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Health and Safety

April 28 is the Day of Mourning for workers killed on the job or from occupation-related illness.  In 2020, 19 Unifor members died on the job, and in 2019, 925 Canadian workers died on the job or were killed by  occupational disease.  In addition, there were 271,806 lost time claims for workplace injury and illness.

By taking actions before an event occurs, workplace illnesses and injuries can be prevented. This is the  ultimate  goal of the occupational health and safety (OHS) system – to keep workplaces and workers healthy and safe.

We continue to emphasize essential worker health and safety rights: to participate in health and safety committees; to know about workplace hazards; to refuse unsafe work as the cornerstone of our health and  safety efforts, and the right to no retaliation. We need to make these rights stronger so that workers’ representatives will have the power to act and to prevent injuries. Without union health and safety representatives’ effective ability to challenge employers at the workplace, workers cannot be protected from death, injury and occupational disease.

Over thirty years after the introduction of the Internal Responsibility System and the formal recognition of worker representatives, there remain major gaps in the health and safety regulatory system for all Canadian workers, and especially those in precarious employment.

Unfortunately, the enforcement system has failed to advance the health and safety culture in our workplaces. Governments often claim that workers and employers should be partners. However, we are not partners – our interests are often different. Employers may put production outcomes before health and safety. It is not employers who get hurt. Workers, however, must put their health and safety first.

We work to align prevention efforts between the areas of workplace occupational health and safety culture, disease and injury with a focus on the most affected workers and those at greatest risk.

The three priority issues are:

• musculoskeletal disorders (due to repetitive use, overexertion and heavy lifting);
• slips, trips and falls; and
• psychosocial hazards (including workplace violence, harassment, and mental health).

These priorities were identified by reviewing several data sources including workers’ compensation claims, by both cost and total number of claims. These priority diseases and injuries occur in all Unifor sectors.

Our bargaining priorities

At the bargaining table we have the opportunity to get out in front of technological change before it happens, and to protect workers from psychosocial hazards and other workplace stressors.

We continue to emphasize the essential worker health and safety rights: to participate in health and safety committees, to know about workplace hazards and to refuse unsafe work.

To achieve our goals, Unifor will:

Ensure the right to refuse unsafe work includes severe cases of harassment, threats of violence and the presence of violence, in addition to physically unsafe work.

Bargain the appropriate process to refuse excessive workloads caused by short shifting, whether it is built in through downsizing or temporary absences. In workplaces where our members provide frontline service, such as health care, we will ensure our members are not put in the position between over-work and meeting the  needs of their patients or clients.

Build capacity of health and safety representatives by negotiating time and resources including more time off for representatives in small workplaces, and a full-time representative in large workplaces.

Develop language that addresses broader health concerns such as stress, and even terminal illness caused by workplace environments.

● In addressing health and safety issues associated with new technology, specific language must be negotiated to deal with many possibilities in unpredictable and rapidly-changing workplaces. Health and safety clauses around new technology should include a clear definition of technological change, establish committees to deal with new technologies and processes, and provide clear notice and disclosure.

Bargain provisions that ensure members are not required to work alone or in isolation, wherever possible. In circumstances where lone-work is unavoidable, even for short periods of time, our collective agreements must ensure that comprehensive hazard assessments are conducted jointly (between management and the union) resulting in proactive preventative measures to address all hazards, as well as the development of safe work protocols.

Adopt the Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace Standard (Z1003) to identify ways of reducing and eliminating the stigma in the workplace, and to address occupational psychosocial hazards through a joint forum.

Legislative Highlights

The world of work has been evolving with the legal health and safety landscape trying to keep pace:

British Columbia – As a result of the two saw mill explosions in 2012, legislation was adopted in 2017 to introduce new training, evaluation and investigation requirements for worker health and safety representatives and joint health and safety committees.

Alberta – A review of Alberta’s workers’ compensation board (WCB) and occupational health and safety  (OHS) took place to keep up with the needs of modern workplaces, changing technology and other jurisdictions. The WCB changes came out of recommendations provided by an independent panel that  completed a comprehensive review of the system in June 2017. It had been more than 15 years since the last WCB review and more than 30 years since OHS legislation underwent a comprehensive review.  The key focus of both legislative developments was on workers. In terms of OHS, the focus was on the three fundamental rights of workers: the right to know actual and potential dangers in the workplace, the right to participate in the workplace health and safety activities, and the right to refuse dangerous work.

The WCB changes were based on the desire to “bring about a worker-centered system that features greater independence, transparency, stakeholder engagement and accountability.”

Ontario – In the most far-reaching changes made to the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act in over  fifteen years, the government moved to, amongst other matters, triple corporate penalties and quadruple individual penalties, effective as of late 2017.

In addition, other highlights included the adoption of compensation for work-related chronic stress from harassment and bullying, improvement of occupational exposure limits, respiratory protection, air sampling, and refresher training as a follow-up to legislated Working at Heights Safety Training.

New Brunswick – The province introduced new regulations aimed at identifying and preventing workplace violence and harassment. These measures were introduced to address workplace conduct, including bullying, physical violence, verbal abuse, sexual harassment and other threatening behaviour.

Newfoundland and Labrador – New regulations were adopted to address workplace harassment and  violence.  Employers are mandated to develop, implement and maintain a written harassment prevention plan to address workplace harassment and to investigate complaints of workplace harassment. Employers must also allow for an occupational health and safety officer to order an impartial third party investigate such workplace complaints, at the sole expense of an employer. In addition, employers must participate in training related to harassment prevention and provide training to employees on the issue and the employer’s harassment prevention plan.

Federal – WHMIS 2015 Training – On December 1, 2018, the transition to the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) had to be completed for all parties, including employers. By that date, employers’ hazardous products with new WHMIS labels and safety data sheets were in effect.

Sexual Violence and Harassment – An amendment to existing regulations will strengthen the existing  framework for the prevention of harassment and violence, including sexual harassment and sexual violence, in the workplace, and will extend the occupational health and safety provisions of the Canada Labour Code to parliamentary employers and employees.

The Cannabis Act – each province is mandated to introduce OHS policies and regulations regarding cannabis and impairment in the workplace.

Success stories

Air Georgian (Local 2002): We bargained a first agreement recognizing the inclusion of members from each section of the airline on the Health & Safety Committee, ensuring better member representation for that important committee.
Bell Canada (multiple Locals): A Bell-Unifor joint policy committee agreement established procedures to avoid the hazards of driving a vehicle after extended hours of work such as while working on a major outage.  When employees reach the 16 consecutive hours limit, the company will provide them means to leave the  worksite and reach home without driving a vehicle (company or personal). The rule is not optional and applies in all occasions. This is a great example of winning a traditional bargaining goal in a non-traditional forum, such as a joint health and safety committee.
Diageo Canada (Local 200): Members bargained the recognition of “invisible disabilities” such as mental illness, highlighting early intervention and treatment to assist employees toward diagnosis and effective treatment. The collective agreement included language that “invisible disabilities” may call for creative solutions and empathetic approaches when considering accommodation in the workplace, and agreement to work in good faith to achieve these ends.
Detroit Three Master Language (multiple Locals): The employers recognized Team Leader Prosecution Assistance, where they commit to providing legal and financial assistance in the event a team leader is liable under the OHS Act, including reimbursement of legal fees and other expenses incurred by the  employee in connection with any investigation, prosecution or other legal proceeding.

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