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Supportive supervisors reduce risk of worker injury, study finds

Supportive supervisor helping prevent worker injury
Institute for Work & Health (IWH) recently released a study examining the relationship between supervision and work-related injury and illness.

The study found supervisors who are aware of workplace hazards and actively promote safety can reduce the risk of workers suffering an injury (researchers combined injuries and illnesses as a single category).
“A supervisor committed to health and safety can protect workers who may not know about their rights, who lack the power to speak up, or have little recourse via organizational policies to lessen the risks they face,” explains Dr. Basak Yanar, research associate, IWH and lead author of the study.

Inadequate Supervision

The findings however, based on survey responses from almost 2,400 working adults in Ontario and British Columbia, also suggest inadequately prepared or unsupportive supervisors increase the likelihood workers will suffer a work-related injury. Specifically, IWH researchers found:
  • Nine per cent of workers surveyed report their supervisor was not aware of the hazards to which they were exposed. These workers suffered injuries much more often than those with “aware” supervisors (36% versus 16%).
  • Thirteen per cent of those surveyed believed their supervisor did not do everything reasonable to protect them. Injuries among these workers were more prevalent compared with those who felt supervisors took reasonable precautions (44% versus 14%).

Supervision and OHS vulnerability

The researchers also looked at the combined effects of supervision and various worker-specific vulnerability factors the IWH first reported on in 2017.
According to this previous IWH research, workers are vulnerable to occupational health and safety (OHS) risks and report much higher rates of work-related injury when exposed to hazards at work and protective factors such as OHS policies and procedures, health and safety awareness, along with empowerment to participate in injury prevention are lacking.
IWH researchers analysing both supervision and vulnerability found:
  • Workers identified as not OHS vulnerable and benefitting from supervisor support were the least likely to suffer an injury.
  • Workers identified as OHS vulnerable and lacking supervisor support (respondents reporting either supervisors were not aware of hazards and/or didn’t provide reasonable protection) were most likely to suffer an injury. In fact, they were at least 3.5 times more likely to be injured compared with workers facing no OHS vulnerability and with a supportive supervisor.
  • Supportive supervisors made a positive impact on injury risk not just when workers experience vulnerability, but also when workers were not experiencing vulnerability.

Importance of training

IWH researchers suggest, “Understanding work-related dimensions of OHS vulnerability can help identify workplace policies and practices that, when improved, can reduce injury risk.” They cite the need, for instance, to prioritize the implementation of training where workers do not have a sound grasp of workplace hazards or their OHS rights.
IWH researchers also emphasized “Especially in workplaces where organizational interventions and solutions to reduce workplace injuries are challenging, investing time in supervisors can be an important component of an effective injury prevention program.”
Acting on these suggestions will help employers meet their significant legal obligations to protect workers, including training requirements. For instance, Ontario health and safety law requires employers ensure workers and supervisors complete awareness training. Employers are also required to ensure supervisors are competent. A competent person is defined in the Occupational Health and Safety Act as someone who:
  • is qualified because of knowledge, training and experience to organize work and its performance,
  • is familiar with the Act and the regulations that apply to the work, and
  • has knowledge of any potential or actual danger to health or safety in the workplace [section 1(1), the Act].

WHSC supervisor training

WHSC Supervisor Health and Safety Training will help employers meet both supervisor awareness and competency obligations. For those seeking to gain compliance fast, WHSC has scheduled this training in communities across Ontario on Wednesday, April 17. WHSC also offers similar online training.
As Ontario’s only government designated occupational health and safety training centre, WHSC is uniquely qualified to help with all of your training needs ranging from Working at Heights and GHS WHMIS to Awareness Training for Workers and Certification Training for joint health and safety committee members. We also offer extensive information resources aimed to empower workplace parties in pursuit of healthier, safer work.
Want to know more?
Call:    1-888-869-7950 and ask to speak with a training services representative