Paper: Workplace social capital and work-related injury in Canada: A cross-sectional analysis

Author(s) and Affiliation(s):
Vicki L Kristman, Centre of Research Expertise in Improved Disability Outcomes, Toronto Western Research Institute, University Health Network, Toronto, Canada
Afshin Vafaei, Program in Evidence-Based Care, Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada
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The majority of previous research on social capital and health is limited to social capital in residential neighborhoods and communities. However, recent research from the Finnish Public Sector Study has shown workplace social capital to be associated with poor general health [1], co-occurrence of lifestyle risk factors [2], smoking cessation [3], and depression [4]. The aim of this study was to determine the associations between workplace social capital and work-related repetitive injury and most serious injury.


Data collected from the 2005 Canadian Community Health Survey were used to measure the occurrence of injury among respondents who were working in the past 12 months. Injury outcomes included 1400 repetitive strain and 700 most serious injuries at work within the past year. Two comparison groups were used: (1) a non-work related injured group; and (2) a non-injured control group. High, medium or low workplace social capital was determined by responses to three questions about (1) hostility or conflict within the workplace; (2) supervisor helpfulness; and (3) co-worker helpfulness. Covariates considered and controlled for included demographic, health status, behaviour, job and employment status factors.


Females reporting high social capital at work had significantly decreased odds of work-related repetitive strain injury compared to those reporting low social capital (OR = 0.36; 95% CI: 0.15, 0.86) using the first comparison group. No difference was found in males. When injured workers were compared to those who did not have a repetitive strain injury at all, both males and females reporting high social capital at work were less likely to report a work-related repetitive strain injury than those reporting low social capital at work (female OR = 0.45; 95% CI: 0.32, 0.63; male OR = 0.64; 95% CI: 0.43, 0.96). Workplace social capital was not associated with the most serious work-related injury when compared with either the injured or non-injured control groups.


This study provides evidence for an association between workplace social capital and repetitive strain injury at work. The association was more apparent in females than in males. Workplaces employing large numbers of female workers at risk of repetitive strain injury may want to consider focusing on the development of programs to increase social capital in the workplace. However, future studies need to examine this association prospectively to establish the causality of the association.


1. Oksanen T, Kouvonen A, Kivimäki M, et al. Social capital at work as a predictor of employee health: multilevel evidence from work units in Finland. Social Science & Medicine 2008;66:637-49.

2. Väänänen A, Kouvonen A, Kivimäki M, et al. Workplace social capital and co-occurrence of lifestyle risk factors: the Finnish Public Sector Study. Occupational and Environmental Medicine 2009;66:432-7.

3. Kouvonen A, Oksanen T, Vahtera J, et al. Workplace social capital and smoking cessation: the Finnish Public Sector Study. Addiction 2008;103:1857-65.

4. Kouvonen A, Oksanen T, Vahtera J, et al. Low workplace social capital as a predictor of depression: the Finnish Public Sector Study. American Journal of Epidemiology 2008;167:1143-51.