Women workers make up 48% of Ontario’s employed workforce and represent 35% of allowed high impact lost time compensation claims (Schedule 1), 50% of Schedule 2 claims, according to WSIB 2016 statistics. However in their study “Falling Through the Legal Cracks” (Policy and Practice in Health and Safety, 2016), Rachel Cox and Katherine Lippel suggest workers’ compensation data fails to give the true picture of the costs and extent of workplace injuries and illnesses, with legal and social factors having a particularly negative effect on women workers.
Canadian women are still disproportionately represented in low-wage jobs, especially women with disabilities who suffer a considerable gender wage gap . Given the difficulties shared with male injured workers of finding post-injury employment or accessing just compensation, poverty remains a major concern for women injured workers (see 2017 Fact sheet: Women and Poverty in Canada) .
Pressing for progress on compensation
On 2018 International Women’s Day , we celebrate Ontario’s injured worker women activists who, individually or in groups such as the Women of Inspiration, continue to #PressForProgress also in achieving a fair workers’ compensation system. Women are leading peer support groups around the province, advocating for law reform on issues such as universal coverage and deeming, providing worker education and raising public awareness through rallies and demos, campaigning for Workers’ Comp Is a Right, putting themselves on the front line in legal challenges.
Gender equality, work and health
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety’s web portal Gender, Work & Health is a key resource for information on progress made on gender issues related to workplace safety. Where women were once all too often overlooked in research on workplace health issues (with the few women-focused studies exploring traditionally female-dominated occupations), a sex/gender lens is increasingly applied. With gender biases re-examined and growing inclusion of women in all industry sectors and occupations, research increasingly takes into account the different effects of workplace risks on men and women though challenges remain. The CIHR Research Chairs in Gender, Work & Health website lists ongoing major projects, including a gender sensitive approach for better prevention of work-related musculoskeletal disorders; gender and sex differences in workers’ compensation outcomes; gender/sex differences in the relationships between work stress and disease, work injury risk, and the consequences of work injury.
Women and workplace hazards
While musculoskeletal disorders (repetitive strain injuries) are among the most common workplace injuries for both women and men, women doing the same tasks as men have a higher risk of neck and upper-limb injuries. In “A Tale of Two Sexes” (OHS Canada, Oct. 2016) McGill’s Dr Julie Côté discusses growing evidence that where once this was thought due to biological (sex) differences of size and strength, gender factors (social roles and behaviour) also play a role. (For information on preventing MSDs in the office and industry settings, see ergonomic resources of the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers).
In “A Scoping Literature Review of Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders Among South Asian Immigrant Women in Canada” (Journal of Global Health, Apr. 2016) authors Iffath Syed and Farah Ahmad look at the factors behind their vulnerability to occupational injuries – including de-skilling, precarious working conditions and the dual burdens of paid work and unpaid domestic responsibilities.
Harassment and sexual violence in the workplace were the subject of public consultations by Employment and Social Development Canada. The 2017 report What We Heard found 94% of survey respondents who reported experiencing sexual harassment were women, with people with disabilities and members of racialized groups were more likely to experience harassment than other groups. Given that the Consultation identified under-reporting as a major issue and a lack of gender-inclusive data, the full extent of the problem is yet to be determined.
Temporary foreign workers and immigrant women workers are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment, violence and the resulting chronic stress. Grace Vaccarrelli (Human Rights Legal Support Centre) and Chris Ramsaroop (Justice for Migrant Workers) discussed the challenges faced by these working women in CBC’s The Sunday Edition. The audio of their Feb. 18 interview “More Than #MeToo is Needed to Protect Migrant Workers and Immigrant Women” (26 mins) is now available on the CBC website.
Violence against Ontario’s healthcare workers similarly too often goes unreported for fear of reprisal, as revealed in a study led by occupational health researcher Jim Brophy, “Assaulted and Unheard” (New Solutions, Sep. 2017). As co-author and president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions Michael Hurley suggested, in this female-dominant sector “societal attitudes are reflected within hospitals’ walls”. (For practical guidance on what to do if you are being harassed or threatened at work, go to Steps to Justice. Learn more about handling all sources of workplace stress in OHCOW’s action guide Mental Injury Toolkit.)
Rotating and night shift work and antineoplastic agents are potential carcinogens that, as reported in Burden of Occupational Cancer in Ontario (2017), can particularly impact women workers. The range of hazards to which nail salon technicians, a predominantly female and vulnerable working group, are exposed is also the subject of a current Occupational Cancer Research Centre study. (Brochures on protective measures are available online from research collaborators, Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centres and the Healthy Nail Salon Network)
Just a few of the many recent reports on health workplace issues facing women …