Job-related deaths in Canada dramatically under-reported, study suggests

Authors estimate true number of workplace deaths 10 times greater than official figures

Last week at the joint Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) and Ontario Network of Injured Worker Groups’ (ONIWG) Workers Compensation Conference Steven Bittle presented on research done by himself, Ashley Chen and Jasmine Hebert regarding Work Related Injuries in Canada. Clearly the information we are using has been flawed. Rather then make a poor attempted of explaining his findings I have inserted an article by Jacques Marcoux and Katie Nicholson which was published by CBC News.

Jacques MarcouxKatie Nicholson · CBC News · Posted: Jan 11, 2019 6:00 AM ET | Last Updated: January 12

According to a recent study, the number of workplace fatalities being reported in Canada is dramatically underestimated and could as much as 10 times higher than is generally captured by occupational health and safety statistics. (CBC)

Close to 1,000 Canadians die each year because of their jobs, according to official numbers from Canada’s workers’ compensation agencies. But a new study says that figure is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the true extent of work-related deaths across the country.

The study — titled Work-related deaths in Canada — argues the widely quoted statistics from the Association of Workers’ Compensation Board of Canada (AWCBC) should not solely be used as a benchmark for work-related fatalities, as these figures only take into account approved compensation claims.

As a result, thousands of deaths — such as workers exempt from coverage, stress-induced suicides, commuting fatalities and occupational disease — are missing from occupational health and safety statistics, it says.

“This situation is akin to crime statistics only ever including solved homicides, therein leaving the impression that attempted murders, unsolved murders or suspicious deaths are not a concern,” the study’s authors wrote.

Steve Bittle, an associate criminology professor at the University of Ottawa, spearheaded the research.(CBC)

Our notion of what constitutes a workplace fatality is too narrow and it is a mistake to count work-related fatalities through our compensation regimes, says Steven Bittle, an associate criminology professor at the University of Ottawa who spearheaded the research, which was published in November.

Last year, workers’ compensation boards across the country approved a total of 904 claims involving fatalities. About one-third of those cases involved acute accidents, with the rest due to longer-term illnesses from occupational exposure.

Bittle’s team estimates that a more accurate figure hovers between 10,000 to 13,000 deaths annually.

Non-reporting and under-reported fatalities

Depending on the province, between 70 and 98 per cent of the workforce is covered by a public workers’ compensation system. But that means there are well more than two million workers in Canada whose deaths would escape official statistics.

Excluded occupations could include the self-employed, domestic helpers, banking employees and farmers, among others.

The latest AWCBC figures show that in Ontario, 24 per cent of the approximate 7.1 million working Ontarians are not covered by a the public workers’ compensation regime.

Bittle’s paper also cites a 2015 study from the University of British Columbia that found an average of six fatalities per year that were not on WorkSafeBC’s radar. Many of these cases involved deaths that occurred in hospital, days after the workplace event.

The authors further estimate about 64 farming deaths escape official statistics each year.

The study estimates about about 64 farming deaths aren’t reflected in annual occupational health and safety statistics. (CBC)​

Morag Marjerison, a farm-safety consultant based in Brandon, Man., agrees that the dearth of data is problematic. In Manitoba, farm owners and their family members are exempt from mandatory coverage.

“I think it’s really a problem in that we don’t ever see the true picture. Whenever I’m looking at training, trying to educate

, we’re always showing what look like low statistics, when we know that’s not the reality of what’s happening,” she said.

“I think if everyone that works in safety saw the reality of how frequently the same things happen over again and again, attention could be paid to the bigger issues.”

Commuters and bystanders

One of the more contentious elements of Bittle’s study, he admits, is the idea that deaths while commuting to and from work are worth including in workplace-fatality statistics. He estimates there are about 460 commuting deaths a year — and the goal of their inclusion is to start a conversation about some broader issues.

“We live in a culture of presenteeism, where people are expected to be at work — at least culturally expected to be at work, if not through pressures in their workforce — regardless of whether they’re ill or whether the weather conditions are such that they shouldn’t be driving at that particular time,” he said.

The 2013 death of an Alberta intern who was killed while driving home after a 16-hour shift at a local radio station highlighted the potentially dangerous relationship between commuting and workload.

