Under-Reporting of Job-Related Injuries and Deaths
The official annual figures for job-related deaths in
Canada typically fall between 900 to 1,000, a number compiled from data
from workers' compensation agencies. The actual numbers are no doubt
higher as the numbers from the workers' compensation agencies leave
many workers out of the picture. A recent study points out
these deficiencies and underscores more than ever the need for working
people to empower themselves, so that their right to safe and healthy
working conditions can be realized in a meaningful way.
Their authors of the study state that their aim is to
broaden the discussion
about issues facing workers that contribute to illnesses and
death. The study, titled "Work-related deaths in Canada,"
published in November 2018 in Labour, the Journal of Canadian
Labour Studies, states in its abstract:
"This paper critically examines official statistics on
workplace fatalities in Canada. Each year the Association of Workers'
Compensation Boards of Canada reports on the number of workers who die
from a work-related injury or illness/disease. The problem, however, is
that these data report the number of deaths that were accepted for
compensation; it is not a system for tracking all work-related deaths.
Drawing from a range of data sources and employing a broad definition
of what constitutes death at work we attempt to generate a more
accurate estimate of the number of work-related fatalities in Canada.
In so doing our goal is not to produce a definitive number of annual
deaths at work -- an impossibility given the paucity of data sources --
but instead to challenge dominant ways of conceptualizing what
constitutes a work-related fatality and thus contribute to ongoing
efforts to raise academic, political, and public awareness about this
important issue. In this sense our goal is to question whether official
regarding workplace fatalities are complete when set against a broader
understanding of what constitutes death at work."
The study points out that as a result of this limited
source of information, thousands of deaths are missing from
occupational health and safety
statistics, such as for workers not covered by a public workers'
compensation system, or deaths due to stress-induced suicides,
fatalities while commuting and
occupational diseases. Depending on the province, only 70 to 98 per
the workforce may be covered by a public workers' compensation system,
which works out to
more than two million workers in Canada whose injuries or deaths at
work would not be included in official statistics. This would include
workers who are self-employed, domestic helpers, banking
employees and farmers, as well as the most vulnerable sectors of the
working class whose working conditions are amongst the most dangerous
-- undocumented and migrant workers.
"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," write the study's authors. Steven Bittle, an associate
criminology professor at the University of Ottawa who lead the
research, explained to the 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." Bittle and the other authors estimate that a more accurate
figure is between 10,000 to 13,000 deaths annually.
The study's authors propose that deaths while commuting
to and from work be included in workplace-fatality statistics, a figure
they estimate at about 460 per year. "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," Bittle told the CBC.
Another category of fatalities the authors suggest could
be included in these figures are non-workers who die
collaterally, but whose deaths can be directly attributed to workplace
issues, such as a spouse who dies from mesothelioma after
exposure to asbestos from washing their
partner's work clothes, or bystanders killed in a crane or
while passing by a construction site.
The study also looks at situations of extreme stress
arising from working conditions unlikely to be covered by the current
arrangements. The example is given of a Saskatchewan
man employed by a small rural municipality who in 2017 took his own
struggling with mental-health issues worsened by
his work. In this case, the province's compensation board partly
attributed his death
employer. However, the study
suggests the number of suicide-related claims is drastically
underestimated. Bittle estimates that between 10 and 17 per cent of
suicides in Canada could be classified as work-related, which works out
to 400 to 800 fatalities each year.
The study concludes by saying that the single biggest
category for underestimation are work-related diseases. At present,
while approximately 500 to 600 deaths attributed to occupational
disease are reported through the compensation systems nationwide,
Bittle estimates that the actual number is more than 8,000 deaths. Such
situations are well-known to injured
their families and their organizations, who for decades have fought
tooth-and-nail for work-related cancers and other diseases to be
recognized under the
workers' compensation systems.
For some occupations, workers' defence organizations
have been successful in turning this situation around. CBC reports that
Prince Edward Island's Workers Compensation Act came into
force, giving firefighters presumptive coverage for certain types of
cancers and illnesses. PEI was the last province to make such
Another example familiar to readers of Workers' Forum
is the fight of the General Electric workers in Peterborough, Ontario,
for recognition of the compensation claims of workers exposed to toxic
chemicals over the years and for compensation for themselves and their
example is the McIntyre Power Project in Northern
Ontario, that seeks justice for miners in Ontario's gold and uranium
mines who in the mid-20th century were forced to inhale aluminum powder
each shift purportedly to prevent silicosis, with many later suffering
from serious neurological disorders, including Parkinson's and
This study underscores the justness of the the Ontario
Network of Injured Workers'
Groups' "Workers' Comp Is a Right" campaign to fight for a compensation
system that is truly universal, so
that no one's injuries or deaths can be swept under the rug, and the
causes for these casualties can be identified and eliminated
compensation for the victims provided. It confirms the justness of
working people's fight for the dignity of labour, beginning with
putting an end to working conditions that endanger the lives and health
Canada," Steven Bittle, Ashley Chen, Jasmine
Hébert, Labour, Journal of Canadian Labour Studies, Vol.
2. See: "The Injustice Faced by
General Electric Workers in Peterborough," Interview, Sue James,
Chair, GE Occupational Health Advisory Committee, Ontario Political
Forum, May 10, 2018.
See also: "Peterborough
Forum, June 5, 2018.
3. See: "Standing Up for Injured
Workers in Northern Ontario: Four Successful Days of Action in Support
of the Rights of Injured Workers," Ontario Political Forum,
May 31, 2018.
This article was published in
Number 16 - May 2, 2019
Under-Reporting of Job-Related Injuries and Deaths - Nick Lin