The ‘Unsafe Worker Myth’
Over the last decade, thousands of employers have broadened work responsibilities after downsizing and increased hours and pace of work for remaining employees. This massive restructuring, while aimed at increasing productivity and profits, has also contributed to an increase in work-related injuries. So why do many of these injuries go unreported? Usually, it’s because of “behavioral safety programs” that focus solely on the employee’s conduct. The railroads operating in the United States wholeheartedly endorsed this approach and many have implemented safety programs of their own.
What They Really Do
Behavioral safety programs are the new tool for intimidating workers into not reporting injuries. While the stated goal is to reduce injuries, in reality, the programs oftentimes seek to shift responsibility to provide a safe working environment from the employer to the employee, contrary to FELA.
Where it Began
Behavioral-based safety programs can be traced back to 1930 and the work of H.W. Heinrich, an insurance investigator, wanted to learn why so many accidents occurred within the workplace. It was soon clear he had an inherent employer bias.
Heinrich researched accident reports completed only by the supervisors looking to blame the employee for the injury. He then concluded “employees’ unsafe acts” caused a staggering 88% of workplace accidents. Though discredited by critics, this figure is still quoted today in many safety programs.
Heinrich’s “research” ultimately formed the basis for today’s unsafe work myth.
Things to Consider
- Behavioral safety programs focus exclusively on the employee’s actions, often characterizing them as ‘carelessness’ or ‘conscious or unconscious unsafe behaviors’.
- Employees subject to these programs are more likely NOT to report an injury for fear of being labeled an ‘unsafe worker’.
- Peer pressure and pressure from management are reasons employees don’t report an injury.
- The stated goal is to reduce injuries; the actual effect is to reduce the reporting of injuries.
- If you don’t report your injury, you could seriously undermine your ability to recover what you are legally entitled to under the law for forfeit that right entirely.
What You Can Do
Don’t buy int the “unsafe worker myth”. Under FELA, it is the employer’s duty to provide a safe working environment, not yours.
Workers can and should file unsafe condition reports, advise union safety officers of unsafe conditions, report all violations of safe hotlines, participate in union-supported safety programs, and contact their Union Designated Legal Counsel for advice after an injury occurs.
If you have questions about this article or your employer’s Behavioral Safety Program, please contact us.