Work-Related Deaths on the Rise in Canada

As many as five Canadians a day are dying from accidents on the job and from long-term exposure to agents such as asbestos, according to a new report.

The report – titled "Five Deaths a Day: Workplace Fatalities in Canada, 1993-2005" – found that workplace fatalities in Canada have climbed to 1,097 in 2005, which is an 18 percent incease from 2004. In 2005, according to the report, the incidence of workplace fatalities in Canada was 6.8 per 100,000 workers, up from 5.9 per 100,000 in 1993.

"This rate represents one death for every 15,000 workers," the report says. "This upward trend is disturbing."

The report, which was conducted by the Ottawa-based Center for the Study of Living Standards, used statistics compiled by the Association of Workers' Compensation Boards of Canada from 1993 through 2005.

Dr. Andrew Sharpe, executive director of the center, concluded that Canada can do better for its workers.

"The numbers – and rates – of workplace fatalities are troubling," Sharpe said. "Other countries are making progress in this area and we are not."

In addition to increased fatality rates, the report also found that workers in certain industries are at greater risk of dying from workplace causes. The most dangerous industry in which to work is fishing and trapping (52 fatalities per 100,000 workers, or one out of every 1,900 workers in 2004), followed by:

  • Mining, quarrying and oil wells (46.9 per 100,000 workers, or one out of 2,100 workers);
  • Logging and forestry (33.3 per 100,000 per workers, or one out of 3,000 workers); and
  • Construction (20.2 per 100,000 workers, or one out of 5,000 workers).

Finance and insurance was the least dangerous industry, with only 0.3 fatalities per 100,000 workers or one death for every 333,000 workers.

According to the report's findings, fatality rates varied across the country. The province of Newfoundland accounted for the highest workplace fatality rate with an average incidence rate of 11.9 fatalities per 100,000 workers.

Upward Trend Driven by Occupational Diseases

According to the report, the rise in the incidence rate of work-related fatalities was almost entirely driven by the increased workplace fatality rate from occupational disease, up from 1.5 to 3.4 per 100,000 workers between 1996 and 2005 (pre-1996 data are not available).

The increased fatality rate from asbestos, up from 0.4 per 100,000 workers in 1996 to 2.1 in 2005 accounted for the lion's share of the increased incidence from occupational disease, the report says.

According to the report, cancers, asbestos-related diseases and other illnesses account for half of all fatalities in Canada.

"Asbestos is a particular concern because Canada continues to mine and export the mineral," the Center for the Study of Living Standards said in a press release. "Many OECD countries have banned it. Given how asbestos-related diseases develop slowly over time, fatalities are expected to continue to rise."

Other highlights of the report include:

  • Men are much more likely to die on the job than women. In 2005, the incidence of workplace death was 30 times higher among men than women – 12.4 deaths per 100,000 male workers vs. 0.4 deaths per 100,000 female workers.
  • Older workers are much more likely to experience a workplace-related fatality than a younger worker. In 2005, the incidence rate rises from 1.8 deaths per 100,000 workers for the 15-to-19-year-old age group to 18.1 deaths per 100,000 workers for the 60-to-64-year-old age group.
  • Workplace fatalities occur as a result of both accidents and occupational diseases. In 2005,out of the 1,097 workplace fatalities, 491 (44.8 percent) were from accidents and 557 (50.8 percent) from occupational diseases. Asbestos-related deaths alone accounted for about 340 deaths in 2005 – 61 percent of deaths from occupational diseases and 31 percent of total workplace fatalities.

The report can be accessed at the Center for the Study of Living Standards' Web site.

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