Workers fearful of blame and punishment for incidents

By Jeff Salton on March 13th, 2018
  1. Risk Management
  2. Workplace Safety


In a recent study, nearly half of all 381 respondents (safety managers) believed that workers were under-reporting injuries for fear of blame and punishment.

The survey, conducted in 2016 and again in November 2017 by PPE provider Ansell, in partnership with the National Safety Council Australia (NSCA) Foundation, was designed to identify emerging trends in safety practices within Australia and New Zealand. Both surveys were conducted with decision-makers in worker safety, procurement and operational roles.

In the report*, 50% of respondents indicated their company’s overall safety performance had improved since 2016, with organisations reporting that they were moving away from a top-down approach to safety. Instead, they were preferring to coach employees to own the implementation of safety practices and establishing more programs for worker feedback.

However, despite the overall improvements, 47% of safety managers said they were concerned about workers under-reporting injuries and hence improving companies’ safety performance records. They felt the main reasons for under-reporting were that workers were worried about being blamed or even punished for incidents.

Perceptions and surprising costs

“The perceived fear of blame and punishment continues to stifle the true reporting of incidents. It seems incidents aren’t always being seen as a catalyst for improvement, and in some cases, are being disregarded,” said Jamie Burrage, NSCA Foundation General Manager.

Even with 95% of organisations experiencing hand injuries of some sort, the report shows there is still great uncertainty around the full impact on their organisations – with 43% unsure of their injury costs.

Mr Burrage said the study found that those companies that did measure injury costs in 2017, hand injuries were estimated to cost organisations $60,000 per year. However, he believed that these figures may be understated because many organisations did not consider all the different costs that were associated with injuries, such as legal fees, lost productivity, training, clean-up and administration.

“The estimated costs of hand injuries should reinforce to employers that higher standards of safety not only limit the risk to their employee, but also the risk to the bottom line,” he added.

In the study, 60% of respondents cited the main reason for not using hand protection or for using the wrong hand protection was that it could interfere with comfort and ability to perform the work required.

But Mr Burrage said the study found that engaging workers to influence workplace behaviour change was still considered the best strategy to improving worker safety.

Help at hand

Business-owners have a health and safety obligation to their workers to provide supervision in order to maintain a safe workplace.

Supervision generally includes:

  • having a recognised chain of command;
  • undertaking regular inspections;
  • communicating with your workers; and
  • giving prompt directions when safe work procedures are not being followed).

Supervision does not mean constant surveillance of your workers’ activities. It means general direction, coordination and oversight.

With the appropriate level of supervision, workers should feel that they can ask questions rather than continue undertaking tasks unsafely for fear of looking foolish. In some cases, workers may not even know that they are doing anything wrong.

The Supervision of Safe Work chapter in the Health & Safety Handbook has more detailed information about keeping workers safe through constructive supervision.

Subscribe today to take full advantage of the health and safety experts at Holding Redlich. Every chapter is written in plain English, making it easy to understand and retain.

But you don’t have to memorise all the information in the Handbook, just keep it close by so when you need answers, it’s right there at your fingertips.

*The full safety report is available for download at


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