that AHS doesn’t believe that requiring businesses to set up JHSCs would necessarily reduce workplace injuries. “Literature shows joint workplace health and safety committees with strong management commitment are effective, but there is little evidence that legislating management and workers to meet and talk about health and safety is effective,” he said. “Positive safety outcomes are more likely to be associated with voluntary efforts where parties are vested, and we encourage those.”

The Making It Home report can be read at http://parklandinstitute.ca/research/summary/making_it_home.