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UBC Reports | Vol. 50 | No. 2 | Feb. 5, 2004

Protecting Young Workers from Crippling Injuries

UBC researcher searches for solutions

By Hilary Thomson

An 18-year-old sawmill worker was fatally crushed when a log he was attempting to straighten rolled off the skid of an infeed deck.

A 21-year-old lumber piler entered a hazard area without turning off the power. He sustained a crushing injury to his foot resulting in five severed toes.

An 18-year-old power press operator had his right hand and forearm crushed when he reached into the die press to remove some jammed material. He had been on this job for two weeks at the time of the accident.

These real-life incidents taken from a Workers' Compensation Board of B.C. (WCB) report called Protecting Young Workers illustrate how young workers, 15-24 years old, account for the highest rate of compensation claims among all age groups in B.C.

Besides being a tough way to begin working life, these injuries may possibly be the start of long-term health consequences, according to UBC researcher Mieke Koehoorn.

An assistant professor in the department of health care and epidemiology, Koehoorn has launched a study that looks at the experiences of young workers in B.C. She wants to know if persistent symptoms from early work injuries result in increased usage of health-care services in the long term, beyond workers' compensation benefits.

"Young people have higher claim rates mainly due to inexperience," says Koehoorn, who is a Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research Scholar. "New workers may be too intimidated to ask questions about safety, not yet prepared in terms of work or safety training or so eager to prove themselves on the job that they perform tasks they're unfamiliar with."

In addition, young workers are often assigned low-end jobs that carry the greatest risk factors. As new workers, they are often unable to recognize workplace hazards and are unaware of their rights as workers to operate in a safe environment.

In a two-year study, funded by the WCB, Koehoorn will examine data that covers the 15-year period from 1985-2000. Using WCB and provincial health records, she will assess if young workers with a compensation claim have more contact over time with the health-care system than individuals of the same age, sex and geographic location.

She thinks young workers may seek continued medical attention outside the compensation system because, although they have symptoms after the claim is closed, they don't know how to re-open a claim. Also, they may be reluctant to take further time off work that will damage their fledgling work record.

Industries where young workers are most likely to be injured include retail industries for 15-19-year olds, and for workers 20-24 years old the majority of claims come from the retail, manufacturing, construction and forestry sectors. Common injuries include back and other strains, cuts and bruises.

Koehoorn hopes that her research findings will lead to a better understanding of the impact of work-related injuries and help to direct more resources to prevention and regulatory efforts aimed specifically at young workers.

For more information on injuries to young workers, visit www.worksafe.bc.com/publications/reports and click on the focus report called Protecting Young Workers.

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Did you know?

UBC projects received more than $1.6 million in funding from the WCB Research Secretariat in 2003, out of a total of $1.8 million awarded to all institutions.

The Research Secretariat launched its first annual research competition in November 2000. The mission of the secretariat is to support scientific research that will lead to a reduction in the incidence and severity of work-related injury and disease.


Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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