Tuesday, September 14, 2010

How many occupational health and safety inspectors should there be in a jurisdiction?

Asking how many OH&S inspectors are needed is one of those tough questions I get time and time again. My answer is always the same: it depends. Every jurisdiction has to look at its own mandate, legislation, industry mix and population. A jurisdiction that is geographically small (or densely populated) will likely need fewer inspectors than a jurisdiction covering a large, sparsely populated geographic area. A jurisdiction with a high rate of serious injury may require more inspectors than one with a much lower rate of serious injury.

The International Labour Organization ( ILO ) publishes a recommendation regarding the ratio of inspectors to population. In a recent report, it made this comment:
Article 10 of Convention No. 81 calls for a “sufficient number” of inspectors to do the work required. As each country assigns different priorities of enforcement to its inspectors, there is no official definition for a “sufficient” number of inspectors. Amongst the factors that need to be taken into account are the number and size of establishments and the total size of the workforce. No single measure is sufficient but in many countries the available data sources are weak. The number of inspectors per worker is currently the only internationally comparable indicator available. In its policy and technical advisory services, the ILO has taken as reasonable benchmarks that the number of labour inspectors in relation to workers should approach: 1/10,000 in industrial market economies; 1/15,000 in industrializing economies; 1/20,000 in transition economies; and 1/40,000 in less developed countries

Strategies and practice for labour inspection GB.297/ESP/3 297th Session Geneva, November 2006

The ILO published data posted below shows that many jurisdictions fail to come close to these ILO recommended levels:

[caption id="attachment_142" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="ILO Ratio of Active Population to Inspector"]ILO Ratio of Active Population to Inspector[/caption]

The ratio of 1 inspector for every 10,000 active population (employment, or employed labour force) for industrialized jurisdictions like Canada, the US and Australia is just a guideline. Australia and New Zealand publish ratios for their respective jurisdictions. Data in Canada and the US are harder to come by. Where data exist, it is often difficult to verify what is included and excluded from each component of the ratio.

For WorkSafeBC, I use the 2009 count of field inspectors and investigation officers to ‘employment’ for December 2009 as published by BC Stats. This is imperfect for many reasons. This would include among workers those working in mining and communications (outside WorkSafeBC’s occupational safety and health mandate but within the workers' compensation mandate); the calculations also exclude Mines inspectors and Labour Standards inspectors (inspectors that might be included in some calculations). I suspect every jurisdiction would face similar challenges in preparing their ratios.

Keeping these caveats mind, I have gathered some of Inspector-to-Worker Ratios below:

California 1 : 69,613 (a)
Washington State   1 : 32,141 (b)
Oregon 1 : 22,239 (c)
Queensland, Australia 1 : 12,000 (d)
New Zealand  1 : 12,000 (d)
New South Wales, Australia  1 : 10,000 (d)
Victoria, Australia  1 : 9,000 (d)
British Columbia  1 : 9,100 (e)

Based on the range of jurisdictions in this short list, BC and the Australian jurisdictions have ratios nearest the ILO recommendation.

I have noted the sources for each of the ratios posted below. If you have a better or more recent source, or another similar ratio from an additional jurisdiction, please feel free to post a comment.

(a) California Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH), September 2, 2010

(b) Washington Department of Labour and Industries, September 2, 2010

(c) Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services, Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OR-OSHA)

(d) Calculated from data in Indicator 14 for year 2007/8 Comparative Performance Monitoring Report, 11th Edition, Dec 2009

(e) Calculated from 2009 data on actual number of officers (249) and covered employed labour force as reported by BC Stats December 2009 (2.266 million)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Demographic impacts on workers' compensation

Earlier this week I had an opportunity to speak about demographics to a Lunch n’ Learn audience at the Richmond offices of WorkSafeBC. This is a broad topic with implications for all of us: our families, our economies, and the world of workers’ compensation. There are global trends but the impacts are local –some are even personal—and cannot be ignored.

All of us are getting older individually—that’s obvious. What makes this time in our history so interesting is how the various age categories are distributed. One writer noted that more than half the people who have ever lived beyond the age of 65 are alive today. In developed countries, 70 million people will retire in the next 25 years…and be replaced by just 5 million young people entering the labour force.

So, what are the local impacts? Glancing at our Statistics book for 2009 provides some interesting facts:

· The average injured worker was over 40 years of age—a new record.

· More than 34% of claims first paid last year went to female claimants—another record.

· The percentage of claims first paid to workers under 25 fell to just 14% of our total volume and represented just 10% of our serious injury claims;

· Nearly 15% of claims first paid were to workers over the age of 55 and they account for 17% of our serious injury claims.

Graphing the distribution of time-loss work injury claims by age in BC, we can see a clear shift over the last twenty odd years. This shift is not just a function of changes in the provincial population profile.

Clearly, injuries to younger workers have declined. We have made gains in making workplaces safer for younger workers, technology has made jobs safer, our Regulation now requires specific safety orientation to new workers—all those initiatives have contributed to the decline in injuries in younger age categories. The age group 45-49 now has the highest number of claims. This increase in injuries to older workers is not a temporary phenomenon; we are likely to see more injuries to some older workers (and some very old workers) in the coming years.

This shift will continue to put upward pressure on duration. Older workers take longer to recover and often have pre-existing co-morbid conditions that may make recovery more complex. The risk of fatal injury actually increases with age.

None of this is really ‘news’. The predictions have been out there for years. The human body has not changed much with respect to its time to recover following injury. It stands to reason that a workforce with older workers getting injured will tend to have overall longer recoveries.

What are we to do in the face of these demographic trends? The fundamentals are the same:

· prevent injuries,

· rapid first aid when injuries occur,

· accurate diagnosis,

· effective and timely treatment and rehabilitation,

· consistent connection between the worker and the employer,

· timely safe and durable return to work.

The fundamentals, however, need to be responsive to the realities of the population of injured workers. Strategies tailored to young workers have been effective; a similar approach to reach older workers and women will hopefully have similar positive results.