Canada - Work Related Fatalities on the Rise

While a good number of post-modernists and ultra-left “theoreticians” question the extent and harshness of the exploitation of workers, and in some cases, the very existence of the working class in today’s Western capitalist economies, a recent report published in Canada sheds new light on a continuing reality: capitalism kills and the death toll is rising. Entitled “Five Deaths a Day: Workplace Fatalities in Canada, 1993-2005”, the 119 page report was published on December 12th 2006, by the Centre for the Study of Living Standards (CSLS), a non-profit government funded organization.

Based on data compiled by the Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada, the document reveals that 1,097 workplace fatalities were recorded in Canada in 2005, an increase of 45 % from 758 in 1993 and 18% from 958 in 2004. On average, this means that every day five workers die from work-related causes. In 2005, of the 1,097 workplace fatalities, 491 (44.8%) were caused by accidents and 557 (50.8%) by occupational diseases, with asbestos-related ailments accounting for nearly two-thirds of the latter. The statistics reveal a dramatic rise of 25% in the number of deaths by accidents on the job in the period between 1996 and 2005, and an even more alarming increase of 174% in deaths caused by work-related diseases over the same period.

As noted before, asbestos remains a particularly deadly factor. Even though the use of this product has declined by 75% in Canada between 1998 and 2003, asbestos-related deaths alone accounted for about 340 deaths in 2005 and Canadian produced asbestos is a major contributor to more than 100,000 deaths each year worldwide. It is important to underline that although domestic asbestos use is in sharp decline, other lethal industrial diseases such as berylliosis are on the rise.

Our study of this report brings many questions and observations to mind; questions that are absolutely not addressed by the document. For example, hasn’t the ongoing pressure for higher productivity (speed-ups) to maintain profit rates been an important factor in the killing of workers? Likewise, what has been the role of the general increase of the length of the workweek and its accompanying level of stress and fatigue in the growing death rates? As the report is based on statistics compiled by the various provincial and territorial Workers’ Compensation Boards, what is the situation of workers who are not covered by these boards: the undeclared, the so-called “self-employed” and a large percentage of the agricultural workers? Why hasn’t the increasing mechanization of the work process not lead to a decrease in human casualties? And as the important increase in accidents on the job is in large part imputed to the growth of employment in the basic resource industries such as mining and forestry as well as the construction sector, is this not in fact an indictment of the erroneous conclusions of those “theoreticians” who so lightly disparage the “traditional” working class, its conditions and in some case even its existence?

Though light on analysis, the report is blunt in its conclusions:

Workplace fatalities, unlike death in general, are in principle avoidable.

Thus any workplace death should be unacceptable. It is a matter of grave concern that the number of workplace fatalities in this country is increasing, not falling.” Indeed! And as capitalism’s crisis deepens and the Canadian capitalists strive to maintain their profits, this will most likely be a longterm trend. A French study published by the “Institut de veille sanitaire” (Health Watch Institute), a state-subsidised organization has established that on average workers live seven years less than their bosses. Think about it, on average, every worker loses a potential seven years of his or her life. Thus, even in times of domestic peace, capitalist exploitation, the class war levies a very heavy and bloody toll.

Internationalist Workers Group (Montreal)