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Workers at risk due to low federal health, safety inspector staffing, report says

A new report out of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says cuts and understaffing of federal health and safety inspectors is putting workers in jeopardy.

A new report out of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says cuts and understaffing of federal health and safety inspectors is putting workers in jeopardy. 

John Anderson researches federal health and safety inspections for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. (CBC)

Federal inspectors are responsible for monitoring federally-regulated workplaces, including transportation, aviation, communications, banking and the federal government. 

"The overall situation is a recipe for both potential dangerous occupational health and safety issues and injuries," said John Anderson, the report's author.

"Inspection is absent or so highly limited it cannot create the safe workplace environment."

Anderson found the number of health and safety inspectors has dropped significantly since 2005, from about 150 that year to between 67 and 90 inspectors currently.

His report also highlights 2013 amendments to the Canada Labour Code that he said has reduced the power of inspectors and weakened the definition of workplace danger, which can be used by employees to refuse unsafe work. 

Last spring, CBC News looked into union concerns over federal health and safety cuts

At the time, the government confirmed there were 80 health and safety officers but that it wasn't a drastic change. The Department of Labour stated in an email there have been "80 dedicated health and safety officers to enforce Part II of the [Canada Labour] Code for the last several years."

A statement from the department last spring read: "It is both inaccurate and irresponsible to suggest that the number of health and safety officers has dropped from 150 in 2005 to 80 now."

The most recent federal budget proposes hiring 10 new health and safety officers. 

The study, called "Waiting to Happen: Why we need major changes to the Health and Safety Regime in Federally Regulated Workplaces," provides recommendations to restore and improve the health and safety regulation of businesses and employers under federal jurisdiction.

The recommendations include conducting regular field inspections in all workplaces, with high-risk workplaces especially targeted, bringing inspector staffing back up to 2005 levels, improving data collection and more.

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