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September 14, 2011

Letter to the Editor

Reader urges Ontario Progressive Conservatives to maintain journeyman to apprentice ratio

To the Editor:

Dear Tim Hudak: Please reconsider your Changebook relative to trade worker safety:

• do not double the number of apprentices to 50,000 per year

• make hazardous trades compulsory

• maintain a 3:1 ratio of journeymen to apprentices in hazardous trades

I am a (red) Tory, and am very concerned about worker safety because if you proceed as planned Tim, more apprentices and journeymen will be injured, and killed on the job.

Only 48.5 per cent of apprentices in Ontario complete their program; why double the intake until we know more about the high dropout rate (Armstrong, 2008 p. 68, Statscan, 2005)?

Apprentice safety training is vital to keeping young workers alive and healthy, yet the Electrical Safety Authority (ESA) states ‘apprentices in the electrical trade are being killed or injured at a higher rate than journeyperson electricians’ (2009).

Sharp and Gibson (2005) state the ‘market for apprentices is principally constrained by employer demand rather than supply of potential apprentices’.

My research shows the most vulnerable worker is the young, single, extroverted, male, and so I ask, why put more of these young men at risk through increased apprenticeship when there is little to support the notion of doubling apprenticeships?

Seventy-nine per cent of workers killed by electrical contact were not electricians according to Ministry of of Labour 2009 data.

They were employed as millwrights, HVAC technicians, equipment operators, and supervisors; skilled trades all but not electricians, with 50 per cent of all victims found to be ‘working live’.

From 1998 to 2006 occupational electrical contact caused 65 workers deaths, 240 critical injuries and 753 non-critical injuries (MOL, 2007).

During this period 2,116 Ontario mothers, wives, and sisters received a phone call concerning their killed/injured son, father, or brother.

Armstrong argues the ‘incidence of registration is vital’, and if certification in some trades raises the level of registration ‘health and safety training would increase, leading to better health and safety performance within the trade’ (p. 68). Trades that put workers in harms way should become compulsory.

Apprentice completion rates in compulsory trades are also higher: Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities (MTCU) (2008) data show a 62 per cent completion rate in compulsory trades (Armstrong, p.159).

Armstrong also suggests that compulsory certification could ‘result in net overall benefits’ to factors such as worker safety (p. 100).

Electrical accidents (only those reported) increased by 45 per cent from 1998 to 2006 (MOL, 2007), driven primarily by non-critical accidents (100 per cent increase), and powerline accidents (86 per cent increase).

These data support the notion that safety training (apprentice, re-certification, retraining, and on the job site) in a compulsory/regulated trade such as electricity is successful in keeping its workers safe from harm.

Electrical accidents are serious and increasing: if a worker sustains a Lost Time Injury (LTI) due to electrical contact they are almost 100 times more likely to die from that LTI, as compared to all other types of LTI’s combined (MOL 2009).

Experts and risk scholars agree we don’t know what we don’t know about construction accidents.

However we now know a little more about the injury dynamics of one hazardous trade: electrical, and so Tim until we know more; I ask you to put these plans on hold.

Gavan Howe
PhD (in progress)

Editor's note: For background on the Ontario Progressive Conservative platform on skilled trades apprenticeships, please see Ontario Progressive Conservatives face criticism over apprenticeship proposal by Vince Versace of the Daily Commercial News.

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