By DAVID SHADOVITZ, editor of Human Resource ExecutiveŽ
When it comes to workplace safety, the way workers perceive an organization's commitment to safety and work/life balance clearly matter -- and it have a big impact on the number of on-the-job injuries. In fact, workers who believe they work in a safe environment experience 32 percent fewer injuries, according to research from the University of Georgia's College of Public Health.
Dave DeJoy, professor emeritus at the school, and Todd Smith, a recent graduate of the school's doctoral program, detailed the findings in an article published in the March edition of the Journal of Safety Research.
DeJoy notes that the study -- which analyzed data from the 2002 General Social survey and the NIOSH Quality of Work Life module -- supports growing evidence that management and organizational factors play a critical role in creating safe workplaces.
Leading up to this study, he says, most of the research focused on particular occupations and companies. But here, he says, a broad spectrum of employment situations were explored.
"This is one of the very few studies that have examined work organization factors and injury outcomes in a representative and diverse sample of American workers," the authors write.
The findings, DeJoy says, put hard numbers behind a long-held perception: that there's a correlation between safety climate and workplace injuries.
"If you talk to people who do safety inspections, they will often tell you that the first impression they get when they walk into a factory or construction site -- how neat it is and whether employees seem to be actively engaged -- tells them whether or not a worksite is safe or not," he says. "Now, we have numbers that back this up across a wide range of settings."
Further, the research suggests that work/life balance isn't just a retention and morale issue, but also a safety issue. In situations in which work interfered with family life or family demands affected job performance, the researchers find that the risk for injury increased 37 percent.
"If I had to line up factors that were most important to injuries, work/life balance probably wouldn't be at the top of the list," DeJoy says. "But the research shows there's definitely a connection."
In their article, DeJoy and Smith write that this finding supports the need for employers to take "a more comprehensive and integrated approach to safety."
The study sends a clear message to business leaders, he says: "What managers do and don't do can make a big difference. The tendency is often to look backwards once an injury occurs, to find someone to blame. But what these findings, and other research, say is that you need to look further down in the causal chain."
The findings suggest a need to eliminate any walls that may exist between HR and occupational health and safety, according to DeJoy.
"A lot of organizations, including progressive organizations, are set up so there's a wall between HR and occupational health and safety," he says. "But the two can no longer afford to work in silos -- they need to break down those walls."
April 4, 2012
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