Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Research: Injury under-reporting in construction

The American Journal of Industrial Medicine recently released an article examining injury under-reporting: "Non-reporting of work injuries and aspects of jobsite safety climate and behavioral-based safety elements among carpenters in Washington state". This article looks at the long-term decline in workplace injuries to assess whether there has been an actual decline in injuries, under-reporting of injuries or both.

About 85% reported an injury at some point during their career. Almost three-quarters of those who indicated an injury sought medical care and almost half were absent from work beyond the date of injury. This suggests the injuries were reasonably serious.

Seventy-one percent of workers reported the injury to their employer but slightly less than half reported it to the workers' compensation system (where from most injury stats emerge). Not reporting injuries rose when workers faced cash or prizes for low injury reporting and almost doubled when discipline occurred for reporting injuries. The written comments were quite interesting:
Minor cuts, scrapes, bruises, muscle strains we keep to ourselves. [I have] seen too many carpenters laid off due to possible work-related claims or being labeled high risk. (p.7). 
I injured my back while working for a large self-insured construction company. I was pressured to not file a W.C. claim, and the company directly paid for my initial treatment and laid me off as soon as the doctor released me to full duty. (p.8)
We are encouraged at [XX] not to report any injuries that are work related. I know of some carpenters who use their own health insurance for fear of being fired by the office. I know of one carpenter who broke his wrist and said he did it at home, so that the foreman would not lose his safety bonus for that job. I know that when I got injured they asked me to wait to see if it would heal without medical treatment. (p.8).
Overall, the study finds evidence of under-reporting, particularly of minor injuries. While fear of reporting and not reporting were not highly prevalent, they were more common in workplaces that exhibited poor safety management. This may reflect an employer decision to trade worker health for profit by encouraging non-reporting.

-- Bob Barnetson

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