Released on the eve of the National Day of Mourning (April 29) for workers killed on the job, a new report that puts the spotlight on increasing injuries in federal workplaces, particularly workplaces run by Canada Post, has postal sector workers are calling for action.
According to Success is No Accident, by CCPA research associate David Macdonald, federal underfunding and understaffing of safety inspectors are putting federal jurisdiction employees in harm's way.
While the report praises the provinces for working "diligently to drive down the number of workplace injuries," resulting in a 25 per cent drop, federally-regulated workplaces tell "a completely different story.” The report shows the rate of disabling injuries in federally regulated workplaces increased by 5 per cent between 2002 and 2007. This percentage represents thousands of injured workers, observes the report, showing that "HRSDC has in fact been moving backwards in workplace safety since 2002."
"The freezing of departmental budgets in the 2010 federal budget is already having tangible effects in an inability to improve safety in the workplace," says Macdonald. "With its budget frozen, HRSDC has no additional resources to beef up inspections and keep Canadians safe. Workers, among others, will pay the price for indiscriminate budget freezes."
There aren't nearly enough federal inspectors to make the number of recommended visits to very high and high risk work sites. In 2006-07, only 16 per cent of the very-high-risk workplaces received the requisite two visits a year and only 10 per cent of high-risk workplaces received their requisite one visit.
"Many provinces have made concerted efforts to reduce workplace injuries by targeting high risk workplaces and hiring substantially more inspectors," explains Macdonald. "Unfortunately for federal jurisdiction workers – particularly those working in trucking, at Canada Post or on (First Nation) reserves – HRSDC continues to provide its inspectors with inadequate support."
The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) notes that harsh words are reserved for Canada Post, which the report calls "perhaps the worst example of inaction on workplace injuries." The Crown Corporation shows "by far the worst over-representation of disabling injuries" with postal workers experiencing disabling injuries at 3.5 times the average for the federal jurisdiction and postal contractors making up fully 20 per cent. Despite these numbers, the report finds a "disturbing trend" of "stonewalling" investigations on Canada Post's part.
One problem, according to the report, is little external pressure on federally-regulated employers to follow labour law when it comes to disclosing injury rates. They are allowed to "self-report" through annual "hazardous occurrences" surveys. No penalties or fines exist for failing to submit these surveys.
Representatives from the Canadian Union of Postal Workers say they are saddened but not surprised by this dangerous state of affairs. "Who else would be allowed to get away with mutilating and maiming workers to such an extent?" says Gayle Bossenberry, CUPW 1st national vice-president. "We're relieved to see a study that confirms some of what we've been experiencing."
The union has been sharply critical of Canada Post's safety programs, including a series of videos targeted at injured workers. Such "behaviour-based" safety training tends to put the responsibility for health and safety onto workers rather than placing the onus on the employer to work towards prevention and safer workplaces. Bossenberry calls this "unacceptable."
"Canada Post brags that its injury rates are falling but the likelihood is that fewer accidents are being reported and more workers are being forced to take the blame for getting hurt," Bossenberry states. "Obviously Canada Post needs strong external enforcement to clean up its health and safety act."
The study concludes with several recommendations for improving federal workplace safety, which include:
- The federal government should immediately target high risk workplaces for increased inspection and support.
- HRSDC should strive to reduce the workplace injury rate by 20% within five years.
- All federal departments and crown corporations should comply with “best practices” standards for worker safety.
- HRSDC should hire more Labour Affairs Officers (LAOs).
- LAO compensation levels should be appropriate
- The federal government should develop a strategy for workplace safety on First Nations reserves.
A second report, Canada's Regulatory Obstacle Course, contains CCPA senior economist Marc Lee's analysis of the federal government's new Cabinet Directive on Streamlining Regulation (CDSR). Lee’s analysis suggests that the government's poor record on workplace safety is not an isolated case but may reflect an across-the-board weakening of the federal regulatory process.
"The new federal approach to regulation demands compelling evidence of harm before action can be taken and puts health, safety, and environmental concerns at risk," says Lee. "The CDSR places a 'chill' over the development of new public interest regulation, and will greatly water down any new measures that do get considered."
Success is No Accident: Declining Workplace Safety Among Federal Jurisdiction Employers and Canada's Regulatory Obstacle Course are available on the CCPA website at http://policyalternatives.ca.
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