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Workers Have False Impression of Safety

A National Safety Council survey found a disconnect between data and perceptions, with employees facing more risk -- but feeling much safer -- outside of work. The opposite is true, and employers should step up to help educate workers so they can better protect themselves,

Thursday, June 8, 2006
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So you've made it through another day of work and now you're at home, relaxing in your favorite recliner, television remote in one hand and a cold beverage in the other. You're safe and sound.

Think again, says the National Safety Council.

The Council, a congressionally chartered nonprofit organization that collects and publishes safety-related data, reports that American workers' perceptions about the greatest risks to their safety do not correlate with reality. The NSC's 2006 American Worker Safety Survey found that more workers feel safer at home than they do at work, when in fact the opposite is true.

"An American worker is more likely to lose his or her life as a result of a preventable accident that occurs off the job than on the job by a ratio of nine to one," says Alan McMillan, president and CEO of the NSC, which is based in Itasca, Ill. 

The survey showed a disconnect between workers' perceptions of injury locations and actual data, which show far more people killed in accidents that occur in and around the home than in the workplace.

About 31 percent said they were safer at home than in the workplace, while only 5 percent feel safer at work. However, nearly 44,100 workers died and 6.8 million were disabled as a result of injuries suffered while off the job, compared with 5,000 deaths and 3.7 million disabling injuries suffered as a result of workplace accident, according to the NSC.

The council says falls are the leading cause of injury or death in American homes, followed by poisoning, fire, choking, suffocation and drowning. Vehicle accidents were the leading cause of death on and off the job.

Fifty-nine percent of the 400 U.S. workers polled by the NSC said they were equally concerned with the safety threats posed by natural disasters and violent crimes.

However, the NSC's data show that unintentional injuries in 2004 claimed 110,000 lives and resulted in the temporary or permanent disabilities of roughly 23.2 million people. By comparison, the FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report revealed that 16,137 Americans were murdered in 2004, while 230 Americans were killed that year by natural disasters, including hurricanes, extreme cold and severe or tropical storms.

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"Injury and death rates in the workplace have been falling steadily for years," says McMillan, citing improvements in training and safety awareness at many employers. "But they've been going up in homes and communities."

The NSC is encouraging companies to implement "off-the-job" safety awareness campaigns to complement their workplace safety programs, he says.

"Off-the-job programs don't need to be at the same level of rigor and specificity as workplace safety programs," says McMillan. "Employers need to be careful about appearing intrusive. But we are saying they can start with a message that says 'We care about you when you're away from work, too,' and offer some basic safety tips for creating a 'culture of safety' in workers' homes and communities."

Off-the-job safety campaigns can include everything from offering information on home smoke detectors to creating family evacuation plans and encouraging workers to borrow safety goggles from work when they're working on home projects, he says.

A recent NSC survey found that of 1,300 companies that implemented off-the-job safety programs, 58 percent reported a decrease in injuries that occurred outside the workplace.

"By and large, people are convinced they're safe in their homes," says McMillan. "We've got to convince them that it's not something they should take for granted."

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