New Study Highlights the Importance of Workplace Safety
August 30, 2010
Workers Rate Safety Most Important Workplace Issue in New Labor Day Study
Fatal Accidents Can Trigger Public Concern – But Follow-Through Lags Too Often, Experts Say
WASHINGTON, DC -- More than eight of ten workers —
85 percent — rank 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 at the University of
The study, "Public Attitudes Towards and Experiences
with Workplace Safety," draws on dozens of surveys and polls conducted
by NORC, one of the nation's leading academic survey operations, think
tanks and public opinion firms. NORC’s 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, DC, which
supports efforts to improve workers' rights.
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 is often overlooked, such as during the
recent oil well disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
safety is too often ignored or accidents taken for granted," said Tom W.
Smith, director of NORC’s General Social Survey (GSS). "It is striking
that coverage in the media and public opinion polls has virtually
ignored the 11 workers killed by the blowout and destruction of the
Instead, Smith pointed out, the media
coverage and the polls focused on the environmental impact of the
disaster, overlooking the worker safety aspects. But he noted 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
Robert Shull, Program Officer for Workers’ Rights
at the Public Welfare Foundation, stated that, "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."
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 L. Solis called the results
“encouraging,” she also noted that "no job is a good job unless it is
Despite a decrease in workplace fatalities, the study found reports of incidents of injury at work to be 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 NORC 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 stressful.
dangerous working conditions and other negative experiences at work are
reported by many workers," Smith said. "Such conditions mean that
workplace accidents are far from rare."
The new study 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.
"Unsafe working conditions end up costing the public dearly,"
added Shull. "But no matter what the cost to the general public, the
workers and their families pay the highest price."
The survey report is available here
since its founding in 1941 as the National Opinion Research Center,
NORC conducts high-quality social science research in the public
interest. To learn more about NORC, visit http://www.norc.org/
. The General Social Survey is supported with grants from the National Science Foundation.
Public Welfare Foundation is a national foundation with assets of more
than $460 million that supports efforts to ensure fundamental rights and
opportunities for people in need. Its current primary areas of focus
are Workers’ Rights, Health Reform, and
Criminal and Juvenile Justice. For more information, please visit http://www.publicwelfare.org/
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