Workplace Injuries and ESA Violations among Young Workers: A Preliminary Report.

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1 Workplace Injuries and ESA Violations among Young Workers: A Preliminary Report. Alan Hall, Zachary Gerard and Jessica Toldo November, 2011 Labour Studies Programme University of Windsor 1

2 Over the last decade, governments across Canada have responded to the specific problem of workplace injuries among young workers through an increased emphasis on consciousness raising media programs, education and training. This shift in attention was motivated by research evidence on the higher rates of injuries among young workers (Breslin and Smith 2005; Breslin et al, 2007; Wegman and Davis, 1999; Salminen, 2004), the higher costs associated with compensating disabled young workers and the efforts of unions and other activists (often the parents of children killed on the job) to bring more attention to the issue. While compensation statistics in Ontario and elsewhere suggest a general decline in injury rates, including a decline among young workers (WSIB, 2007), the evidence also indicates that the drop has been slower among young workers and that they continue to have higher rates of injuries than older workers (Breslin et al., 2006b). Although some of the existing literature indicates that young workers are more reluctant to report injuries and unsafe working conditions, relatively little research has been conducted on the reasons for under-reporting. Interestingly enough, while anecdotal evidence suggests that young workers are also subject to higher rates of Employment Standards violations, there is very little research to date on age related ESA violations in Ontario and on whether there is underreporting here as well. This preliminary report provides survey evidence which speaks to both health and safety and the ESA violations. The central focus is determine whether younger workers are reporting unsafe conditions, injuries and ESA violations, and if not, to begin to understand the reasons for under-reporting. Method: Eleven University classes in various disciplines and types of courses were selected for the survey based on convenience, that is, teachers/instructors who were known by the researcher (N=20) were 2

3 approached to gain their permission to administer the questionnaire in their classes. The questionnaire consisted of 69 questions which asked survey respondents to report on their perceptions and knowledge of their workplace rights with respect to the Ontario Employment Standards Act (ESA)and the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act. They were also asked if they had experienced workplace injuries, unsafe working conditions or ESA infractions. Participants were asked as well about the training and education they had received on worker rights in school and in their workplaces The questions were focused on their current workplace, their most recent workplace and their longer work history. The survey took about fifteen minutes to complete. A total of 439 completed surveys were received from the eleven classes. The Findings Who was in the study? Eighty-three per cent of the survey participants were between the ages of 16 and 24, with 57.2% female and 42.8% male. Most were working in the retail (21.6%) or restaurant (22.6%) sectors with relatively small numbers in manufacturing (5.9 %), construction (1.8%) and agriculture (2.7%). One third of the respondents (36.4%) were working in small workplaces with fewer than 20 employees and close to 2/3rds (64.1%) were not unionized. The average wage was $13.69, with 22.3% of the workers getting the minimum wage and only 5.4% making more than $ Health and Safety Sixty-eight of the workers reported that they had performed unsafe work tasks in their current job and over 7% said that they had done this often or very often. When asked about performing 3

4 unsafe work tasks in both current and past jobs, 17% said many times and 27% reported two to three times. Among the reasons given for performing or accepting unsafe work, the most commonly reported were: 1) they thought they could avoid injury by being careful (30.2%); 2) they thought it was just part of the job (24.9%); and, 3) they were worried about other potential negative reactions by their employers or supervisors (20.6%). Among those who had been exposed to unsafe tasks, 32.9% reported that they had used their legal right to refuse to carry out a specific unsafe task at least once. This percentage is somewhat surprising given the number of investigated work refusals recorded annually by the Ministry of Labour (e.g. N=141 in ). However, even though the survey number likely overestimates the actual work refusals, it does suggest that a good percentage of the workers were aware of this right. This was confirmed in a subsequent question which asks workers to report on why they accepted unsafe tasks. Only 10% of the workers reported that they weren t aware of their legal right to refuse unsafe work. However, 53% reported that they accepted the risk because they thought they could avoid injury by being careful, while 44% said they accepted unsafe work because they thought it was just part of the job. Although only 19% of the workers reported accepting unsafe work because they thought they had to accept the risk to keep their job, thirty six per cent of the respondents stated that their acceptance was also based on a worry about other potentially negative reactions by employer or supervisor. On the other hand, only 9% of the workers reported any direct pressure or threats by an employer or supervisor to force an acceptance of a hazard. Interestingly enough, another fairly common reason given for accepting unsafe work was that they did not want to look like a wimp or a complainer (30%). 4

