Work-related injuries decline in Ontario but no reduction found in non-work injuries

Study of injury trends in Ontario finds divergence in work-related and non-work injury rates

Work-related injury rates in Ontario fell by 30 per cent over an eight-year period from 2004 to 2011, according to a recent study by the Institute for Work & Health (IWH). In contrast, rates of injuries caused by leisure and other non-work activities did not change.

If non-work injury rates had fallen to the same extent as work-related injury rates, the result would have been 200,000 fewer injuries a year in the province, says Dr. Cameron Mustard, a co-author on the paper led by Dr. Andrea Chambers. The study is published in the February 2015 edition of the American Journal of Public Health.

Many of us don’t realize, perhaps, that injury is a very substantial cause of death and disability in Canada, says Mustard, a senior scientist and president at IWH.

One key message coming out of this study is that injuries are absolutely preventable. A decline of 30 per cent in work-related injuries in just eight years is evidence that prevention efforts can have an impact.

Two data sources

Injury is the leading cause of death among Canadians under the age of 45. Across all ages, injury is responsible for 10 per cent of the economic burden of illness in Canada—a burden roughly equivalent to that of cancer or to cardiovascular disease.

To chart injury trends over the eight years, the authors drew on two sets of data. One contains records of all emergency department visits, which Ontario hospitals have been required to report since 2000. The other was the Canadian Community Health Survey, a series of surveys that Statistics Canada has conducted once every two years among a representative sample of working-age adults.

The first data source, the emergency department records, has been shown in an earlier IWH study be a reliable source of surveillance data on work-related health problems. The second data source has the advantage of asking identical questions about the incidence of injury since 2001. As such, it too fits the criteria for an ideal health surveillance instrument—i.e. one that collects health information consistently over time in a representative sample of the population.

Parallel declines for some injury types

For a few specific causes of injury, the researchers found parallel declines in both work-related and non-work injuries. These included injuries due to motor vehicle collisions, natural or environmental causes, and intentional self-harm. However, for all other specific causes of injury, the study found no important reduction in injuries sustained in leisure and non–work activities.

One possible reason for the diverging trends between work-related and non-work-related injuries is the level of investment in injury prevention, suggests Mustard.

Some estimates suggest that employers may spend as much as $1,000 per worker per year to prevent work-related injury and illness among their employees, says Mustard. As a society, we invest perhaps a tenth of this amount in protecting children, adults and seniors from the causes of injury in non-work settings. This low level of investment should concern us.

The study, “Diverging trends in the incidence of occupational and non-occupational injury in Ontario 2004-2011,” can be accessed at doi:10.2105/AJPH.2014.302223. For a Q&A about this study, see sidebar. To see a video about the study, go to: http://youtu.be/tc2zAi6wSw0.

Source: At Work, Issue 79, Winter 2015: Institute for Work & Health, Toronto

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