Canadian workers vastly underestimate the likelihood that they will become disabled, according to a recent survey from Toronto-based RBC Insurance.

Nearly half of Canadian workers (45 per cent) believe that disability occurs infrequently, however disability is more common than Canadians realize. In fact, one-in-seven Canadians are currently disabled and one-in-three working Canadians will experience a period of disability lasting longer than 90 days during their working lives.

“When it comes to disability, what Canadians don’t know can hurt them,” explains Mark Hardy, senior manager, life and living benefits, RBC Insurance. “The research indicates that Canadians are overly optimistic about avoiding a disability and that lack of understanding reinforces the need for more education around this critical issue.”

When it comes to defining what a disability is, the majority of Canadians consider physical accidents (72 per cent) and workplace-related accidents (64 per cent) to be a disability. Only 45 per cent of Canadians surveyed consider depression to be a disability and less than a third believe that anxiety (30 per cent) and diabetes (21 per cent) are a disability.

“There is a mistaken perception that disabilities tend to be catastrophic in nature—caused by one-time, traumatic events. Most Canadians don’t recognize that common, chronic conditions such as mental illness cause the majority of disabilities. In fact, less than 10 per cent of disabilities are caused by accidents,” says Hardy.

Many Canadians believe they have enough coverage through their employer, which according to the RBC Insurance survey, was the top reason for not purchasing individual disability insurance. However, many benefit plans have a limit to the amount of coverage that is provided.

“The most important first step is for Canadians to confirm the benefits available through their employer and ensure they have adequate coverage. Some things to look for include how your plan defines a disability; does your plan provide valuable return to work services; and if you’re covered for illness as well as injury,” Hardy explains.

“There are many solutions to help fill the gap in coverage, from top up insurance provided through your employer, or seeking out any of a variety of individual protection options that may fit your specific needs and budget.”

RBC Insurance commissioned Ipsos to conduct a survey to gauge public opinion of Canadian workers regarding matters related to disability, disability in the workplace, and disability insurance coverage. The online survey of 1,000 employed Canadians was conducted between July 14 to 18, 2014. The results are considered accurate to within plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.