Why do recent immigrants get injured more often than Canadian-born workers?

Janki Shankar in Faculty of Social Work leads multidisciplinary research team investigating factors behind disturbing workplace trend

Author

Don McSwiney, Faculty of Social Work

University of Calgary associate professor Janki Shankar found that little research has been done on the occupational safety and job conditions that could be contributing to illness or injury for recent immigrants.

Janki Shankar found that little research has been done on the job conditions recent immigrants face.

Dale MacMillan

If you’re a new Canadian, there’s a very good chance that you’re not working in the occupation that you trained for. Out of necessity, many newcomers will instead take any job that they can find, meaning that recent immigrants — especially linguistic and visible minorities — are overrepresented in jobs and workplaces that are hazardous or harmful to their safety.

Research shows that these new immigrants are injured more often than Canadian workers. In fact, men who have been in Canada less than five years are twice as likely to be injured than Canadian-born workers. Even more concerning is that these injuries are serious enough to require medical treatment 90 per cent of the time. 

Disparity of injury rates a growing social issue

The disparity of injury rates will only become more important to Canadians since the number of immigrants working in Canada increases annually. For example between 1991 and 2005, the percentage of immigrants coming for work increased by over 80 per cent.

To find out why these injuries is occurring, Janki Shankar, PhD, an investigator with the University of Calgary Faculty of Social Work in Edmonton, is leading an interdisciplinary team that includes fellow Faculty of Social Work investigators Daniel Lai, PhD, Julie Drolet, PhD, Richard Enns, PhD, along with Lili Liu, PhD and Shaniff Esmail, PhD, from the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine.

Shankar’s team recently received an SSHRC Insight Grant supporting this important research. The team has also received funding for this important research from the Government of Alberta, Department of Labor.

Little existing research on immigrant occupational safety and job conditions

This disparity in injury rates and illness intrigued Shankar, who has a long-term research interest in the needs and mental health of immigrant and refugee workers. When she found that little research has been done on the occupational safety and job conditions that could be contributing to illness or injury for recent immigrants, she decided to get some answers.

“These people want to work, and Canada actually has the lowest difference in labour force participation between Canadian-born and immigrant employees” explains Shankar. “However, because of the nature of the jobs they end up taking, as well as language and cultural issues, these workers are highly vulnerable to occupational injuries and illnesses, compared to Canadian-born employees.”

Goal of research to reduce injury and illnesses

The team will begin with immigrant employees’ perspectives on safety in the workplace. They will also look at the workers’ unique sociocultural environments and the challenges they face in performing their jobs. The team will examine what happens to these individuals once they are injured. 

“My hope is to really contribute to improved occupational safety and wellness for these new Canadians,” says Shankar. “I think this information will be absolutely critical for service providers and employers to develop and implement initiatives aimed at reducing the risk and impact of occupational injury and illnesses as well as help with return to work after occupational injury or illness.”