By Karen O’Hara, Director, Marketing and Communications, WorkCare
I had the opportunity to meet in a social setting with a group of experienced environment, health and safety professionals last week during the annual National Safety Council Congress and Expo in San Diego. Out of curiosity, I asked if they had ever experienced a work-related injury and whether they had reported it to their employer.
All but one in the group had been injured on the job earlier in their career and none had reported the incident. When I asked why, they cited reasons such as “It wasn’t a big deal,” “I was worried about repercussions” or “I was embarrassed.”
Attitudes among younger workers don’t seem to have changed much. In a recently published study of 21,345 young Canadian workers surveyed in 2011-2012 (citation below), researchers found:
- 21% had experienced at least one lost-time work-related injury
- About half reported their lost-time injury to both their employer and a doctor
- 27 percent did not report their injury to their employer or a doctor
- 22 percent reported the injury to their employer but not a doctor
- Only 1 percent reported the injury to a doctor and not their employer
- Perceived low severity of the injury, negative reactions of others and ambiguity about whether the injury was caused by work were the top three reasons for report-avoidance
- Young men were more likely to mention concerns about their self-identity
Based on these findings, the researchers recommend that employers develop campaigns to educate young workers about the importance of injury reporting. This brings to mind the persistent need for EH&S professionals to articulate the value of health protection and safety programs, hazard abatement, incident investigation and compliance enforcement efforts in order to gain critical senior management commitment and resources.
The U.S. Department of Labor has responded to young worker fatalities (335 deaths under age 24 reported in 2013) and injuries, in part, by increasing its efforts to educate employers and vulnerable younger workers about workplace health and safety practices, with an emphasis on outdoor occupations, amusement parks and fast-food restaurants. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) also has a youth worker website.
On a broader scale, OSHA is placing a strong emphasis on reporting and recordkeeping. Beginning Jan. 1, 2015, the agency will be enforcing more rigorous reporting requirements for fatalities and serious injuries across all industry segments. In addition, it recently extended the comment period on a proposal that would require electronic submission of injury and illness information to increase reporting transparency. (Visit our news page for details.)
Whatever direction young worker education takes, I suggest teaching the next generation of employees about the value of early intervention and how it helps ensure prompt, appropriate treatment, promotes safe return to work and reduces the likelihood of lost work time. By intervention, I mean immediate, post-injury evaluation – even in minor cases – by a trained occupational health clinician who understands the workplace and the nature of work-related conditions.
Employers who advise teen-agers and young adults about the protections afforded to them by laws that prohibit retaliation or discrimination for reporting an injury or illness also stand to benefit by sending a positive message about their commitment to a safe and healthy work environment in which root cause investigations matter.
The same principles apply to other worker populations, including minority and foreign-born employees and temporary/contingent workers who studies show are less likely to report work-related injuries and illnesses.
Citation for the Canadian study: Work-related injury underreporting among young workers; Prevalence, gender differences, and explanations for underreporting; Sean Tucker et al.; Journal of Safety Research, Vol. 50, Sept. 2014, pp. 67-73.