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CHEW Lab: Coalition for Healthy and Equitable Workplaces

Accident Under-reporting and Safety Climate

Each year, workers around the globe experience approximately 260 million occupational injuries and 350,000 fatalities due to injuries sustained at work (Hämäläinen, Takala, Saarela, 2006).  Other estimates suggest fatalities may run as high as 2 million per year when deaths due to illness are included (ILO, 2009).  Nonetheless, even relying upon conservative estimates, this translates into a rate of 700,000 injured workers and 970 deaths per day. In the United States alone, 4 million work-related injuries and illnesses were reported in 2007 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2008), representing a rate of 4.2 cases for every 100 full-time equivalent workers.

Despite these staggering numbers, a growing body of research suggests that these figures may severely underestimate the true number of non-fatal occupational injuries (e.g, Hämäläinen, Takala, Saarela, 2006; Leigh, Marcin, & Miller, 2004; Lowery, Borgerding, Zehn, Glazner, Bondy, & Kreiss, 1998; Probst, Brubaker, & Barsotti, 2008; Probst & Estrada, 2010; Rosenman, Kalush, Reilly, Gardiner, Reeves, & Luo, 2006).  While the factors contributing to this are numerous and varied, such underestimation can occur when organizations fail to report employee injuries and illnesses to the appropriate regulatory authority (organizational-level under-reporting) or when employees fail to report injuries and illnesses occurring at work to their employer (individual-level under-reporting).

Thus,  the oft-cited statistics drawn from national and international surveillance methods only represent the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The accuracy of such injury surveillance systems can be compromised at either the employee- and/or organization-levels (Weddle, 1996).  For any surveillance system to be accurate, employees must first notify their employers when they are injured at work. If this does not occur, employers are not able to accurately record this injury.  Second, organizations must accurately report documented injuries and illnesses experienced (and reported) by their workers to the appropriate regulatory authority. Failure at either stage will result in flawed surveillance data.

The purpose of my research in this area is to determine the prevalence of such under-reporting as well as individual and organizational correlates of this phenomenon.  While much focus is often placed on individual factors, I am particularly interested in the influence of workgroup-level variables such as supervisory leadership and organizational-level variables such as the safety climate on employee safety outcomes and reporting behaviors.  Using a theoretical framework for understanding and predicting accident reporting behaviors derived from the Health Beliefs Model (HBM; Becker, 1974) and Behavioral Reasoning Theory (BRT; Westaby, 2005), we have proposed a number of possible interventions that organizations can utilize to improve the accuracy of accident reporting and will be engaged in research to test these propositions. Our research lab has studied the topic of under-reporting in multiple organizations and industries. Most recently, we conducted an investigation into under-reporting of near misses and accidents within the mining industry.

Click here for Publications stemming from this research.