The researchers set out to understand whether the so-called “right to work” legislation in the USA, which has decreased union membership, had affected the rate of occupational mortality.
A 1% decline in unionisation was associated with a 5% increase in the rate of occupational fatalities, the study, published in the British Medical Journal, found.
Right to work laws and decreased unionisation have led to a 14.2% increase in occupational mortality.
Workplace fatalities in the USA have declined in recent years but the decrease was steeper in areas of high unionisation, the study found. Those not protected by unions remained more likely to lose their lives at work.
Author Michael Zoorob said his paper “demonstrates that the protective effect of unions on workplace safety at the micro level translates into large scale reductions in occupational fatalities” and that these results could have international significance.
“In light of these findings, policymakers in the USA and other countries might consider how declining unionisation rates may impact worker safety,” he said.