5 In light of the above findings, it is important to note that the majority of workers in the survey (63.3%) felt that their current workplace presented relatively little risk to their health and safety and only a minority (33.4%) reported that their job often involved considerable physical effort. This varied as might be expected by the industry in which people were working, with for example, workers in construction (75%) manufacturing (73%) reporting moderate to extreme risk, while relatively few workers in the health and community services (25%) reporting moderate to extreme risks. Respondents were also asked about their overall injury history at work. Two distinct questions were posed. First, whether they had any injuries which required time off work, and second, whether they had any injuries, alternatively or in addition, which negatively affected their physical capacities or caused pain for a period lasting a couple of hours or more. With respect to injuries causing time off work, 87.5 % reported that they had never been injured, while 8.3 % cited one injury, 2.1 % two injuries and 2.1 % more than two. When asked if all or some of these injuries were reported officially to the Workplace Safety insurance Board, 62% of the workers (N= 27) indicate that one or more of their injuries was never reported even though the injury was serious enough to miss work. Four workers indicated that this had happened three or more times. With respect to the less serious injury, that is, a situation where the injury effect or pain was more temporary, 53 workers (12%) reported one or more injuries. Just over of the injured workers did not report at least one of these injuries. When those who did not 5

6 report were asked why, the most common reasons offered were that they were unaware that they were supposed to report all injuries (52%), thought the injury was too minor to report (42%) or thought the injury was their fault (25%). With respect to the more minor injury, a good number of workers also expressed the concern that they did not want to look like a wimp or a complainer. Relatively few workers (18%) reported a concern with employer reaction or reprisals. Respondents were also asked about access to training and information relevant to health and safety. With respect to their current workplace, they were asked if they received what they considered to be adequate training for their job % reported that the training was fully inadequate or inadequate in some ways, while 4.5% reported that they received no training at all. When asked if they received WHMIS training or any additional health and safety training, 34.4% reported no WHMIS or health and safety training at all, while 17.2% reported WHMIS training only. Among those who received WHMIS and/or other health and safety training, 20.6% thought the training was inadequate or inadequate in some ways. Workers were also asked if they received any education or training on health and safety in high school % reported none or could not, and only 12.9% characterized their training as considerable. Among those who received at least some high school training, only23.9 % viewed the training as helpful or very helpful. Workers were also asked if they can recall ever seeing 6

7 information media in their workplace (74%), at school (56.3%), on television (55.6%), on internet (27.9%) or in magazines (17.2%) on health and safety in poster, video, notice or ad formats, and whether this information was seen as making them more aware of health and safety. Among those who did recall seeing information of this sort, 62.4 % (includes strongly agree and agree) agreed that it made them any more aware of health and safety. Most workers also reported that they had never requested information on specific concerns or conditions in their workplace (69.8%). While there are several indications in this data that many workers are reluctant to report injuries and question or refuse unsafe conditions or tasks, and that training and access to information are limited, most workers claimed that they knew their rights under the health and safety act and worker s compensation act (54.3% and were able to exercise them (67.8%) when necessary. Employment Standards Respondents were asked first to report on the number of times in their work histories that they had experienced specific employment standards violations. Failure to provide a 30 minute break after five hours was the most commonly cited violation with 50% reporting at least one violation, and 38% reporting that this had happened to them three or more times. The next most common violation was failure to pay for all hours worked. Again, half the workers (50.2 %) reported at least one incident in which an employer had not paid them for all the hours worked, while half of those (24.8%) reported that this had happened to them three or more times. Not being paid for overtime or the proper rate for public holidays were also quite common violations with 39% and 33% respectively reporting as least one violation, and 27% 7

8 and 15% reporting three or more violations. A good number of workers also reported that they were pressured to work at the beginning or the end of their shift without getting paid for that time, with 27% reporting three or more violations. Relatively few workers reported ever being sexually (15%) or racially harassed (6%) at work but given the gravity of these violations, it is especially disturbing that even a relatively few workers report being sexually (5% N=20) or racially (1.5%, N=6) harassed three or more times. Table 3: Common ESA Infractions ESA Infraction % of Individuals who Experienced this 3+ times Failure to provide a break after 5 hours of work 38% Not being paid for all of the hours worked 24.8% Not being paid for overtime 27% Not being paid the proper rate for public holidays 15% In total, respondents reported 1129 violations across eleven different employment standards. Although it is possible that some of reported violations were not, in fact, legal violations, it is more than likely that this number significantly underestimates the actual number of violations, in as much as many workers have expressed to us that the category three or more times failed to capture many situations where the violations were routine and sometimes daily. It is also important to recognize that some workers have experienced multiple types of violations as well as multiple violations of particular sorts. Our data does not allow us to determine the extent to which these were located in a single employer or whether it represented a multiple 8

9 employer experience, but it is clear that some workers have experienced many more problems than others. Some of this seems to relate to the industry where they are working with the type of violations varying to some extent with the industry. For example, over 50% of the workers in the restaurant industry and in manufacturing reported at least one incident where they were paid their wages whereas this was rarely reported by workers in the agriculture or construction sectors. Although the experience of violations is relatively widespread among the respondents, and some respondents have experienced multiple violations of several different standards, most workers with violations (65%) have never filed a complaint. The most common reasons they give for not filing complaints are: 1) they didn t think it was worth the trouble (45%); 2) they didn t want to jeopardize their jobs (24%); and, 3) they didn t know their rights at the time (16%). A large number of respondents also wrote in reasons which included things such as I just, quit, I didn t think they d do anything, or it was a family owned business. When asked if they agree that they are able to exercise their rights under the Employment Standards Act, a majority (57.1%) expressed confidence that they could. However, a smaller proportion agreed that they knew their rights (33.8%). In an effort to put this knowledge question to a test, respondents were also asked a number of basic ESA knowledge questions, regarding the current standards such as the current minimum wage, weekly limit of working 9