The study also suggests that non-workers who die collaterally could be included, such as a spouse who dies after repeatedly being exposed to asbestos from years of washing their partner’s clothes, or a pedestrian crushed in a scaffolding collapse while walking near a job site.

Suicides: ‘Extreme stresses’

In 2017, a Saskatchewan man employed by a small rural municipality took his own life after struggling with mental-health issues found to have been exacerbated by his work. The province’s WCB partly attributed the death to his employer.

Situations like these are rarely covered, and the study suggests the number of suicide-related claims is drastically underestimated.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada published a study last year that found Canadian employees reported workplace stress as the primary cause of their mental-health concerns.

Bittle believes between 10 and 17 per cent of annual suicides in Canada could be classified as work-related, representing a range of 400 to 800 fatalities each year.

Mara Grunau, executive director of the Centre for Suicide Prevention, agrees that while the links between work and mental health exist, proving it caused a person to take their life is difficult.

“In our culture, we spend hours and hours at work. And the way we feel about work, and the way we interact with the people at work, affects who we are,” she said. “If work is a miserable place to be, it affects other aspects of our life.”

Province takes aim at workplace protections

Once again Sara Mojtehedzadeh has written an article that deserves mention on the website, as does the Toronto Star for giving her a place for these important stories. If you want to subscribe to a newspaper you could do worse then the Toronto Star

Province takes aim at workplace protections

Inspectors who look into workers’ complaints will be reduced, union bulletin shows

The Ministry of Labour is aiming to reduce the number of inspectors tasked with investigating workplace abuses, according to an internal union bulletin obtained by the Star.

A government hiring freeze instituted last year already slowed plans to double the ministry’s complement of employment standards officers, introduced under the Liberals in 2017 through Bill 148. That legislation mandated hiring 175 new officers. Around 75 were hired before the Liberals were voted out and the hiring freeze announced.

Now, the ministry “wants to reduce the number of officers to the pre-Bill 148 levels,” according to a May memo from the Ontario Public Sector Employees Union to its members.

“The employer has come up with a plan to reduce numbers through attrition within the next three years.”

Minister of Labour spokesperson Christine Bujold did not answer a direct question on specific numbers, but said the ministry was “not proposing any involuntary reductions in Employment Standards Officers.”

She said a shift to “digital service delivery” would help “reduce claims by workers as employers are given digital tools to ensure compliance.”

“This shift will allow Ministry of Labour inspectors to focus on high-risk employers,” she said.

This year’s provincial budget cut $11 million from the ministry’s budget.

New employer self-audit tools will “modernize and streamline” enforcement efforts by helping employers to “educate themselves” on their workplace obligations, the ministry has said.

Employment standards officers investigate complaints and inspect workplaces for issues like failing to pay minimum wage, overtime, or public holiday pay. They do not deal with health and safety issues.

A 2016 report by two independent experts was commissioned by the Ministry of Labour to review the province’s workplace standards.

The report found that Ontario faces “serious” and extensive problems enforcing basic employment rights.

“We conclude that there is a serious problem with enforcement of Employment Standards Act (ESA) provisions,” the report reads. “While most employers likely comply or try to comply with the ESA, we conclude that there are too many people in too many workplaces who do not receive their basic rights.”

Avvy Go, director of the Metro Toronto Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, said she is concerned about what reduced enforcement staffing will mean for vulnerable workers in the province.

“Based on our clinic’s over 30 years experience working with low-income workers in precarious employment, enforcement is the key to ensuring their rights are being protected,” she said.

“For many years, we’ve been pushing for having stronger enforcement. We got some under the last government during the last months of their term, and it’s very sad to see that small bit of change being rolled back.”

In 2017-18, the Ministry of Labour had 271 employment standards officers – up from 198 the previous year, before Bill 148.

Ministry blitzes in the past regularly found violations in more than 75 per cent of workplaces inspected. In response, the previous Liberal government pledged to hire 175 new employment standards officers and aim to inspect one in 10 Ontario workplaces.

After the change in government and a hiring freeze was instituted, ministry staff were also instructed not to initiate any new proactive employment standards inspections, according to an internal memo previously obtained by the Star.

