American Workers’ Safety Concerns Don’t Reflect Reality
While American workers recognize safety as a serious issue, their perceptions about their greatest safety risks do not mirror reality, according to a new National Safety Council survey.
In the Council’s 2006 American Worker Safety Survey, accidental injury, which is the leading cause of death for people under 40 and the fifth leading cause of death for all ages, followed violent crime and natural disasters as the top safety concerns among American workers. The survey also found that more feel safer at home than they do at work, when in fact the opposite is true, according to national injury data.
The survey of more than 400 American workers was conducted for the NSC’s June National Safety Month observance by Atlanta-based Infosurv, a full service market research firm specializing in employee and customer surveys.
Asked to put unintentional injuries in perspective with other safety issues, natural disasters and violent crimes tied with 59 percent of the respondents saying they were equally concerned about each of those threats. Unintentional injuries followed with 55 percent, and concerns about terrorism ranked fourth at 52 percent.
While the effects of violent crime and natural disasters are unquestionably devastating, the number of these incidents falls far short of the thousands of people who die – and the millions who are disabled – by unintentional injuries in the workplace, on the roads and in homes and communities each year.
According to the FBI’s annual “Uniform Crime Report,” 16,137 Americans were murdered in 2004. That same year, 230 Americans died in natural disasters including hurricanes, tornadoes, extreme cold and severe or tropical storms. However, in 2004, unintentional injuries claimed more than 110,000 lives and disabled roughly 23.2 million people seriously enough to cause permanent or temporary disability.
The survey also revealed that workers’ perceptions of where injuries occur do not reflect national statistics that show far more people are killed or injured from accidents occurring in and around the home than in the workplace. About 31 percent of respondents said they believe they are safer at home than in the workplace, and 62 percent said they feel equally safe at home and at work. Only 5 percent said they feel safer at work.
However, in 2004, about 5,000 workers died and 3.7 million suffered disabling injuries as a result of accidents occurring in the workplace. That same year, nearly 44,100 workers died and 6.8 million American workers were disabled as a result of injuries suffered while they were off the job.
Despite the perception of being safer at home, the fact that the workplace is less dangerous is consistent with survey respondents’ actual experiences. The Infosurv survey asked respondents if they, or someone they know, had suffered an injury requiring medical attention within the last six months. Of those responding “yes,” 77 percent said the injury occurred away from work.
“Contrary to what most people believe, home is not the safe haven we think it is. With more than half of all accidental deaths occurring in homes and communities, we have a greater challenge protecting the public from injuries while off the job than in America’s workplaces,” said Alan C. McMillan, president and CEO of the National Safety Council.
Both on and off the job, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of unintentional injury deaths. Falls are also an issue for workers both on and off the job.
When asked about what type of workplace injuries they were most concerned about, more than 37 percent of respondents said they are more concerned about falls than any other type of injury.
In American homes, falls are the leading cause of injury-related deaths (12,800), followed by poisoning, fire, choking, suffocation and drowning.
McMillan described the economic toll of unintentional injuries – to individuals and their families, employers and the nation – as staggering.
Last year, the cost of all unintentional injuries – including lost wages and productivity, property losses, medical expenses, administrative expenses and employers’ uninsured costs – was nearly $575 billion. While 77 percent of respondents identified serious illness as a concern for themselves and their family, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, more is spent by private health insurance on medical care associated with trauma and poisoning for people of working age than for any other health condition, including cancer, heart conditions, mental disorders or upper respiratory conditions and asthma.
According to another recent National Safety Council survey, businesses are recognizing the value of keeping their employees safe both on and off the job. Among 1,300 businesses of varying size that have implemented off-the-job safety programs, 58 percent reported reductions in injuries occurring outside of work.
While most respondents said they do not believe employers are responsible for their safety away from work, 70 percent said their employers care about off the job safety. Almost 35 percent said their employers provide them with information about off the job safety.
“The success corporate America has had in reducing the rate and costs of workplace injuries has set the stage for businesses to understand the importance of their employees applying workplace safety practices in their off-the-job activities,” McMillan said. “Ultimately, employers should strive to establish a corporate culture of safety that transcends the workplace to include the safety and health of their employees and their employees’ dependent family members in all aspects of their lives.”
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