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Why Safety Issues Go Unreported

Most people go to work expecting a safe workplace. OSHA messages abound recommending safety tips and encouraging reporting of safety issues. Despite this, a large number of incidents occur each year, sometimes serious. To explain this, two groups conducted studies into workplace safety. The studies each reached a similar result: the solution to workplace safety lay in proper supervision.

The first study, conducted by the National Safety Council, was published in volume 45 of the Journal of Safety and Security. This study discovered a large number of younger employees unwilling to report safety issues due to real or perceived minimal workplace influence. Recognizing safety issues may also mean awkward interactions with supervisors, a refusal to work in a hazardous environment, or contacting safety entities.

Campaigns encouraging younger workers to recognize and report safety issues have been minimally successful, with many choosing to work rather than stir things up. Often, young workers hope someone else reports safety issues before an incident, or the safety hazard will resolve itself.

This sense of having little influence stems from age and experience. Many younger works assume any reports will go ignored or will amount to very little due to influence. Some employees find strength in each other and may report safety issues after building consensus.

The second set of results comes from a study from the AFL-CIO-affiliated Center for Construction Research and Training. This study surveyed construction workers, coming to similar conclusions. According to this study, construction workers may leave injuries unreported on the job site for many reasons. Of the 235 construction workers surveyed, 27% responded with having left one or more injury unreported.

Of the unreported injuries, over 70% went so because the worker involved deemed the injury “too small”. Other reasons for leaving injuries unreported included:

  • Becoming injured is part of the job
  • Avoiding appearing weak
  • The problem can be corrected at home
  • Unsure if the injury is work-related
  • Fear of losing a job or contract
  • Lacking paid time off to visit a medical professional
  • Keeping other work-related benefits

Regardless of size, injuries should be reported. Minor injuries left untreated may lead to greater problems later on. Some injuries will go unnoticed for months or years following an incident. Report all issues to safety personnel so they can make the decision. Unreported issues are bad for the company and staff. In the long run, untreated injuries may cost both parties far more than initial treatment or some rest.

According to the International Journal of Occupational Safety and Ergonomics, Volume 19, Number 1, the solution may lie in creating a culture of communication in the workplace. This method, also called positive error management encourages the sharing of near-accidents with management as a tool for learning instead of punishment. Learning how to avoid future accidents can help the company more than punitive actions.

Daily, open communication between management and junior staff helps employees feel comfortable reporting safety issues and other hazards. Supervisors can demonstrate they care by asking employees to share concerns before someone is harmed in the workplace.

This will likely send a powerful message to both new and existing employees. A supervisor has the ability to back up the talk with motivating actions that will get the point across. Encourage open communication and work toward a safer work environment.

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