According to the memo, the move was motivated by a significant backlog of employment standards claims filed by workers – exacerbated by a “discretionary spending freeze and subsequent suspension of recruitment” at the ministry.

Bujold said ensuring compliance with the Employment Standards Act was “very important to the Ford PC government,” which was why the ministry was “focusing on digital service delivery that will enhance compliance support and provide better customer support.”

“This approach is expected to reduce claims by workers as employers are given digital tools to ensure compliance with the Act,” she said.

Proactive inspections, which are initiated at the behest of the ministry rather than an individual worker’s complaint, are more resource intensive, but also far more effective at recovering unpaid wages, according to the ministry’s own data.

“Having strong enforcement is the only way to make sure many of these employers will follow the law and give the workers what they earned,” Go said.

“We’re talking about sometimes not even paying the minimum wage, the very basic requirements under the ESA.”

Real Truth from Real People

I have just become aware of a site that gives Workers a chance to tell their stories. The Centre for Research on Work Disability Policy is a national organization that works with the Ontario Network of Injured Worker Groups and many other organizations across Ontario to develop research on disabilities and work.

As part of this work they have produced several videos which can be viewed at http://www.crwdp.ca/en/stories . These are some incredible stories well worth hearing. Included in this list is on by our own Board member Eugene.

Why Injured Workers Should Join the Fight Against Doug Ford – Part 1

The Thunder Bay and District Injured Worker Support Group have been actively working with other organizations to express our displeasure with the current government.  Why are we raising our flag and banner at so many protests?  Why are we joining protests that do not directly affect Injured Workers?  Why is it so important that you join us?

Over the next few days, using the OFL Ford Tracker, I will print a list of the actions the Ford Government has done that will affect Injured workers.  Few of these items are directly aimed at Injured Workers and yet they are likely to negatively impact Injured Workers.  That said, this is a government that can be forced to back down.  Just today they announced that they would not, as previously suggested, privatize the WSIB.  This tells us that fighting back works!

Please checkout the list below and the one to come.  I suspect the information on these lists will make you both mad and scared so do something with that emotion and join us on a protest line.  Let’s fight back!

Cancelled all of the programs that were funded by the $2.9 billion in revenues amassed through the cap-and-trade program – including school and social housing repairs as well as rebates for green energy retrofits.

This concerns Injured Workers because:  Even though this is about the environment (very important in itself), it will have a direct effect on IWs who are living in Social Housing (and there are far too many).  Many communities spend far less money on maintaining these buildings than is required.  These cuts will delay or even cancel repairs or upgrades to apartments—upgrades that would have made life better for many IWs.   

Restricted access to free prescription drugs for Ontarians 24 and under, who currently do not have access to such benefits (i.e., a step backwards from universal pharma care)

This concerns Injured Workers because:  Although employers should be paying these costs through WSIB, we know that many IWs are not receiving these benefits.  Although this would only affect young IWs, now it will help not one IW. 

Eliminate key equity ministries, such as the Ministries Responsible for the Anti-Racism Directorate, for Poverty Reduction Strategy, for Early Years and Child Care, for the Status of Women as well as the Ministries of Citizenship and Immigration, and of Research, Innovation, and Science.

This concerns Injured Workers because: With so many IWs living in poverty a Poverty Reduction Strategy is a much needed benefit.

For some IWs, Child Care could be essential for their return to the workforce.  How does the WSIB deem that a worker must accept work at minimum wage when there is no affordable daycare?  Women, people of color, Indigenous and other minority groups often face extra barriers when trying to re-enter the workforce. (Members of these groups have long been working to eliminate or minimize those extra barriers.)

Cut a planned 3% increase to social assistance in half and scrapped the Basic Income Pilot Program.

This concerns Injured Workers because:  As we all know, a large number of IWs either have a long delay before receiving their benefits or don’t acquire benefits at all and are therefore dependent on social assistance.

The Basic Income Pilot Program could have changed the way Social Assistance is done, to the benefit of people living in poverty in Ontario and, since this was a multi-university study, the resulting report might have changed the way social assistance is done around the world.

Cut the Liberals’ promised $2.1 billion over four years for new mental health funding with $1.9 billion over 10 years (i.e., $190 million per year instead of $525 million)

This concerns Injured Workers because:  This money was promised by the previous government because Ontario citizens, and in fact Canadians, were starting to come to terms with the reality of Mental Illnesses, their frequency, causes, and effects, and the stigma associated with them.

