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Study Confirms that the Union Safety Advantage Is Real

There are lots of advantages for companies that use union labor, including better quality and more efficient work, highly trained workers, access to a qualified labor pool and, of course, improved safety on the job.

LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck

Six years ago, the Institute for Work & Health (IWH) in Toronto published a pioneering study that used workers’ compensation data to compare safety performance on union construction jobs to non-union construction jobs. Their findings, which we covered at the time in Lifelines, weren’t surprising – union jobs were safer. The study found that unionized employers had 14 percent fewer lost workday claims and 29 percent fewer claims for “critical incidents” as well. The study also found union firms had more workers’ comp claims for non-lost-workday injuries, showing that workers did feel comfortable reporting injuries when they occurred.

“There are many advantages to using union workers on construction projects, and a better trained, safer workforce is at the top of the list,” says LHSFNA Management Co-Chairmen Noel C. Borck. “Studies like this confirm that investing in safety, empowering workers to speak up about hazards and maintaining a strong relationship between labor and management makes a real difference.”

With six more years of data since the original study, the IWH did a follow-up to see if their conclusions still held up. The follow-up study used data from approximately 60,000 companies in Ontario between 2012-2018. The results showed an even stronger union safety effect than the original study:

  • Union firms had 25 percent fewer lost workday incidents
  • Union firms had 23 percent fewer lost workday claims from musculoskeletal (i.e., sprain and strain) injuries
  • Union firms had 16 percent fewer claims for critical or severe injuries

“The data doesn’t lie, and reaffirms what we have always suspected,” says Robert Bronk, Chief Executive Officer of the Ontario Construction Secretariat. “Putting an emphasis on worker training, safe work practices and giving workers a voice in the workplace makes a positive difference for workers and for contractors.”

The “union safety effect” found in the study was strongest for companies with more than 50 employees, where there was a 44 percent reduction in claims. The effect was consistent across multiple construction sectors, including industrial maintenance workers, sheet metal workers and roofers.

The authors of the study attribute this “union safety effect” to several factors, including:

  • Better training of the union workforce
  • Union workers are more comfortable raising safety issues
  • A higher journeyman to apprentice ratio
  • Less worker turnover
  • Longer job tenure
  • Better return-to-work programs at union firms

All of these factors contribute to why unionized workers enjoy safer working conditions and experience fewer serious injuries than their non-union counterparts. It’s clear from the data that companies seeking to improve safety on the job should look to hire union workers.

[Scott Schneider]

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