The results of a recently updated study commissioned by the Ontario Construction Secretariat have helped to reaffirm what the IBEW has long known: that a unionized construction jobsite makes for a safer jobsite.
“When our well-trained electrical tradesmen and women work smart and follow the proper safety rules and procedures, they help ensure that every worker on that jobsite gets to go home safe at the end of each working day,” said First District International Vice President Tom Reid. “We’re pleased to see this report back up our real-world experience, but it should really come as little surprise to the members of our union.”
Released in January, the report found that unionized jobsites reported lost-time claims at a rate 31% lower than non-unionized sites, six full percentage points better than the findings of the first study conducted in 2015.
The OCS is a joint labor-management organization that represents more than 100,000 union members and 5,000 union contractors in the province’s industrial, commercial and institutional (ICI) construction sector. It commissioned and helped finance the 2015 and 2021 studies by the Institute for Work and Health, which tracks work injury and disability prevention efforts.
“We had no idea what we would find, no preconceived notions,” said OCS Chief Executive Officer Robert Bronk of the first study, which looked at the effect of unionization on the incidence of workers’ compensation claims from more than 50,000 ICI companies representing 1.7 million organized and non-organized workers alike.
That 2015 report concluded that unionization lowered the likelihood of organizations reporting lost-time injury claims by an impressive 25%, as well as reduced risks through training and the practice of hazard identification and control.
For the newer study, IWH looked at similar figures from Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board covering 2012 through 2018. The six-point increase found by the 2021 study boosted the original report’s findings: that company unionization remains associated with a lower risk of lost-time allowed injury claims.
“Building trades unions insist on a higher level of construction trades training, which results in safer workplace practices, as well as educating tradespeople to recognize unsafe working conditions,” said Patrick Dillon, a former business manager of Hamilton, Ontario, Local 105 who is now the head of the Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario, in a press release. “This results in a healthier and safer workplace and provides confidence that a unionized workforce will get a job completed on time, on budget and, most importantly, safely.” Dillon serves as a labor representative on OCS’s board of directors.
The high level of quality training provided by the IBEW and other unions, through apprenticeships, continuing education and on-the-job instruction, is crucial for helping workers stay safe, Reid said. “Preventable accidents harm workers, jobsite morale and a company’s bottom line,” he said, “to say nothing about how much it can harm the reputation of the unions that represent those workers.”
The bigger firms in Ontario tend to be at least partially unionized, the study noted, and unionized building trades workers are more likely to report unsafe working conditions and ensure that workplace safety rules are enforced. Union work sites in the building trades tend also to employ more registered apprentices and have higher journeyman-to-apprentice ratios, it said.
The study didn’t drill down to compare the various construction trades, said Bronk, a former training director for the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades. “Anecdotally, though, electrical workers have one of the riskiest jobs, but you remain safe because of training,” he said.
The results of the study, Bronk said, show just how much the emphasis that unions like the IBEW place on training pays off. “In the province, unions spend about $40 million a year on apprenticeships, training and instructors,” he said. “They really put their money where their mouth is.”