We have studies that show if an IW has more then one injury from the workplace, almost invariably, one of them will be a Mental Health Disorder.  We are just starting to understand Mental Health and have much to learn.  These cuts will severely curtail this necessary research, resulting in delays that will undoubtedly cause hardship for many.

Intended to invoke the Notwithstanding clause and overrode the Human Rights Code to slash the number of Toronto City Council seats.

This concerns Injured Workers because: Although on the face of it, this would only affect Toronto, Doug Ford stated several times that he would not hesitate to use the Not Withstanding Clause in the Canadian Bill of Rights and Freedoms.  This means that an Injured Worker-driven complaint that goes to the Supreme Court and is upheld, could be disregarded by the Province of Ontario.  The Thunder Bay and District Injured Workers Support Group (TBDIWSG) has had standing in two Supreme Court Hearings, both of which were successful victories for Injured Workers.  If this had happened in Ontario and under Doug Ford’s Government, it is hard to see him not implementing the Notwithstanding clause and allowing the WSIB to continue their unjust practices.

Introduced Bill 47, Making Ontario Open for Business Act (e.g., scrapped the $15 minimum wage, paid sick days, equal pay for equal work, access to workplace information)

This concerns Injured Workers because:  This does far more than decrease the minimum wage. It repeals many advancements made by the Liberals.  Many employees will lose paid sick time.  The ability to obtain workplace information will also be limited. 

This legislation is determined to limit Unions.  It is well documented that unionized workplaces have a lower rate of injury than non-unionized worksites. Without Unions the TBDIWSG would not have the funds needed to operate, nor would most other Injured Worker driven organizations.  Over the years they have shared both their money, space, training and even staff with Injured Worker Groups across Ontario.  We need our friends strong.

Froze proactive workplace inspections.

This concerns Injured Workers because:  There are too many Injured Workers already in Ontario.  How many would there be without Proactive Workplace Inspections and the work orders their inspectors provide to employers?   The Government needs proactive Inspections to be increased and with more enforcement, not have them cancelled.

Passed Bill 57, Restoring Trust, Transparency, and Accountability Act (e.g., delayed the pay Transparency Act; removed independent officers of the House; cancelled a small increase in taxes for high-income earners; rolled back rent control for existing units.) [LV1] 

This concerns Injured Workers because: Rolling back rent control in some areas with low vacancy rates can cause a real problem for people on fixed incomes, like IWs.  A survey done in Toronto by Street Health found that 57 percent of homeless people were injured at work. 

Setting aside the fact that a tax increase to high income earners is being cancelled when so many people of low or middle income are being asked to sacrifice so much, the issue for Injured Workers is the combination of the Ontario Government’s determination to 1) Cut the deficit hard and fast and 2) protect the wealthy from any of it’s effects.  

Are the Conservatives just cutting programs they never supported and using the deficit to convince Ontarians of the need to implement these unpopular actions?

Introduced regressive social assistance reforms (e.g., limiting access for persons with Disabilities)

( Seriously, I go from cutting taxes to the wealthiest Canadians to cutting People with Disabilities off ODSP.  I think I need a break after this one. )

This concerns Injured Workers because:  It is strongly rumored that the government plans to change Ontario Disability Support Program qualifications, to limit the people that qualify. If the Government brings the qualifications in line with those of the Canadian Pension Plan thousands of people could find themselves no longer eligible for ODSP benefits.  It is important to note that these programs have very different goals, reflected in the fact that one is a federal government responsibility and the other is of provincial jurisdiction. 

Well folks that’s the first six months in office (and the author needs a break).  Keep your eyes out for part 2.  I am hoping to have it out in a few days. 

In the meantime, please come out and support us as we fight back against the Doug Ford Government. This government is going to cut programs and cost to everything until they get push back. ( Example: Assistance to Children with Autism, funding for Municipality,) I will try to keep an updated list of protest posted on this site.

The Complete OFL Ford Tracker can be seen at http://ofl.ca/power-of-many-ford-tracker-pc-cuts-and-privatization-to-date/