Workers Compensation – The Small Picture: Attitude, behaviour and culture more dangerous than unsafe conditions

This is the third in a three-part blog series on the relationship between workplace culture and the costs associated with occupational injury and illness.

We’ve talked about the relationship between the employer-employee…well, relationship and we’ve talked about impacts on claims, costs and workers compensation. In the story I shared last week, we learned how some of the more ineffable qualities of workplace culture have a significant relationship with employee engagement and therefore absenteeism and direct/indirect costs. 

This is a relationship that information from Health and Safety authorities tends to support. For example, Health & Safety Ontario’s excellent resource, Journey to Excellence: The Complete Guide, emphasizes the impact of organizational culture on health and safety.

The guide notes that hard stats that clearly relate injury rates to organizational culture can be difficult to establish. In large part this is because most companies only report superficial causes (for example, lack of machine guarding) and fail to report on true root causes, such as an organizational culture issue that might explain why employees aren’t using machine guards. According to the guide, workplace safety researcher Dr. William Selkirk believes that a staggering 90% of workplace injuries are rooted in attitude, behaviour, and culture rather than unsafe working conditions.

In terms of this relationship between organizational culture and injury rates/health and safety performance, the guide explains that there are two key perspectives to consider:

  1. Health and safety culture metrics that are linked to health and safety outcomes.
  2. Indicators of culture linked to employee engagement, which in turn affects health and safety outcomes.

According to researchers cited in the guide, there are four key health and safety indicators linked to safety outcomes:

  • A top-level (C-suite) commitment to safety.
  • Realistic, flexible customs and practices for handling hazards.
  • Continuous organizational learning through things like feedback, monitoring and analysis.
  • A “care and concern” for hazards across all levels of the workforce.

While none should be earth shattering, since the problems presented here are constantly repeated by various organizations (see Avi’s post yesterday on a health and safety study that illustrates this perfectly) coupled with the fact the issue remains a prime reason for lost-time in the workplace, it is important to focus our energy on the big and small pictures to improve safety culture, minimize injuries, incidents, illnesses and lost time, and to ultimately reduce costs and save lives.

Robert Smith is an injury management, human resource and disability management expert with decades of experience in the field, including years within Ontario’s WSIB.

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