Work/Life Balance, Safety Climate Impact Workplace Injuries

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Injury risk increases 37 percent for employees with difficult family issues, researchers reported.

The findings come from the survey “Occupational Injury in America: An analysis of risk factors using data from the General Social Survey,” conducted by Dave DeJoy, a University of Georgia professor, and Todd Smith, a recent graduate of the University of Georgia College of Public Health. The researchers examined the risks of occupational injury in terms of socio-demographic factors, employment characteristics and organizational factors from a diverse sample of occupations and worker groups involving 1,525 workers.

The study was conducted from data taken from the 2002 General Social Survey, a personal interview survey of American households.

The results were published online in January 2012 and were slated to be in the March 2012 issue of the Journal of Safety Research.

The study found that companies that run in a smooth and effective manner and have minimal constraints on worker performance decreased injuries by 38 percent.

Perception Aids Reality

In addition, a worker’s perception of a positive safety climate can decrease injuries by 32 percent, the study found. The safety climate category assessed worker perceptions on the importance of their safety in their workplace.

“We’ve known for some time that certain occupations are more dangerous than others due to a variety of physical and other hazards,” said DeJoy. “But in the last 20 years, there has been growing evidence that management and organizational factors also play a critical role. … Actions taken or not taken at the organizational level can either set the stage for injuries or help prevent them,” he said.

“We can design the best safety controls, but they must be maintained, and that falls on management,” Smith said. “Enacted policies and procedures, not formalized ones but those acted upon, define a climate of safety.”

The study found that workers reporting the greatest amount of interference with their family lives had the highest injury rate. Workers with the least interference had the lowest injury rate.

“We used to think work was one thing and family was another, but now there is a realization that work/life balance affects performance and productivity,” DeJoy said.

The organizational effectiveness scale consisted of two items designed to assess constraints on work performance. The items were “conditions on my job allow me to be about as productive as I could be” and “the place where I work is run in a smooth and effective manner.” Work injuries were most frequent among those who reported the lowest levels of organizational effectiveness where they work. Injury frequency declined consistently with increased organizational effectiveness.

The safety climate scale focused on respondent perceptions concerning the importance of safety in their work organization. Sample items were: “safety and health conditions where I work are good” and “safety of workers is a high priority with management where I work.”

For safety climate, those reporting the poorest safety climate had substantially more injuries than others.

“Injury is a failure of management,” DeJoy said. “Organizations who blame individuals for injuries do not create a positive safety climate.”

Socio-Demographic, Employment Characteristics

Consistent with previous studies performed by the U.S. Department of Labor, men reported significantly more work-related injuries than women, and injury rates declined with increasing age. White employees had higher injury rates than black employees, but both groups had lower injury rates than those reporting their race as “other,” a group predominantly made up of Hispanics.

Respondents working in precision production, craft and repair were most likely to report being injured at work. Service workers had the second highest injury rate, followed by those working in farming, forestry and fishing.

Workers in administrative, support and clerical positions had the lowest injury rate.

Respondents earning $15,000 to $19,999 per year reported the most injuries, followed by those earning $20,000 to $24,999. Injury rates declined substantially for those earning more than $25,000. Those earning less than $15,000 reported the fewest injuries.

“There has been a clear need to examine organizational factors across a diverse array of occupations and employment circumstances to see how generalized or pervasive these factors are,” DeJoy said.

“Results point to the importance of good management practices and safety climate to injury reduction in a variety of different work settings and employment contexts,” he concluded.

Roy Maurer is a staff writer for SHRM.  To read the original article, please click here.