Fatal accidents can trigger public concern – but follow-through lags too often, experts say.
eight of 10 workers – 85 percent – rate workplace safety first in importance
among labor standards, even ahead of family and maternity leave, minimum wage,
paid sick days, overtime pay and the right to join a union, according to a new
study from the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago.
"Public Attitudes Towards and Experiences with Workplace Safety,"
draws on dozens of surveys and polls conducted from 2001 to 2010 by NORC. This
meta-analysis sought to gain a picture of Americans' experiences with workplace
safety issues. The study was done for the Public Welfare Foundation, based in Washington, D.C.,
which includes a workers' rights program.
widespread public concern about workplace safety, the study also found that the
media and the public tend to pay closest attention to safety issues when
disastrous workplace accidents occur. Even during those tragedies, the fate of
workers often is overlooked, such as during the recent oil well disaster in the
Gulf of Mexico.
safety is too often ignored or accidents taken for granted," says Tom W.
Smith, director of NORC's General Social Survey (GSS). "It is striking
that coverage in the media and public opinion polls have virtually ignored the
11 workers killed by the blowout and destruction of the drilling
instead focused on the environmental impact of the disaster and overlooked
worker safety, Smith points out. But he notes that "if optimal safety had
been maintained, not only would the lives of the 11 workers been saved, but the
whole environmental disaster would have been averted."
Shull, program officer for workers' rights at the Public Welfare Foundation, says,
"Workplace safety should be a constant concern. Given the importance that
workers themselves place on this issue, we should not have to mourn the loss of
people on the job before government and employers take more effective measures
to ensure that employees can go home safely after work."
On Aug. 19,
the U.S. Department of Labor reported in a preliminary count that the number of
workers who died on the job in 2009 fell 17 percent from the previous year, as
workers clocked in for fewer hours because of the recession. While Labor
Secretary Hilda Solis calls the results "encouraging," she also notes
that "no job is a good job unless it is also safe."
decrease in workplace fatalities, the study found that reports of workplace
injuries remained high.
most workers say they are satisfied with safety conditions at work, they also
report job-related stress, a contributing factor to injury. The most recent GSS
study on job-related stress, done in 2006, reported that 13 percent of workers
find their jobs always stressful, while 21 percent find their jobs often
dangerous working conditions and other negative experiences at work are
reported by many workers," Smith says. "Such conditions mean that
workplace accidents are far from rare."
done for the Public Welfare Foundation found that about 12 percent of workers
reported an on-the-job injury during the past year, and 37 percent said they
have required medical treatment at one time for a workplace injury.
working conditions end up costing the public dearly," adds Shull.
"But no matter what the cost to the general public, the workers and their
families pay the highest price."
Safety Most Important Workplace Issue in New Labor Day Study
September 7, 2010