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Safety In The Workplace

10 April 2008

“Working Wounded Board Shields Unsafe Job Sites” blared the headline of The Toronto Star, February, 16, 2008. The subheading said it all: “Workplace safety rules allow companies to keep spotless ratings even if poorly trained temps are injured and killed”. The article by Moira Welsh explained that a loophole in the rules of Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) is directly or indirectly responsible for accidents, which, legally, the companies on whose properties they occurred are not responsible. Many companies use temporary workers, especially as they can pay them less wages and no benefits compared to full time employees. Companies who use temps do not have their health and safety rating affected when temps are injured. Cases uncovered by The Star reveal factories, retail, shipping, and other firms that did not train temps properly or take proper safety precautions, leading to severe injury and even death.

“I’ve seen companies get great safety ratings when we know temps are injured there all the time”, said Suzanne McInerney, a vice-president at “Staffing Edge”, one of the largest temp suppliers in Ontario.

A runaway forklift crushed Robert Sager, a 53 year-old Milton man in July, 2005. He had been sent by a temp agency, “Kelly Services” to an Exel Canada distribution plant for a $9/hour job. Exel rushed him through training and he was put to work immediately at an Exel warehouse. “I felt pressured because at that point in time I really needed a job”, he said. The forklift he was driving accelerated backwards, threw him out, and pinned him against a steel rack. The extent of Sager’s injuries were a crushed pelvis, a torn urethra, ripped vertebrae, a ruptured bowel, crushed kidneys, a head injury, and testicles swollen tight with blood. He had three heart attacks right after the accident. Two and a half years later he can barely walk, has memory loss, and needs help with everything from bathing to using the toilet. A nurse comes daily to change a dressing on his chest. In short, all the guy needs is a new body to be able to return to work. Under the present law, Kelly Services would face a hike in its workplace insurance premiums, not Exel who trained Sager. Neither company would comment for The Star. The Ministry of Labour investigated and laid charges, fining Exel $80 000. Kelly Services has also been charged and are contesting. The fine for Exel was a one-time payment and does not affect their safety rating. “Even if we put their name down when we file our paper work, The WSIB does not have a way to record it, so there is nothing to red flag the companies for their safety record”, complains Linda Ford, president of Temporary Measures.

Suzanne McInerney said some firms give temps the most strenuous jobs without proper training. “Companies push off those jobs to the staffing companies because they know there will be accidents and therefore their safety rate is kept clean and ours is not”, she said. Her firm wants the province to pass legislation that would make injuries the shared responsibility of the temp company and the company that employs them.

Once again, some well-meaning people want a reform passed to deal with a particularly unsavoury aspect of capitalism. It’s about who should fork out most of the money when someone is injured. The fact that companies should provide more thorough safety training is an obvious fact, but as long as the capitalist mode of production endures, there will be avoidable injuries, whether to temps or permanent employees. Many accidents are brought about by the pressure to meet quotas or deadlines. The never-ending search to reduce the part of the day necessary to produce the workers wage and extend that part of the day that produces surplus value, i.e. to increase the rate of exploitation, produces the pressures on workers to forego safety rules leading to the workplace slaughter that we see today. Only in a society based on common ownership of the productive powers of the world where the profit motive no longer exists, where safety of the workers is the top priority, will the circumstances producing senseless accidents be eliminated.

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