Some workers are more vulnerable than others to the occupational hazards that they face. These workers are often referred to as “vulnerable workers.”

It is difficult to define “vulnerability” exactly. It depends on many individual factors such as age, literacy level, physical and mental ability, and job experience. Workplace factors like hours of work, employment stability and workplace hazards also have a role. A vulnerable worker may be, for example, a recent immigrant, young worker, new worker, temporary agency worker or seasonal agricultural worker. There are also workers who are vulnerable but do not fall into these categories.

Young workers (those aged 15-24) and new workers (those on a job for less than six months) are a special concern. Workers who are new to a job are three times more likely to be injured during the first month on the job than more experienced workers, according to an IWH study.

In 2017, there were six traumatic fatalities and one occupational disease fatality claim (by year of entitlement) among workers aged 15-24. Young workers had 7,956 lost-time injury claims (9.08% increase since 2016) and 21,037 no lost-time injury claims (2.88% increase since 2016). Young workers accounted for 13.36% of all allowed lost-time injury claims and 16.66% of all allowed no lost-time injury claims.

The occupational health and safety system is committed to educating vulnerable workers about potential hazards at work and the importance of health and safety. A 2017 inspection health and safety initiative focused on the safety of new and young workers.

Assisting vulnerable workers

Health and safety awareness presentations

The Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB) partnered with Workplace Safety & Prevention Services (WSPS) to deliver Health & Safety Awareness Presentation Curriculum presentations for Grade 10 students as part of the OCSB’s broader Workplace Safety Week initiative. The aim was to reach students before their first job, whether part-time or summer work.

Forty-one presentations were delivered at 14 schools to more than 1,000 students by 20 WSPS volunteers over two days in April 2017. Feedback from students was exceptional. When asked about what they had learned, they said: “don't be afraid to speak up and voice concerns,” “my part-time employer did not provide adequate safety training,” “don't be afraid to ask questions!” and “it is important to know we have the right to refuse unsafe work.”

Sponsoring young worker programs

To promote safe work, the Infrastructure Health & Safety Association (IHSA) has sponsored events for young workers. These include:

  • Future Building Exhibition: Future Building is an annual, interactive, three-day exhibition organized by the Ontario Construction Secretariat. In 2017, IHSA connected with over 5,000 students by using interactive displays and handing out health and safety resources.
  • Line Crew Ground Support Training Program: In this 15-week certificate program, young Indigenous workers are taught safety courses and given hands-on instruction to prepare for careers in the power line and construction trades. Courses include ladder handling, safe pole handling, pole line construction, working at heights and mobile crane operator training. Successful participants leave the program with 25 different safety certifications. Over 85% of graduates find work in the power line and construction trades.
  • Skills Ontario: The Ontario Technological Skills Competition is Canada’s largest skilled trade and technology event. Students from across the province demonstrate their abilities and compete for provincial honours. Medalists move on to the national competition and even the world event. With over 20,000 students attending, along with family and friends, the competition showcases careers in the skilled trades.

Practice Safe Work program

The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) reached out to young workers through social media to deliver the #PracticeSafeWork message that workplace incidents happen when you least expect them. The WSIB aimed to surprise young people in ways and places they’d least expect, on their social networks and using new and original creative imagery. They used carousel ads on social media and created profiles on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. The WSIB also worked with social media influencers. The campaign ran from May to August 2017 and received about 135,000 engagements.

Engaging students early with safety knowledge

The ministry’s It’s Your Job student video contest helps high school students learn and talk about workplace safety. Students submit original videos about the importance of working safely on the job. The videos are shared on social media. Funded by the ministry and the WSIB, the most recent contest had 98 video submissions from 207 young people at 44 schools across the province. This year’s winning entry was “Safety Rhymes,” which was about workplace impairment from cannabis use. It also won second place at the national competition that was organized by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.

Teaching students health and safety through factory visits

Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters hosted 12 manufacturing plant visits and 10 in-class sessions for Grade 11 and 12 students to build their awareness of occupational health and safety. Funded by the Ministry of Labour’s Occupational Health, Safety and Prevention Innovation Program, the project reached out to 779 students and teachers.

Workplace health and safety training for Indigenous communities

Workplace Safety North is piloting a health and safety training program for members of Indigenous communities. The goal of the training is to help community members get a job with a local mining or forestry business. The training includes forestry and mining-related health and safety courses. The program was developed after talks with Indigenous partners and local industries.

Live Safe! Work Smart!

The Live Safe! Work Smart! program provides health and safety resources for Ontario teachers to support young workers who are new to the workforce. Its website received more than 20,000 unique visits and there were more than 2,300 newsletter subscribers in 2017-18. ServiceOntario also provided 1,070 printed copies of these resources.