Inaccurate data hinders injury prevention

Inaccurate data hinders injury prevention

By Hannah Dixon on 1 May 2017 New research from the University of South Australia suggests workplaces are unlikely to be addressing injury prevention adequately because management decisions are influenced by inaccurate data.

The University’s Asia Pacific Centre for Work Health and Safety interviewed employees from hospitals and matched their self-reported data with group data on registered online safety learning systems.

Lead researcher Amy Zadow said, on average, only four per cent of work injuries were reported to registers as opposed to those reported in the confidential interview. 

 “Our research findings suggest that work injuries show an iceberg effect – only the very tip are reported to organisations and the rest are unseen or unacknowledged,” Zadow said.

Of the 214 staff interviewed 66 experienced one or more physical work injuries while 63 experienced one or more psychological work injuries such as post-traumatic stress disorder following a violence encounter or depression arising from work pressure.

“Workers were much less likely to report psychological injuries with 73 per cent of physical work injuries reported compared to just 35 per cent of psychological injuries,” Zadow said.

“Despite roughly equal numbers of physical and psychological work injuries, there is greater unreported psychological harm.”

Overextended workers need senior management support

It is estimated that work injuries cost $57 billion in Australia, however discrepancies in reporting could mean that attempts at injury prevention are ineffectual.

“This is a big problem with injury prevention because if we do not know what injuries are experienced then efforts to prevent them will be misdirected leading to more injuries and increasing costs,” Zadow said.

Zadow said research across Australia and Malaysia shows that the psychosocial safety climate in organisations is typically lower than the physical safety climate, indicating a lack of priority given to workplace psychological health.

This aligns with the Productivity Commission, which found that psychosocial factors at work are not given the same attention in legislation and by health and safety inspectors as physical hazards, she said.

The study revealed employees in work units with poor psychosocial climates – how organisations and senior management prioritise and support the psychological health of workers – had more work injuries and were less likely to report their injuries. 

These psychosocial climates lead to high levels of emotional exhaustion or feelings of being overextended and exhausted by the demands of work.

 “Our research shows that workers working in groups with a low psychosocial safety climate (PSC) leading to higher rates of emotional exhaustion will have more work injuries and be less likely to report the work injuries they have. 

“In other words there will be a pronounced iceberg effect with a very small tip (the work injuries reported) and the rest submerged and unseen (the unreported work injuries).

“By contrast, workplaces with a high PSC – where management cared for and supported the psychological health of workers – had less injuries and workers were more likely to report any incidents, so issues could be addressed and treated early,” Zadow said.

The study highlights the importance of accurately measuring and reporting psychosocial factors.

Zadow’s research also proposes that workplaces promote caring environments that protect the psychological health of workers. This will lead to better reporting, less work injuries and more a more productive workforce.

See also: Zadow et al [2017] ‘Psychosocial safety climate, emotional exhaustion, and work injuries in healthcare workplace’, Stress and Health DOI 10.1002/smi.2740


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