Study asserts unionized construction firms have fewer costly, serious injuries

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A new study from a Florida university asserts that construction firms that hire union workers have fewer work injuries requiring workers’ compensation payments for time away from work.

The study, Protecting Construction Worker Health and Safety in Ontario Canada: Identifying a Union Safety Effect, was conducted in Canada but has direct implications for the industry in the United States where 74,950 construction workers suffered “lost-time” injuries in 2010, according to statistics collected by the National Safety Council.

Lost-time injuries consist of on-the-job injuries serious enough to keep workers from doing their jobs, requiring expensive workers’ compensation lost wage reimbursements.

“Our findings indicate that unionized construction firms may encourage occupational injury reporting and reduce risks through training, and hazard identification and control,” said Benjamin C. Amick III, co-principal investigator of the research project and chair of the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Florida International University (FIU)  Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work.

The study was funded by the Ontario Construction Secretariat, which says its goal is “to enhance Ontario’s unionized ICI construction industry by developing relationships, facilitating dialogue, providing value-added research, co-ordinating the dissemination of information to our client groups and promoting the value of unionized ICI construction.”

Workers’ compensation payments totaled more than $61.8 billion in 2012, according to the most recent available data from the U.S. Social Security Administration. Historically, the construction industry accounts for approximately 15 percent of overall workers’ compensation payments on an annual basis. So the “safety effect” described by the study represents billions in potential savings on workers’ compensation expenditures for the industry when construction firms employ unionized workers.

Funded by the Ontario Construction Secretariat, the study was based on 5,797 unionized and 38,626 nonunion construction firms in Ontario, Canada. The study found that although overall workers’ compensation claim rates were higher in construction firms that employ union workers, most of these claims consisted of less costly, less serious medical-only claims, which do not incur lost wage reimbursements. Conversely, expensive lost-time claims were reduced by 14 percent in the same construction firms, when compared to firms that employ nonunion workers.

The study was conducted by the Institute for Work & Health (IWH), a not-for-profit research organization headquartered in Toronto, where Amick is a senior scientist. Amick co-led the study with Sheilah Hogg-Johnson, with the aid of team members Ron Saunders, and Desiree Latour-Villamil.

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