Risk of workplace violence increasing among women in Ontario’s education sector

Differing risks of workplace violence among women and men depend on sector and type of violence, according to two recent studies from Institute for Work & Health

August 30, 2018 (Toronto, Ontario)—Women working in Ontario’s education sector are four to six times more likely than their male counterparts to require time off work because of being physically assaulted on the job.

This is according to a study by the Toronto-based Institute for Work & Health (IWH), published online yesterday in Occupational and Environmental Medicine (doi: 10.1136/oemed-2018-105152). The study drew on two population-based sources of data. One was the number of lost-time claims due to assaults accepted by Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board between 2002 and 2015; the other was the number of emergency room visits across all Ontario hospitals from 2004 to 2014 due to assaults at work.

The study also shows that men working in Ontario’s health-care sector are almost twice as likely as female workers to have lost-time workers’ compensation claims due to assaults. However, the yearly number of cases is declining more sharply among men than women in this sector. As a result, the sex/gender gap in the risk of workplace violence is narrowing among health-care workers. Outside the health-care and education sectors, risks of workplace violence are similar for both men and women.

When it comes to workplace violence, our research suggests that the differing risks among men and women depend on sector and type of violence, says IWH Associate Scientific Director Dr. Peter Smith and principal investigator on this research project. Our research also found that the rates of workplace violence among men and women are changing over time, with both workers’ compensation and emergency department data suggesting that workplace violence is increasing among women overall, but remaining stable among men. Smith holds one of nine Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) research chairs in gender, work and health.

Although workplace violence prevention efforts have tended to focus on health-care workers, the risk of experiencing violence has been rising for over a decade among women in education—now surpassing risk levels for both men and women in health care, notes Smith.

During the study period, yearly rates of injury claims among female education workers climbed from around 89 per 100,000 full-time equivalents (FTE) in 2002 to 247 per 100,000 FTE in 2015. In comparison, rates of injury claims among men in education rose from about 18 per 100,000 FTE in 2002 to 47 in 2015. Rates of claims among men in health care went down from 185 per 100,000 FTE in 2002 to 175 in 2015; they also declined for women in health care, from 105 per 100,000 FTE to 99 in the same period.

Women experience four times more sexual violence at work

Findings in this study support those in a related Canada-wide study also led by Smith and published online in July in the Annals of Work Exposures and Health (doi: 10.1093/annweh/wxy066). Based on Statistics Canada’s General Social Surveys focusing on victimization, with a total sample of about 30,000 working respondents, the study found women are 60 per cent more likely than men to experience some type of self-reported workplace violence. More interestingly, the study found women are four times more likely than men to experience workplace violence of a sexual nature, but no more likely to experience non-sexual violence. This was after taking socioeconomic characteristics (such as age, marital status, education, etc.) and work characteristics (hours worked, occupation, industry and work schedule) into account.

Information on the sex of the person committing the violence was also available in this study, with rates of workplace violence committed by men 4.7 times higher than rates by women. 

You cannot look at workplace violence without considering sex and gender differences, says Smith. These differences influence who is more likely to commit violence, who is more likely to work in occupations and industries where violence is highest, and the type of violence experienced. 

About the Institute for Work & Health

IWH is an independent, not-for-profit research organization that conducts and mobilizes research to support policy-makers, employers and workers in creating healthy, safe and inclusive work environments. The Institute provides practical and relevant findings and evidence-based products on the inter-relationships between work and health from worker, workplace and systems perspectives. iwh.on.ca

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