Study shows declining Injury rates for young workers

Recent analysis of lost-time claim rates among young workers shows youth-focused injury prevention strategies may be paying off as the number of injuries among the 15- to 24-year-old workers consistently decline.
A recent study from the Institute for Work and Health indicates fewer youths in Ontario are getting hurt on the job and that injury rates among youth workers have steeply declined between 1999 and 2007.

“This is a good news story beyond the obvious that fewer young people are getting hurt,” says IWH scientist Dr. Curtis Breslin, who led the research. “It means that elevated work injury risk among young workers is not static and can, in fact, come down to mirror that of adults.” Breslin’s study was published online last year in the Occupational & Environmental Medicine.

The IWH study examined approximately 1.2 million lost-time claims reported to Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board from 1991 to 2007, merging them with labour force data to compute lost-time claim rates by age group, according to an IWH statement. The study found a much steeper decline in lost-time claims among young workers compared to older adults.

Specifically, 15- to 24-year-old males showed minimal declines prior to 1999, and steeper declines in the 1999 to 2007 period, while the reverse was true for older males, the IWH report said. A similar, but less marked, pattern was found among younger and older women over the same time period. The study is one of the first to show a convergence in youth and adult workers’ compensation claim rates in a North American jurisdiction.

In order to help explain these changing trends, the study also examined claim rates by industry and job tenure—two factors known to affect the risk of work injury. Interestingly, they did not appear to explain the converging youth and adult rates, IWH said.

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. As a result, occupational health and safety agencies have focused considerable resources to increase workplace safety awareness among young workers.

While the findings do not provide a direct link between the effectiveness of these prevention campaigns and the declining injury rates among young workers, Breslin is not discounting the possibility that the initiatives may have helped in the reduction of lost-time injuries.

“These results leave open the possibility that youth-specific interventions begun in Ontario in 1999 to 2000 contributed to the steeper decline in rates among young workers,” said Breslin, adding that other labour force factors could also be at play.

Ontario isn’t the only jurisdiction in the country seeing this declining trend in youth injury statistics. WorkSafeBC’s most recent Young Worker Focus Report shows a significant decline in injury rates among young workers in British Columbia in the last decade — from 7.3 in 1989 to 2.3 in 2009. Male young workers have registered a more significant decline than their female counterparts — from 11.6 in 1989 down to 3.4 in 2009 for male youths, while female young workers’ went down from 3.9 in 1989 to 1.7 in 2009.

According to the WorkSafeBC report, young working males have a 48 per cent higher incidence of injury than all workers combined, and 160 per cent more than females of the same age.

Despite the declining injury rate among young workers, WorkSafeBC said more work need to be done to further reduce the number of injuries for this segment of the population.