With the start of the summer job season, the Ministry of Labour’s annual inspection and enforcement blitz got underway, aimed at ensuring workers are safe at work and know their rights. Although Ontario now has mandatory occupational health and safety (OH&S) awareness training in the workplace (and injury prevention skills included in the school curriculum), WSIB statistics show that in 2015 five young workers were killed on the job. In the same year more than 6,400 young workers (those 15 to 24 years old) across the province were injured seriously enough to need time off work. (A study of work-injury underreporting by Canadian young workers suggests the real number of incidents may be significantly higher.)
“Newness” and safety
The Ministry’s Safe At Work Summer campaign is directed at a broader group of vulnerable workers, new workers – that is, workers of any age who are on the job for less than six months or who are assigned to a new job in the same workplace. A body of research by the Institute for Work and Health (IWH) has shown that newness, rather than age, is a key risk factor for work-related injury or illness. Workers new to the job (which may include among others young workers, recent immigrants, temporary workers) are three times more likely to be injured in the first month than more experienced workers.
Targeting safety measures and responsibilities
The focus of recent research at the IWH has moved from identifying “at risk” workers by demographic characteristics to looking at the labour force and workplace factors placing workers at increased risk of occupational injury or illness. The resulting OHS vulnerability measure assesses, in addition to hazard exposure, multiple underlying workplace factors : training, access to protective OH&S policies and procedures, awareness of employment rights & responsibilities, workplace empowerment.
In an era of precarious employment and changing workplaces, the tool developed promises better assessment of how OH&S vulnerability differs among different worker groups. It also supports the design and evaluation of policies and practices that address organizational safety needs and responsibilities for injury prevention, including educational strategies appropriate to specific worker groups. A more effective approach than victim-blaming safety campaigns that perpetuate the myth of the careless individual worker …
- Saunders, Ron. 2016 Nov. Vulnerable Workers and Risk of Work Injury (Issue briefing) Toronto: Institute for Work and Health
- Ontario. Ministry of Labour. 2016 July. Safe at Work: New and Young Workers
- Lay, A. Morgan et al. 2016 Feb. “Individual, Occupational, and Workplace Correlates of Occupational Health and Safety Vulnerability in a Sample of Canadian Workers.” American Journal of Industrial Medicine v. 59(2): 119-128
- Tucker, Sean et al. 2014 Sep. “Work-Related Injury Underreporting Among Young Workers: Prevalence, Gender Differences, and Explanations For Underreporting.” Journal of Safety Research v. 50: 67-73
- Foster, Jason & Bob Barnetson. 2010 Jul/Aug. “Not so Bloody Lucky! Safety Ads Put Blame for Workplace Accidents on Workers.” CCPA Monitor 17(3):8-9
- Institute for Work and Health. 2009. Newness and the Risk of Occupational Injury. (Issue briefing) Toronto: IWH
- Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. Young Workers Zone.
- Steps to Justice – Safety at Work (answering your questions)