Federal cuts undermining workplace health and safety: CCPA

Federal underfunding and understaffing of safety inspectors are putting employees in federally regulated workplaces in harm’s way, according to a study released by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA).
The study, by CCPA research associate John Anderson, examines occupational health and safety developments between 2007 and 2012 in sectors under federal jurisdiction, including banking, communications, broadcasting, postal services, road, air, rail and water transport, as well as the federal government. In 2012, almost 1.2 million employees worked in the federally regulated sector.

“The overall situation is a recipe for both potential dangerous occupational health and safety issues and injuries,” said Anderson. "Inspection is absent or so highly limited it cannot create the safe workplace environment that is surely everybody’s goal and wish.”

There were 151 inspectors to oversee health and safety in federally regulated employers across the country in 2005. The Labour Program of Employment and Social Development Canada claims there are 90 inspectors today but according to figures obtained by the Public Service Alliance of Canada, there were no more than 67 inspectors working in April of this year.

The study highlights amendments to the Canada Labour Code hidden in the 2013 budget bill that reduced the power of health and safety inspectors and critically weakened the definition of workplace “danger” which can be used by employees to refuse unsafe work. These changes, combined with the dismantling of the tripartite oversight committees for health and safety, have left the system much diminished in its regulatory oversight powers.

“While certain injury indices for federally regulated workplaces have improved since 2007, the improvements are small compared to those at the provincial level and absolute numbers remain very high,” Anderson said.

The overall provincial disabling injury rates declined by 46 per cent from 2002 to 2012, while the decline in federal rates for the same period was only 12 per cent. The study finds there were nearly 21,000 disabling injuries in the federally regulated sector in 2012 and between 2002 and 2013, 684 employees died as a result of workplace injury.

The study concludes with several recommendations to restore and improve the health and safety regulation of businesses and employers under federal jurisdiction.