The link between OHS vulnerability and self-reported work injury

In brief

  • Workers reporting occupational health and safety (OHS) vulnerability, as assessed by the Institute for Work & Health (IWH)’s OHS Vulnerability Measure, also report higher rates of workplace injury or illness requiring time off work or the care of a medical professional.

Why was this study done?

In 2014, a 27-item worker questionnaire was developed by IWH to measure occupational health and safety vulnerability. This questionnaire, called the OHS Vulnerability Measure, considers workers vulnerable to an increased risk of work injury when they are exposed to hazards at work and are inadequately protected in at least one of three areas: workplace health and safety policies and procedures, awareness of OHS rights and responsibilities, or empowerment to act to protect themselves. This study set out to examine if vulnerability, as assessed by the IWH measure, is linked to rates of work injury and illness.

How was the study done?

In April and May 2015, surveys were completed by nearly 1,500 workers in Ontario and British Columbia. In addition to the 27 questions in the OHS Vulnerability Measure, the surveys also asked workers if they had experienced a work-related physical or mental injury or illness in the previous 12 months that required time off work or the care of a medical professional.

What did the researchers find?

Self-reported risk of injury was up to 4.5 times higher among the most vulnerable workers (i.e. exposed to hazards and inadequately protected in at least one of the three areas) compared to workers who were not vulnerable (i.e. not exposed to hazards and adequately protected). Even among workers exposed to hazards, self-reported risk of injury was up to two times higher among those without adequate protection compared to those with adequate protection.

What are the implications of the study?

The findings suggest that, in workplaces where hazard exposures are difficult to eliminate, injuries can still be reduced by improving protective policies and procedures, increasing worker awareness and ensuring workers are empowered to protect themselves. That is, the OHS Vulnerability Measure can identify opportunities for workplace improvement.

What are some strengths and weaknesses of the study?

The percentage of people in this study who reported work-related injuries or illnesses is higher than the percentage reported in population-based surveys such as the Canadian Community Health Survey, potentially because people who have been injured at work may have been more likely to participate in this study. Nonetheless, this would not affect the findings about the relationship between vulnerability and work injury. 

Publication Information

Title: 

Author(s): 

Lay M, Saunders R, Lifshen M, Breslin FC, LaMontagne AD, Tompa E, Smith P

Journal: 

Safety Science, 2017: vol. 94, pp. 85-93; doi 10.1016/j.ssci.2016.12.021