Workers who are more likely to experience injury or illness at work are often described as "vulnerable," but to understand and address the factors that place certain workers under greater risk, we need to reach universal agreement about this term. Researchers are addressing this problem through the development of a new method for measuring vulnerability at work.
Often, the label of "vulnerability" is attached to whole groups of workers. This, however, unfairly associates workplace injury with these groups, rather than with the workplaces in which these groups commonly find themselves employed.
More important factors to consider could include the hazards of the particular work that these workers often perform, the workers' access to training/protection, and the power dynamic between these workers and their employers.
To address this discrepancy, WorkSafe called for a more holistic measure of Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) vulnerability.
Led by Associate Professor Peter Smith from the Monash School of Population Health and Preventive Medicine, a research team reviewed existing literature and interviewed workers to develop a more appropriate set of criteria to measure OHS vulnerability.
This project concluded with a research report, proposing a new set of domains and questions intended to accurately measure OHS vulnerability.
Significantly, this report also highlights the current absence of an existing survey to measure employee perceptions of their employers' commitment to OHS (including their belief that their employer would act on an OHS issue if it were raised), indicating the need of further research in this area.
The team has also produced a journal article on the topic.
In 2015, ISCRR hosted a Community Forum on the subject of Vulnerable Workers, hoping to spur further discussion and research on this topic. This forum was largely inspired by a recent report by the ABC's 4Corners program, which bought the issue of vulnerable workers into the national media spotlight.