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Small Study Links Workplace Injury With Poverty

Disabled workers scramble for resources, security.

Dateline: Monday, March 10, 2008

by Karli Brotchie and Becky Casey for the Thunder Bay & District Injured Workers' Support Group

[Editor's note: Here are some excerpts from the Support Group's research paper. To read the entire paper, please contact them directly at e-ddress below or URL below.]

The inspiration for this study grew out of a similar study that was conducted in downtown Toronto that found that 57 percent of those who were living on the streets had experienced a workplace injury at some point in their lives.

There are some 344,000 workers in Ontario who have suffered from a workplace injury or disease, which has left them with a permanent disability. Somewhere between 50 and 80 percent of these workers are chronically unemployed as a result.

Although 72 percent held full time jobs before their injuries, only 15 percent reported employment income post-injury.

Since 1995, the cumulative increase in the cost of living has been 29 percent. During the same time period, disabled workers' benefits have gone up only 4.9 percent. Permanently injured workers have lost almost 24 percent of their pensions.

The purpose of this small pilot study [40 participants] is to determine the relationship between workplace injury and poverty in Thunder Bay. While not representative of the experience of the whole population of injured workers in Thunder Bay, ideally this study could be used as the basis for a larger, more inclusive study in the future.

Ninety percent of respondents believe their income would have increased or stayed at a comparable level, had they not been injured at work. In reality, nearly all respondents reported a significant decrease in income as a result of their workplace injury. The most drastic decrease in income came from an individual who reported once making between $60,000-$69,000 and now has a yearly income of approximately $10,000.

Seventy-one percent reported living below the low-income cut off, or "poverty line".

Forty-two percent of respondents reported their income consists of welfare (Ontario Works or Ontario Disability Support Payments); 15 percent reported receiving CPP support payments. Eighteen percent receive Workers' Compensation, and 15 percent reported employment income. Comparatively, more individuals collect social assistance than they do a pay cheque.

Prior to their injuries, most (72 percent) individuals were working in full time positions (n=28), followed by those in contract positions (n=9). Only a small number of the participants were engaged in part time work (n=5). Some people were working at more than one job.

Most workplace injuries occurred to individuals in manual labour positions, which were in the construction, forestry and trades/transportation sector. This is not surprising considering Northwestern Ontario's dependence on this type of industry.

Interestingly, only 64 percent of workplace accidents were reported to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. Unfortunately, researching reasons for this were outside the scope of this study.

Recommendations for future research would include exploring why workplace injuries are not reported, what actions were taken and do injured workers believe their experiences would have resulted differently had they been reported to the WSIB?

For those who did report their injuries, again 64 percent experienced difficulties with the process. Recommendations for future research would be examining the types of difficulties workers experience and suggestions from applicants on how to make the process more effective.

When asked about the experience reporting injury, many had negative comments. One felt that the process was too invasive, and that "lots of people asking many questions - too many", and that claims were "refused after nothing." They found the process to be complicated and demeaning.

One participant described his distress at his employer's "disbelief that work was a causal relationship to injury suffered." Another reported that the WCB "treated [me] like a criminal and made me jump through hoops."

Of the sample, 78 percent reported being unemployed. Nearly all were actively looking for a job, but half (n=20) acknowledged that their prospects of finding a job as "unrealistic". Twenty-three percent reported not having a suitable job to apply for.

Post injury, 18 percent (n=7) reported having to work at a "worse" job than their previous job.

For those who believe their accidents have resulted in permanent injuries nearly 45 percent reported their spouses had either sought employment or work more hours. One respondent even reported his child having to engage in paid employment in order to supplement the household income (n=1). Twenty-two or 57 percent reported a decrease in household income due to injury.

Most respondents who reported a change in their relationships found that workplace injury negatively impacted their relationship with their spouse. Thirteen percent reported divorce or separation as a direct result of the effects of workplace injury (n=5). Close to 20 percent reported a strain in their relationship due directly to workplace injury (n=8). Nearly 8 percent reported a partner becoming withdrawn due to injury, and 13 percent noted problems stemming from the injury but reported staying together in attempts to work it out.

Most respondents reported an increase in stress resulting from workplace injury. Participants told of their fears and concerns, with one saying, "All I think about is money, money, money and my pain." Another reported feeling extremely anxious wondering, "Will anyone help me? Will I be fired? Will I be covered?"

One participant expressed his feelings of being misunderstood: "I wish for more understanding about what I experience. Esteem issues and injury get so bad that I can't get a job. I wish for people to understand the hidden aspects of the pain and humiliation. It is not easy."

This report was prepared for the Thunder Bay & District Injured Workers' Support Group over 2007 and early 2008, and was researched and written by Karli Brotchie and Becky Casey, with help from research facilitators, Mark Rantala and Danielle McLean and input from Dr Liu of the Lakehead University Sociology Department. Additional support came from KAIROS, the Lutheran Community Care, the Shelter House, the John Howard Society and the Street Reach Ministries.

Reproduced from http://www.straightgoods.ca/ViewFeature8.cfm?REF=150

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