UBC Reports | Vol.
50 | No. 2 | Feb.
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
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
and click on the focus report called Protecting Young Workers.