Study finds persistence of higher injury risk for new workers

We know that newly hired workers face a higher injury rate. Recent research from the Institute for Work & Health finds that the higher risk of work injury among new workers has persisted over the past ten years. This suggests workplaces need to do more to ensure new workers get the training and supervision they need to stay safe on the job.

While lost-time claim (LTC) rates for work injury and illness in Ontario have been declining, workers new to a job remain at much higher risk of a lost-time injury than is the case for more experienced workers. This is the finding of recent research from the Institute for Work & Health (IWH), which underscores the importance of workplaces paying particular attention when any worker is new in the job.

The higher injury rate among new workers is a persistent problem, says IWH Scientist Dr. Curtis Breslin, who led the research and co-authored the related paper that’s currently under review by the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine (OEM).

Study provides decade-long review

This research is the first to examine work injury risk by job tenure over a time period during which overall claim rates generally declined. It is an extension of earlier work completed in 2006 by Breslin and fellow IWH Scientist Dr. Peter Smith, which formed the basis of an OEM article (vol. 63, no. 1, pp. 27-32) with the memorable title “Trial by fire.” That article examined the relationship between job tenure and work injuries, and showed that workers in their first month on the job had much higher LTC rates than workers with more than one year in the job.

The current study extended the research by describing the association between job tenure and work injury over a decade (1999 to 2008). Researchers used Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board LTC records, and calculated claim rates per 1,000 full-time equivalents.

IWH Coordinator of Research Operations Sara Morassaei, who is lead author of the paper that’s currently being reviewed at OEM, points out an important distinction between the two studies: The ‘Trial by fire’ research was a snapshot at one point in time, while this new research tells us what’s happened over a 10-year period.

Risk highest first month in the job

The new research gives rise to two main findings:

1. Over a 10-year period, the risk of work injury for workers with shorter job tenure has consistently remained higher compared to those employed at a job for more than one year. Risk is particularly elevated among those in the first month on the job, with over three times the risk of a lost-time injury as workers with over a year’s job experience.

2. The risk of work injuries among new workers is greater among older workers, men and those in the goods sector, which includes construction and manufacturing, among others.

The age-based findings are striking, says Breslin. While all workers in their first month have elevated injury risk, the risk of a lost-time injury is highest among workers over 45 years of age compared to all other age groups. Indeed, youth injury rates have been converging with adult rates (see At Work, Fall 2011). The key risk factor is newness, not youth, says Breslin.

New workers may be at greater risk on the job due to a number of things, including a lack of job experience and inadequate safety training, Breslin says. And contemporary work trends are exacerbating the problem. The growth of precarious forms of work means more temporary employment, a higher proportion of workers with shorter job tenure, and higher rates of job turnover, he says. If frequent job changing continually puts a worker at high risk, then job turnover becomes a potential health and safety issue.

Prevention activities and training will help

So how do we help newly hired workers? Developing effective safety management systems may help, says Morassaei. Prevention activities should involve employers creating strategies at an organizational level.

Researchers also suggest promoting policies and practices that reduce job turnover, encourage permanent employment and improve job security. They also propose increasing new workers’ knowledge of their workplace by ensuring that they get proper safety training and supervision.

Source: At Work, Issue 69, Summer 2012: Institute for Work & Health, Toronto