On the surface, workplace safety seems to have little to do with DEI efforts or systemic exclusion. It’s rare to find conversations linking these two issues. But the truth is that economic advantages and disadvantages connect directly to workplace safety.
A person’s ability to stay safe at work is connected to their economic status: Women and people of color tend to have fewer economic advantages, and these are the same demographic groups who suffer more harm at work.
Simply, economic status is a predictor of workplace safety. The less money you have, the less safe you get to be in the workplace.
WMFDP | FDP Global equips and empowers leaders to view their workplace operations through the lens of equity and inclusion to create safe spaces. Our cutting edge workshops and bespoke training programs help you approach this work with vulnerability and courage. Contact our team to learn more.
Who Is Most at Risk on the Job?
Here’s the stark reality: Brown and Black workers suffer workplace fatalities at drastically higher rates than their white counterparts. Women working in traditionally male-dominated industries like transportation and construction report alarming rates of workplace sexual harassment, with 70% or more experiencing this level of abuse.
The higher number of physical and psychological safety issues that underrepresented groups face reflects the impact of inequitable economic systems on workplace safety.
Systemic Economic Inequities Impact Workplace Safety in a Harmful Cycle
Our highly unlevel economic playing field creates a cycle of inequitable access, opportunity and security. Let’s examine some of the most damaging and dangerous pieces of the puzzle workers encounter on the job.
Inequitable Access to Education
This topic is vast and intertwined with every DEI issue possible. Black, Hispanic and Indigenous students in the US receive a lesser education than white and Asian-American students. The statistics are alarming:
- The wealthiest 10% of US school districts have budgets almost ten times bigger than those in the poorest 10%.
- In about 50% of the largest US cities, most Black and Latinx students attend a school where at least 75% of the students qualify as poor or low income.
- High-poverty schools have fewer qualified teachers than low-poverty schools.
- High-poverty schools offer fewer college prep STEM classes than low-poverty schools.
- Black students comprise around 15% of high school students, but only 9% enroll in an AP course.
- In 2020, Indigenous and Alaskan Native students had the highest high school dropout rate at 11.5%.
- Employees who didn’t graduate from high school earn about 62% of workers with more education.
These stats take us down a clear trail of inequitable educational opportunities and outcomes. The result is that marginalized workers – systemically people of color – are more likely to work in low-paying jobs that are often dangerous.
Workers from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are more commonly employed in industries like manufacturing, construction and transportation, with high rates of workplace injuries and fatalities.
Workers Can’t Afford To Stay Safe
Workers in high-risk, high-consequence occupations experience more injuries or illnesses. For economically disadvantaged employees, however, missing work even for a day or two creates a tremendous financial burden.
Nearly 60% of those in the lowest earning group do not have any paid sick leave. If low-paid workers miss work, there is no savings cushion to buffer the loss of daily income. The fear of not earning enough money because of missed shifts drives many people to go to work when it is not safe or healthy for them to do so.
Presenteeism is when you show up to work instead of taking the time away to recover. You’re physically there but aren’t focused enough to be productive or safe.
For example, in high-consequence jobs, workers may be operating machinery while on cold medicine or without full range of motion due to an injury. Presenteeism not only carries a significant impact on workplace safety, it actually costs companies more than absenteeism.
In a similar vein, poor workers are likely to report safety concerns or violations out of fear of repercussions like job loss. They often stay silent rather than risk being terminated out of retaliation. This situation perpetuates unsafe working conditions.
Furthering the problem, Black workers have fewer wealth assets to create a financial safety net for themselves.
- Illegal practices such as redlining keep marginalized groups from attaining the primary wealth-building tool in America – real estate.
- Lack of access to traditional banking institutions pushes people to predatory lending practices at check-cashing stores.
- Lower life insurance coverage than white people receive leaves families of deceased workers without the necessary financial resources.
Generational wealth remains unattainable for many workers, leaving them without any financial buffer or safety net if they cannot work due to injury or illness.
Workers Can’t Afford To Get and Stay Healthy
Rising healthcare costs disproportionately impact women, Black and Hispanic individuals, and low-income people. This disparity and inequity has many consequences, including the following:
- Employees don’t seek medical help when they are ill or injured.
- Workers receive less extensive care, hindering their chance for a full recovery.
- People don’t have the medications necessary to manage ongoing concerns like diabetes.
Additionally, in the US private sector, less than 25% of workers in the lowest wage-earning group have employee-sponsored medical plans available. Without access to appropriate and affordable healthcare, workers do not get the treatment needed for injuries and illness.
When workers don’t have affordable access to quality healthcare, their workplaces become inherently less safe. Employees end up at greater risk of having a heart attack or experiencing a diabetic emergency at work. Or they might be unstable from an injury and more prone to falling. Every day, systemic economic inequities impact workplace safety in big and small ways.
Seeing Systemically Allows Us To Move the Needle in DEI
Diminished and underfunded schooling for Black and Brown children directly leads to fewer job choices once they reach adulthood. These career limits push marginalized groups into more dangerous jobs that pay low wages and may not offer adequate medical coverage. Without financial and medical safety nets, Black and Brown workers are more likely to die on the job.
Economic inequities in America and globally are long-standing and deeply entrenched. Their impact on workplace safety and wellness is often unmentioned, yet tremendously impactful. Systemic socio-economic disparities and barriers have created a situation in which race and gender largely dictate who survives their workday and who doesn’t.
It’s simple to look at workplace safety as merely a product of skills training, signage and PPE. But that presents an incomplete picture. The cycle of economic inequities keeps marginalized groups on uneven footing every step of the way, directly impacting their ability to stay safe on the job.
If you have money, you get to be safe. If you don’t have money, you’re less likely to survive your workday.
The WMFDP | FDP Global training opportunities equip leaders to disrupt this cycle and change their workplaces into inclusive, equitable environments. Doing so, they help ensure their workers can head home safe and sound at the end of each shift. Contact our team to learn more about our summits, learning labs and customized events.