10 hours, hours needed to earn overtime, and two vacation pay questions. With the exception of the minimum wage where 65% of the respondents answered correctly, only a small minority of the workers knew the other standards. For example, only 27% knew the hours of work required per week before you earn overtime, while even fewer (10%) knew the weekly limit on hours of work. Most workers either didn t know or thought that temporary workers were not eligible for vacation pay (61%), and 73% were unable to correctly identify the 4% percentage that they were supposed to receive for vacation pay. We also asked if anyone had ever sought information on ESA standards from among a list of potential sources including parents (45.6%), teachers (6.4%), friends (34.3%), legal clinic/lawyer (1.7%) or the Ministry of Labour (7.1%). Just under half the workers have never sought information from any of these sources. Discussion of Results The results from this survey reveal that a good percentage of university age workers are experiencing and under-reporting unsafe working situations, injuries and ESA violation. A lack of knowledge of their rights, especially with respect to ESA violations, appears to play a role in some situations. This may reflect that fact that the Ministry of Labour and the schools have put some emphasis on health and safety education, but very little on other employment rights. At the same time, it is also evident that most respondent don t believe that they have received adequate training or information on the full range of issues and rights, both ESA and health and safety. On the other hand, the results suggest that a number of more complex factors are shaping the way in which workers respond to hazards, injuries and employment violation in the 10

11 realm of social, cultural and economic pressures. It is clear for example, that many workers are concerned about being perceived as weak or as complainers, while many are also anxious, or at least uncertain, about how their employer will react if they report. Relatively few seem to report overt employer intimidation or reprisals, which is encouraging, but there are underlying concerns or doubts about what reporting will mean for their employment situation, and these effects, although often subtle in their origins, can be quite significant in their impact. Some of these results may have something to do with the often temporary nature of their employment as students and their relatively tenuous financial situations. They may well be rationalizing the acceptance of these conditions on the grounds that they are only temporary. Yet, in a context where more and more employment is contingent, even for people with university degrees, this may well extend to a broader passive orientation to illegal working and employment conditions which carries throughout their employment careers. References: Breslin, F.C. & Smith, P. (2005). Age-Related Differences in Work Injuries: A multivariate, Population based study. American Journal of Industrial Medicine Breslin, C., Koehoorn, M., Smith, P. & Manno, M. (2003). Age Related differences in work injuries and permanent impairment: A comparison of workers compensation claims among adolescents, young adults and adults. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 60(e10), 1-6. Breslin, C.Polzer, J. MacEachen, E., Morrongiello, B., and Harry, S.(2006a).Workplace Injury or "Part of the Job"?: Towards a Gendered Understanding of Injuries and Complaints Among Young Workers. Social Science and Medicine. 64, Gray, G. (2002) A sociolegal ethnography of the right to refuse unsafe work. Studies in Law, Politics and Society, 24, Hall, A. (1993) The corporate approach to occupational health and safety: A labour process analysis. Canadian Journal of Sociology 18(2)

12 Hall, A. (1996) The ideological construction of risk in mining: A case study. Critical Sociology. 22(1), Hall, A. (1999) Understanding the impact of mine health and safety programs. Labour Studies Journal. 23(4), Hall, A., A. Forrest, A. Sears and N. Carlan (2006) Knowledge Activism and the Workplace Politics of Occupational Health. Relations Industrielles/Industrial Relations. 61(3), Hendricks, K. J., and Layne, L. A. (1999). Adolescent occupational injuries in fast food restaurants: an examination of the problem from a national perspective. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. 41(12), Koehoorn, M., Breslin, F. C. & Xu, F. (2008). Investigating the Longer-Term Health Consequences of Work Related Injuries Among youth. Journal of Adolescent Health Mardis, A. L., and Pratt, S.G. (2003). Nonfatal injuries to young workers in the retail trades and services industries. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. 45(3), Saar, P.E., Dimich-Ward, H., Kelly, D. K. & Voaklander, C. D. (2006). Farm Injuries and Fatalaties in British Columbia, Canadian Journal of Public Health. 97(2) Suruda, A., Philips, P., Lillquist, D., and Sesek, R. (2003). Fatal injuries to teenage construction workers in the US. American Journal of Industrial Medicine. 44, OntarioWorkplace Safety and Insurance Board. Young Worker Statistics, Wegman, D. H., and Davis, K. L. (1999). Protecting youth at work. American Journal of Industrial Medicine. 36, Winday, Janice(2005). Occupational injuries among young workers: Despite regulations, Westaby, James, and J. Lowe (2005). Risk-Taking Orientation and Injuries Among Youth Workers: Examining the Social Influence of Supervisors, Coworkers, and Parents. Journal of Applied Psychology. 90 (25) pp

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