Research Matters: Exploring the stigma faced by injured workers

Published in The Chronicle Journal on Tuesday, February 13, 2024.

BY JULIO HELENO GOMES

How does the workers’ compensation board treat injured workers? What do injured workers  experience when seeking medical care? What challenges do they face when returning to the workplace?

These are some of the topics that will be addressed in a new study by Lakehead University researchers and the Canadian Injured Workers Alliance. They will try to understand the shame and obstacles injured workers face in various aspects of their journey.

“We want to understand what’s currently known about structural stigma,” explains Dr. Amanda Maranzan. “We're thinking about 'structural stigma' in terms of system inequities -- the unfair policies and procedures that exist within these larger systems that can cause harm to injured workers and perpetuate harm.”

Maranzan, an associate professor and director of clinical programs in Lakehead's department of psychology, is leading the project. With $25,000 from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and additional funding support from the Enhancing the Prevention of Injury and Disability at Work (EPID@Work) research institute, she will oversee a systematic review of the literature and host stakeholder engagement. An advisory team of eight people representing injured workers, health-care providers, employers and partners in the disability field has met to fine-tune the project's objectives.

“The advisory team really lets us centre the needs and experiences of injured workers in the project, essentially making sure the project design and the research question and implementation is relevant to their needs,” Maranzan says.

Dr. Amanda Maranzan, left, an associate professor in Lakehead's department of psychology, is leading a project examining the stigma experienced by injured workers. Pictured alongside her is graduate student Lauren Reynolds.

The next phase is a systematic literature review by research assistant Lauren Reynolds. A master's student in clinical psychology, Reynolds will read existing papers, conduct quality appraisals and extract relevant data.

“The work is ongoing,” she says. “But so far it’s clear that stigma is an under-recognized factor in the literature written about injured workers, despite the prevalence of the stigma experiences being described.”

Having contributed to other projects involving mental health and stigma, Reynolds was drawn to this effort after meeting and hearing about people who've been injured on the job and the social disgrace they may have lived through.

“This particular research will benefit the community at large by shedding light on the nature of injured worker stigma and its impact,” Reynolds says. “We hope this will support longer-term changes in thinking and behaviour that will improve how injured workers are perceived, treated and supported.”

With a framework in place, Maranzan expects the systematic review will present the advisory team with critical information, such as how structural inequalities exist in employment practices as well as workers’ compensation and the health-care field.

“What we would like the advisory team to do is give us feedback on the relevance of it, we'd like to understand what are some of the gaps in the literature, what is missing based on what we've found, and identify what the next steps are, in terms of research and awareness building to address injured workers stigma,” Maranzan says.

The Canadian Injured Workers Alliance is a co-investigator in this endeavour, bringing the perspective of injured workers to the table and providing input to drive the project forward. Indeed, the advisory team is actively involved in setting the project's goals and will play a role in sharing the information with their constituents.

“It's a unique opportunity to centre the knowledge and experience that community partners have in the research process,” Maranzan says.. “The benefit is that the information we gain from this project is directly relevant because the people who are going to be using the information have been involved in the project all along.”

Research in Action highlights the work of Lakehead University in various fields of research.

Screenshot of the article as it was published in The Chronicle Journal