Ontario youth work injury rate declining more steeply, converging with adult rate

In brief

  • From 1999 to 2007, the lost-time claim rate for young Ontario workers (ages 15 to 24) declined more steeply than the adult rate, so that the two rates are converging.
  • The convergence in youth and adult claim rates do not appear to be due to changes over time in the industries in which youth work or changes in their job tenure.
  • Ontario’s youth-specific prevention initiatives may have contributed to the steeper decline in youth claim rates.

Published: January 2011

Why was this study done?

Working is a big part of the lives of Canadian teenagers and young adults. One of the most consistent findings in occupational health and safety research over the last two decades is that younger workers have more non-fatal work injuries (and lost-time claims) than adults. Given this tendency, this study sought to examine trends in young worker and adult lost-time claim rates in Ontario in recent years. This type of information is helpful because it provides policy-makers in occupational health and safety with evidence/information to help them determine the best place to target their prevention efforts.

How was the study done?

Approximately 1.2 million lost-time claims reported to Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) from 1991 to 2007 were combined with labour force data to compute lost-time claim rates by age group. To examine the contribution of work-related factors, claim rates were also broken down by industry and job tenure.

What did the researchers find?

Young workers, 15 to 24 years of age, showed a much steeper decline in lost-time claim rates from 1999 to 2007, compared to older adults. This illustrates that elevated work injury risk for young workers is not unchangeable. It may, in fact, vary over time due to labour-market factors and/or prevention initiatives.

The study also found that industry and length of time on the job—two work-related factors known to affect the risk of work injury—did not appear to explain the converging youth and adult rates. Although they do not provide direct evidence, these results leave open the possibility that youth-specific interventions begun in Ontario in 1999/2000 contributed to the steeper decline in rates among young workers. This underscores the need to examine the impact of these kinds of broad-based prevention initiatives.

What are some strengths and weaknesses of the study?

This study is one of the first to show a convergence in youth and adult workers’ compensation claims in a North American jurisdiction. The study sample of a complete provincial population of insured workers is also a strength. One weakness is that lost-time claims may not be representative of all work injuries in Ontario. In addition, differential changes in reporting work injuries may have occurred over time.