Job characteristics contribute greatly to increased risk of injury among young workers

August 11, 2005 (Toronto, ON) — Young workers are twice as likely as older workers to be injured on the job—and it has a lot to do with where they are working and the tasks they perform there.

A study from researchers Curtis Breslin and Peter Smith at the Institute for Work & Health (IWH) provides new evidence that job characteristics play a substantial role in the higher injury rates among young workers.

Young workers are often thought to be at higher risk because of their age and inexperience, perceived tendency for taking risks, and developmental stage, says Curtis Breslin, an IWH scientist and lead researcher on the study.

While all of these things may play a role, our analysis shows that young workers’ higher risk of injury drops from 2 to 1.5 times that of older workers when you factor in where young people work, what they are doing and the fact that they usually work part time. This suggests that job-related aspects have a considerable impact on youth getting injured at work.

Using data from the Canadian Community Health Survey, Breslin and Smith examined more than 57,000 Canadians over the age of 15 who said they had worked in the past year. They analyzed data on those who had been injured on the job and sought medical attention comparing rates for youth (15-19 years of age), young adults (20-24 years old), adults 25-35 years old and 35 years and older.

They found that youth and young adults have more acute and traumatic injuries, and fewer musculoskeletal injuries than adults. They tend to work in the sales and service sectors—holding jobs in restaurants and fast food outlets, retail stores and offices—and they report higher levels of physical exertion on the job than older workers.

Smith, a research associate at the Institute, says the contribution of job characteristics to the difference in injury rates among age groups has important implications for prevention efforts.

We now have early evidence that if we were able to remove the hazards associated with the type of jobs in which young workers’ are employed their injury rates could drop. While we need to better understand the impact of specific hazards, strategies could include improved training and physical changes to the work environment.

Breslin says there is also a role for policy-makers. We need improved regulatory initiatives that are specific to young workers that go beyond minimum age restrictions to specific and required training for young workers, he says.

The study was published in the recent issue of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.

About the Institute for Work & Health

IWH is an independent, not-for-profit research organization that aims to protect and improve the health of working people. Recognized as one of the top five occupational health and safety research centres in the world, the Institute provides practical and relevant findings on the prevention of work injury and disability to policy-makers, workers, employers, clinicians, and health, safety and disability management professionals.

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