Workers Health & Safety Centre

BBS safety practices on job sites linked to underreporting new study finds

BBS safety practices on job sites linked to underreporting new study finds
Workers report fewer work injuries and fear reporting them when behaviour-based safety practices include discipline, says a new study.
This study, recently published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, examined how safety policies and practices can influence injury reporting raising more questions about the validity of lost-time injury rates as a measure of workplace health and safety.

Measuring reporting practices

To gather information on injury reporting practices, more than 1,100 Washington State carpenters completed a mailed survey. Most of them had at least five years’ experience in the trade and almost 85 per cent had experienced a work-related injury.
A majority surveyed said they felt they could report injuries without repercussions but about half felt it was best not to report minor injuries and also said they felt pressured to use their private insurance to treat work-related injuries.
Workers were asked about exposure to BBS-type practices such as cash/prizes for not reporting, rewards to supervisors for low injury rates and discipline for reported injuries. Non-reporting of injuries was 30 per cent higher where cash or prizes were offered for low injury rates and twice as high when workers faced discipline for reporting. 

Hearing directly from workers

Many workers, in addition to completing the survey, also provided personal comments. Some contacted the researchers directly. One worker observed, “The shift has been to train people on the rules, so they are personally responsible, and then to expect the people to not follow the rules so the job is completed faster.”
From the comments, some general themes emerged: safety varies greatly from site to site; injured workers are seen as a liability and more vulnerable to layoffs; project deadlines add pressure for workers to work longer and faster; and pressure to underreport injuries is intended to keep costs down for the company.

Over-reliance on injury stats

The researchers conclude there are multiple disincentives that can affect injury reporting. Lead author, Hester J. Lipscomb, offers this advice, “I would tell anyone using workers’ compensation data that it is only one measure of safety effectiveness and can be influenced by many things other than safety. I think it is quite clear that it is best to try to assess effectiveness through multiple measures and not just injury statistics.” 
Many concerned with workplace prevention are starting to look beyond injury statistics for answers. Ontario’s Institute for Work & Health (IWH) is working to develop leading indicators, characteristics of the workplace (not the worker), that can be changed to improve health and safety conditions.
The IWH reviewed research on potential leading indicators including: safety culture (shared values and beliefs), safety climate (employee perceptions), joint health and safety committees, organizational policies and practices, and occupational health and safety management systems.  There was insufficient or inconsistent research to support safety culture, safety climate and health and safety management system as leading indicators but IWH did conclude, “JHSCs are a core component of any internal responsibility system, and should be a core component of any set of measures intended to capture leading indicators.”
Other related resources:
IWH Developing leading indicators of work injury and illness
Workplace Injury Claim Suppression: Final Report (prepared for the WSIB by Prism Economics and Analysis)
BBS resources
For our part, the Workers Health & Safety Centre assists workplace parties through training programs and information services to identify and assess work hazards and target prevention at the workplace level. To learn more, contact WHSC and ask to speak with a training services representative.
Call:   1-888-869-7950