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Workplace Safety


By December 1, 2010No Comments

Despite a downward trend in workplace injuries, many employees might still be choosing to bypass safety mechanisms due to employer pressure for more productive employees. That said, many HR departments might consider revisiting their safety training and incentive programs to ensure workplace safety is being put first.

When one stops to consider that workplace safety can often be a life or death issue, it shouldn’t be so shocking that employees would pick workplace safety over family leave, overtime pay, wages, and sick day pay as the most important labor issue to them. Tracking statistics on worker injuries first started in 1992. According to data by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, both nonfatal and fatal injuries have actually declined for several years. In fact, the 4,340 fatal workplace injuries that occurred in 2009 was the least amount recorded since 1992. Statistics for illnesses and nonfatal injuries have also trended downward since 2003.

Despite downward trending statistics, one 2008 study showed that eighty-nine% of workers ranked workplace safety as their greatest labor concern. This data is congruent with a new study released by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago. In the new study, work place safety was cited as the most important labor issue by 85% of respondents, or roughly eight in 10 workers. Meanwhile, 78% of respondents ranked maternity and family leave as their second most important labor-related issue. Sick day pay and overtime pay were each cited by 69% of those participating.

These findings might be somewhat surprising to employers based off of the political verve and influence that accompanies other issues like wages and benefits, but experts say that considering those issues aren’t actually life and death matters and workplace safety is, the findings make logical sense. According to experts, the media, the economy, the decline of unions, and stress levels could be factors behind the large percentage of workers listing safety as their top concern. The media often overlooks the human toll of workplace accidents. The British Petroleum (BP) Gulf of Mexico disaster is a recent example; the media coverage almost exclusively focused on the environmental implications of the disaster, while almost completely overlooking the worker safety aspects of the incident. If optimal safety would’ve been maintained, then the eleven deceased workers might not have died and the environmental disaster would’ve been nonexistent.

Studies concerning satisfaction levels for workplace safety have generally shown improvement during the past 10 years, with one exception: Levels of stress. Although most workers aren’t in work environments that have high physical danger levels, most workers are in occupations that involve high levels of job-related stress. High stress levels can have a substantial impact on the health and safety of the stressed worker and those around him/her.

Experts also point to employees being subjected to performance pressure from employers. This might especially be related to the desire for employers to have more productive employees in such a down economy. Workers may choose to bypass safety mechanisms in an effort to comply.One common complaint from employees is that their employer is only concerned with having appealing safety numbers on paper. These employees feel that their employer isn’t genuinely concerned with real safety issues. The recent union decline might also be prompting employees to turn to the federal government for additional safety protection. However, as unions reorganize, they will most likely focus heavily on addressing workplace safety concerns and attracting new membership by simply showing that employers aren’t giving safety issues the attention they merit.

In light of this study, employers might think about using rewards recognition for employee suggestions to improve safety vs. accident-free type rewards. Since many companies are still using generic safety training applications that frequently have little relevancy to a particular occupation, employers might also consider revisiting training programs for relevancy and effectiveness.