On-Site Magazine

Ontario unionized construction firms are safer workplaces, study suggests


Construction Health & Safety Skills Development

Fewer critical workplace injuries, lost work days: Study

Unionized construction firms in Ontario are “safer” places to work than non-union employers, claims a new study released yesterday by the Ontario Construction Secretariat.

The Toronto-based Institute for Work and Health study, which examined Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) ,claims data between 2006 and 2012 from more than 40,000 construction firms across Ontario, shows that unionized workers reported 23 per cent fewer injuries requiring time off work than non-union workers.

This is the first peer-reviewed Canadian study to examine the occupational health and safety benefits of unions in Ontario’s industrial, commercial and institutional (ICI) construction sector.

In particular, workers at unionized firms were 17 per cent less likely to experience musculoskeletal injuries (injuries or disorders affecting mobility, especially muscles, tendons and nerves) and 29 per cent less likely to suffer critical injuries (injuries with the potential to place workers’ lives in jeopardy) while on the job, the study found.


Despite filing fewer claims resulting in critical injuries and time off work, unionized workers did report a greater total number of “no lost time” claims – incidents that did not result in lost wages, productivity, or disability or impairment.

“These findings suggest that unionized workers are encouraged to report injuries, including injuries that don’t require time away from the job,” says Institute for Work & Health Senior Scientist Dr. Ben Amick, colead investigator on the study with fellow Senior Scientist Dr. Sheilah Hogg-Johnson.

“At the same time, these reporting practices enable construction unions to better identify and proactively manage workplace hazards that lead to injury,” says Amick.

When researchers eliminated the effects a firm’s size has on its overall rate of workplace injuries – larger firms typically have greater resources to devote to workplace health and safety programs – unionized firms still reported 14 per cent fewer injuries requiring time off work, and eight per cent fewer musculoskeletal injuries. (Data for critical injuries could not be measured when controlling for firm size.)

The study has been published in the American online version of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. In the article, the scientists discuss other factors that might explain the union safety effect. These include:

      • more robust specialized apprenticeship;
      • upgrade and safety training requirements for union members;
      • programs and practices that more effectively identify and reduce construction work hazards;
      • a safety net that
      • ongoing skills training allows union workers to report accidents without fear of repercussions; programs that provide a foundation for safer skilled work throughout one’s career;
      • a more effective role for unions in influencing government regulations designed to improve workplace health and safety.

“Creating safe and healthy workplaces continues to be a core value of the unionized construction industry in Ontario,” says Sean Strickland, Chief Executive Officer of the Ontario Construction Secretariat, which funded the research study.

“This first-of-its-kind study shows that the union safety effect is having a tangible impact in Ontario’s ICI construction sector and through our investments in safety, specialized training and apprenticeship programs the unionized construction sector in Ontario is showing its commitment to being a leader in worksite safety and productivity.”

Altogether, seven years of injury claims data for unionized and non-unionized firms employing more than 1.5 million full-time-equivalent workers were analyzed for this study.

The Ontario Construction Secretariat was formed in 1993 as a joint labour/management organization representing 25 unionized construction trades and their contractor partners in Ontario’s industrial, commercial and institutional (ICI) construction sector.

Its mandate is to enhance Ontario’s ICI construction industry by developing relationships, facilitating dialogue, providing value-added research, disseminating important information to client groups and promoting the value of ICI unionized construction across Ontario and beyond. 


Stories continue below