A new overseas report is worth the Australian building industry looking at with respect to saving lives and making construction work safer. Several States in the USA have introduced laws that affect union coverage onsite. A study by Michael Zoorob1 of Harvard University, looked at the effect of these laws on workplace fatalities.
Zoorob found that “a one per cent decline in union coverage sees a five per cent increase in the rate of occupational fatalities.”
“In total, the laws have led to a 14.2 per cent increase in occupational mortality through decreased unionisation.”
Nobody should be killed at work. An increase in fatalities has been found to be a result of the new restrictive union laws in the US. We can learn from this in Australia.
Making sites safer
Zoorob’s study looked at a range of measures to confirm the link between union coverage and increased workplace fatalities. He discussed previous research that found “collective bargaining agreements secured numerous workplace hazards protections, along with other potential health benefits such as more generous employer-provided medical insurance.
“Studies suggest that unionised workplaces receive more health and safety inspections from the federal agency OSHA, and the threat of union organising may impel employers to improve workplace safety.”
The study showed that although US worker fatalities have declined in the last two decades, the decline was more noticeable in states with more unionisation. Since 2008, worker fatalities have climbed, reversing previous years’ trends, during the period that several states adopted the new laws.
“In light of these findings, policymakers in the USA and other countries might consider how declining unionisation rates may impact worker safety.” Previous studies have also found workers in a unionised workplace are 70 per cent more likely to be aware of OHS hazards and issues.
A 2015 Canadian study2 found that workers in unionised companies reported 23 per cent fewer injuries requiring time off work than those with non-union employers. Unionised workers were also 17 per cent less likely to experience injuries that affect mobility, and almost 30 per cent less likely to suffer critical injuries that put their lives at risk. The study analysed data from more than 40,000 construction companies.
Across the world and here in Australia, the evidence is compelling.
Article written by John Setka, Secretary – CFMEU
1Zoorob M. Occup Environ Med, June 2018
2Institute for Work and Health, Canada, 2015.