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Job Culture Quells Injury Reports

Thursday, August 15, 2013

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If you work in construction, is getting hurt just “part of the job?”

A significant percentage of workers apparently think so, causing them to keep mum about workplace injuries that should be both medically treated and reported to authorities.

Add in a fear of being fired (or not rehired) and a reluctance to undermine a safety incentive program, and it's not hard to see why work-related injuries and illnesses in construction-related fields are so widely under-reported, a new study concludes.

The study, released by CPWR - The Center for Construction Research and Training, echoes other research that has found significant under-reporting of injuries in construction—by far, the study says, still the deadliest occupation in the United States and other industrialized nations.

Worker safety
Photos: OSHA

Safety stand downs, like this one in Chicago, focus workers on specific job-site dangers. More than 700 U.S. construction workers were killed on the job in 2011.

The new research, led by Jeffery Taylor Moore of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, sought to find out why workers do not speak up.

The Toll

Construction injuries killed 721 American workers and injured 71,600 in 2011, the most recent year for which data are available, Moore's team wrote. That toll costs more than $10 billion per year, or more than $27,000 per case, the group said.

"Unfortunately," the team wrote, "the high number of reported injuries may be drastically underestimating what is actually experienced by construction workers since research has shown that under-reporting of work-related injuries is a widespread phenomenon in construction and other industries."

Up to 68 percent of work-related injuries and illnesses are not captured by the national injury surveillance system, one study found. Under-reporting of serious injuries for Hispanic workers is far higher than that of white workers, the team said.

'Part of the Job'

Twenty-seven percent of respondents in Moore's study, "Construction Workers' Reasons for Not Reporting Work-Related Injuries: An Exploratory Study" said that they had failed to report a work-related injury at some point.

The paper survey was mailed to 614 labor union members of various trades in the Northeast. The participants averaged 21 years with their trade and 14 years with their union.

Most often, the non-reporters said they did not report because they considered their injuries "small" and/or "part of the job."

"The rough-and-tumble culture in the construction industry dissuades workers from reporting mior injuries and encourages workers to deal with the pain as just part of the job," the teams found.

worker safety

According to one study, only 25 percent of serious injuries among Hispanic workers are reflected in national surveys.

The report did not detail the nature of the unreported injuries, but it used the example of a sprained ankle as an injury that a construction worker might not report.

Fear of Consequences

A second theme among respondents was that workers kept mum about injuries because they feared some kind of negative consequence: mainly, losing their job or losing a safety incentive.

The study concedes that some of the injuries may have indeed been minor and treatable with home remedies. But it suggests that the other reasons may have played a role and that some workers avoided getting medical treatment they needed.

Improving Reporting

The study suggests several strategies for improving reporting, including creating a positive error management climate (EMC) that allows workers to feel comfortable about raising safety concerns.

"...[F]or construction management to increase the likelihood that workers will report safety problems and injuries, they need to endorse a constructive, nonpunitive approach to errors and explicitly encourage workers to talk about errors and safety concerns," researchers wrote.

Second, the team echoed other researchers in suggesting that safety incentive programs may sometimes backfire. The effectiveness of the program "depends on the amount of influence workers have on each other's rewards," the team writes.

The article is published in the International Journal of Occupational Safety and Ergonomics (JOSE).

Moore et al. Table
Moore et al. / JOSE



Tagged categories: Construction; Fatalities; Good Technical Practice; Health and safety; OSHA; Research; Worker training

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