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Advanced technologies are being integrated into work processes faster than ever before. These developments have not only increased production but have affected the ways that the work is done. A recent study by the Institute for Work and Health suggests that these changes, along with those from other workplace trends, are likely to affect all industries and will impact working conditions, what work is available, and who gets the work. As a result, vulnerable workers could suffer disproportionately.
About the study
The study defines vulnerable workers as those who are exposed to adverse and unsafe work conditions, lack access to employment legislation or statutory benefits, lack opportunities to improve working conditions, earn low wages, or experience employment instability. The research states that one-third of Canadian workers experience vulnerability. Among them are women, racialized populations, immigrants, Indigenous peoples, LGBTQ2+, those with low socioeconomic status, and people with disabilities.
The study identifies nine trends that have the potential to see vulnerable workers excluded from the future of work if there is not a conscious and coordinated effort to appreciate and utilize their skills and ensure their inclusion.
How these trends can affect vulnerable workers
The digital transformation of the economy, artificial intelligence, and digital systems that replicate human intelligence and behaviours creates the potential for the displacement of repetitive and low-skilled jobs. Entry level jobs could have greater physical demands and insecurity, while skill gaps could emerge where workers don’t have the digital literacy to qualify for new jobs. Automated candidate filtering has the potential to reinforce existing social conditions and biases towards workers who don’t fit a pre-determined mould.
Globalization can lead to the displacement of workers, increased competition for limited jobs, and worker exploitation. Work can also be significantly affected by external shocks such as an economic recession, extreme weather events, or a global pandemic. These can result in job displacement, altered work conditions, and political instability.
In addition, young workers entering the workforce represent a generation that values and expects inclusivity, diversity, and social responsibility. Workplace cultures may intentionally or unintentionally contribute to discrimination or increase adversity.
Potential for opportunities
There is cause for optimism. Within the trends identified by the study, there lie opportunities to support and protect vulnerable workers.
The use of new technologies has created greater accessibility to work for those who may have been excluded due to physical restrictions or disabilities. There is flexibility in work conditions made possible by increased connectivity. The shift to remote work has created the potential to increase the number of talented candidates. Workers who can’t relocate and those with disabilities are able to participate in the labour market. Employers can tap into a more diverse pool of workers and candidates with skills and perspectives that benefit the organization.
Workers in the growing gig economy of short-term and freelance work can use their jobs as an entry point into the labour market. Around the clock connectivity means always being available to new opportunities. The use of artificial intelligence has the potential to level the job search playing field by automating screening processes and making human resources and hiring decisions based on objective metrics. The same automated hiring systems that have the potential to exclude job candidates can also help employers expand their hiring to groups of previously overlooked workers and find candidates with diverse experience and soft skills.
Young workers can be seen as a force for change. This generation expects work environments that are accessible and inclusive. They prioritize progressive work-life balance and remote work policies, and a commitment to environmental sustainability. They will expect job training and support the increased adoption of digital technologies that may increase accessibility and further opportunities.
Trends identified in the study as potential threats to the working futures of vulnerable workers have within them the potential to be inclusive and provide opportunities. Technological developments and the rapid rate of change means that there is also a collective responsibility to ensure that work environments are inclusive and safe for all workers.
Tips & Tools
Working at heights is a hazard faced by many workers. Fall protection plans are important to help eliminate the hazard or control the risks related to working near openings or at heights. These plans outline the policy and procedures on how to assemble, maintain, inspect, use and dismantle equipment as well as anchors, which are a critical part of any fall protection system.
The anchor is a device that is purposefully manufactured and installed and connects to and fully supports a fall protection system.
Using an anchor while working at heights? Here’s what you need to know:
Preventing falls is the best way to protect workers from injury. Always make sure that your equipment is working as it should and that workers are trained in fall protection. This includes knowing the correct use of anchors and identifying the correct type, and assessing the strength, stability, and location of the anchor. With proper training and appropriate, reliable equipment and devices, you can do more than get the job done – you can help keep workers safe.
While many companies are committed to gender equality, a gap still exists between men and women in leadership roles. Learn more as we chat with two leaders about their journeys in the field of health and safety.
CCOHS Conversations: Women Leaders in Health and Safety
While an estimated 87% of companies are committed to gender equality, there is still a noticeable gap between men and women in leadership roles. This gap is noticed in many industries, including health and safety.
Join CCOHS host Sue Freeman as she speaks with Lee-Anne Lyon-Bartley (Executive Vice President, Health, Safety, Environment & Quality at Dexterra Group Inc.) and certified Canadian Registered Safety Professional Janet Mannella (Vice President of Operations at CCOHS) about their journeys advancing in the field of health and safety. Listen in as they share their thoughts on women in leadership positions, discuss what’s changing, and provide insights on how to overcome challenges and barriers in a male-dominated field.
The podcast runs 22:38 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
CCOHS produces free monthly podcasts on a wide variety of topics designed to keep you current with information, tips, and insights into the health, safety, and well-being of working Canadians. You can download the audio segment to your computer or MP3 player and listen to it at your own convenience... or on the go!
New COVID-19 Resources
As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, CCOHS continues to release new and updated resources to help workplaces prevent the spread. Get guidance on taxi and rideshare services, tips for writing an essential services worker letter, and a rapid testing tip sheet. As with all our COVID resources, these fact sheets are free, downloadable, and easy to share.
New guidance is available on:
More Free Resources
Occupational health and safety laws are always evolving. This month’s highlights include amendments to the Workers’ Compensation Acts in British Columbia and New Brunswick, and to separate acts respecting industrial accidents and diseases and forestry health and safety in Quebec.
Workers’ Compensation Act: B.C. Reg. 273/2020 adjusts the dollar amounts in various sections.
Workers' Compensation Act: S.N.B. 2020, c. 8 is in force amending subsection 53(7) (under Section 53 Annual statement of wages).
Act respecting industrial accidents and occupational diseases: S.Q. 2020, c. 29 is in force amending ss. 11 and 81 regarding a person who performs work or renders a service to the community under alternative measures taken pursuant to the Criminal Code.
Regulation respecting health and safety in forest development work (Act respecting occupational health and safety): O.C. 56-2021 replaces s. 27 (qualifications of manual tree fellers), adds s. 43.1 and updates references to standards in ss. 44-46 and 48 related to personal protective equipment.
For more information regarding recent regulatory changes CCOHS offers a paid subscription service, Canadian enviroOSH Legislation plus Standards, that provides a collection of all the health, safety and environmental legislation you need in one location.
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The Health and Safety Report, a free monthly newsletter produced by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), provides information, advice, and resources that help support a safe and healthy work environment and the total well being of workers.
© 2021, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety