Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Stigmatizing injured workers

I was quoted in the Sun today about Patrick Clayton’s sentencing. Most of my comment had to do with the stigma that attaches to injured workers.

Stigma was a hot topic at the Research Action Alliance on the Consequences of Workplace Injuries (RAACWI) symposium I was at last week. The Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) was in attendance to discuss efforts they have made to reduce the stigmatization of injured workers.

This included a brochure and some in-house training. The reception they got was quite mixed. Many were excited (or at least relieved) to see that the WSIB was prepared to admit to stigmatization, while others didn’t think these first steps were very significant (to put it mildly).

Right before heading to Toronto, I ran across a pre-publication version of a new study on the stigmatization of injured workers on Ontario. “The Nature and Impact of Stigma Towards Injured Workers” was published in the Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation and sought to determine “how stigma is exhibited and perpetuated, and the impact that stigma has upon injured workers” (p.5).

Stereotyping (e.g., injured workers are playing the system), unethical treatment (e.g., discrimination, presumption of guilt triggering investigations), and maltreatment (e.g., lack of accommodation) were all important dimensions of stigmatization.

The effect of stigmatization were felt at work and at home. Particularly compelling is the discussion of how personal relationships and roles changed in a negative way as a result of stigmatization and how this affected the workers’ mental health. “Not only is stigma perpetuated and reinforced by individuals and organizations, it is also internalized in the form of self stigma as injured workers develop a sense of shame and diminished self-esteem” (p. 10).

While this research is not directly on point to the Patrick Clayton hostage taking (and isn’t intended to justify or excuse his actions—so hold off on the outraged emails please), it does provide some useful background to understand the frustration often expressed by injured workers towards “the system”. It also highlights one path forwards in Alberta.

-- Bob Barnetson

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