New business safety survey released at safety conference

New survey data on business attitudes to safety was revealed at the Safety In Action Conference on 20 April 2010.  The data was released jointly by the Australian Institute of Management and the Safety Institute of Australia (SIA).

In short there was not much that was new in the survey data but the survey was important for several reasons.

Firstly, the SIA rarely gets involved in surveys of this scope and this area.  Even this survey was primarily undertaken by AIM with the SIA’s support.  The SIA needs to become more involved in activities that set or challenge the safety agenda in Australia.  CEO Gary Lawson-Smith’s suggestion that the American Society of Safety Engineers and the Institute of Occupational Health & Safety undertake similar studies has merit but if a global survey was to be undertaken it should be more thorough and more precise than the current survey.

Gary Lawson-Smith

Secondly, the survey provides some fresh Australian data that allows others to develop a discussion on workplace safety. The survey summary provides some statistical highlights:

“Just 44% of OHS personnel said there is a ‘Very high priority’ placed on health and safety in their organisations compared to 71% of CEOs and Board members and 64% of senior managers.”

“…it is surprising to find that less than half of CEOs and Board members (49%) and senior managers (44%) ‘Strongly agreed’ that ‘There is OHS leadership within my organisation’.”

“Encouragingly, 64% of respondents say that ‘performance on OHS is considered crucial’ to their organisations’ success. However, a pointer to the OHS challenges ahead is that 34% of CEOs, Board members and senior managers do not agree with that statement.”

The survey is a good conversation starter but it is certainly not representative as the demographics included in the survey data seem to indicate.

Although AIM has a healthy SME membership , according to CEO Susan Herron (pictured below right), the small business respondent percentage was low.  The number of HR professionals who participated was comparatively low and the number of respondents from Victoria was almost 60% greater than the next state New South Wales with 10%.

Addressing these variations in future surveys would be a good move even if the changes did not allow comparisons with this year’s data.  The terminology of some of the questions should also be tightened.

One example may be that “My organisation has a well entrenched OHS culture” could perhaps be changed to “Rate how entrenched the safety culture is in your workplace”.  But then would the respondents all have the same understanding of what a “safety culture” is and how this differs from a “workplace culture” or an “organisational culture”?

Many safety jobs in Australia are advertised as HSE (health safety environment) positions yet this survey focussed on OHS.  Susan Herron was asked about this.  SafetyAtWorkBlog put this question  in the press conference is available below.

This survey should generate considerable media attention in Australia because of the subject matter and the reputation of the Australian Institute of Management.  The way the data is reported will be interesting to watch but of more significance could be the comments, letters and other responses that any media reports may generate.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia
Categories business, campaign, evidence, media, OHS, research, safety, safety culture, UncategorizedTags , , ,

9 thoughts on “New business safety survey released at safety conference”

  1. The SIA website finally mentioned the Business Survey on 22 April 2010.

    The site claims the survey \” has revealed that poor leadership and productivity concerns are impacting on the safety of our worksites\”. A look at the survey results does not back this statement. The survey provides information about the relationship between senior executives and safety management. There is no evidence in this survey that improvements in illness or injury rates are affected by leadership or operational requirements.

    The survey is an attitudinal survey about the way safety is perceived in the workplace at various levels of the management structure. There is information about OHS budgets and benchmarking \”OHS continuous improvement initiatives\” across an industry sector.

    To substantiate the claim of the SIA, additional data about the accident and injury rates of the survey respondents and their companies would need to be provided.

    This could be included in the next survey so that the relationship between poor leadership, productivity priorities and injury and illness rates can be established. Or, as I suggested to the SIA at the press conference, survey results could be correlated with other external data on injury rates and remuneration rates to provide more of a profile of safety AND safety management.

    The SIA itself pushes for evidence-based decisions. The current survey is more successful in providing clues and pathways to further research than in evidence itself.

  2. I ain\’t no survey specialist; but I have done a full year unit at uni on quantitative method (mid 80\’s – we actually did program coding on Fortran cards!), and have helped out on some government surveys. I\’d rate this survey as very serviceable and well worth the effort.

    Sure, sample populations in some categories might be a bit low, but that is almost always going to happen with any survey of this sort.

    What works for me in the survey is how few times you scratch your head about questions. (I scratched me head about providing \”risk control\” as one of the methods for measuring and monitoring OHS performance in question 12. All the other optional methods were specific \”measuring and monitoring\” methods. But listing \”risk controls\” leaves too much room for interpretation. I\’d guess that respondents must have read this to mean \”regular checks and evaluation of the effectiveness of existing risk controls). Putting aside that, \”eyebrow raisers\” in the responses are pretty common – and that is always a good indicator of a good survey result (little point in doing a survey that delivers all predictable results.)

    The mismatch between what senior managers thought about OHS performance and behaviour and what OHS personnel thought, that was a constant \”eyebrow raiser\”; not that people in OH&S World are going to be surprised at those results, but to get this \”common knowledge\” juxtaposed like that was very good.

    Just as importantly, the survey points to a whole bunch of behaviours and performances that drive us as OH&S people to get improvements, but we often have to tell punters the need is because \”it\’s commonly known\”: this survey gives us some proper quotable data in one neat package.

    With a bit of polishing, that is always necessary with surveys, this exercise is well worth the effort and produces useable, useful data. I\’m hoping it\’s done at least every 2 years in future. Two thumbs up from me.

    Col Finnie

    1. (I was a Fortran card puncher for a while as well until the queues extended out the computer room at Monash University.)

      The survey findings should be picked up by other media so that the results a disseminated beyond the OHS trade press. The press conference (called less than 24 hours notice – not enough for the big press) was thinly attended and then almost only by OHS magazines.

      From my scan of the national and Victorian newspapers this morning, there was no mention. There is no mention in a Google scan under \”AIM survey SIA\”. The media release was distributed through Australian Associated Press on the morning of 20 April but it seems like no-one has yet to take it up. I note that over 24 hours later, there is still no mention of the survey\’s release on the website of the SIA, who sponsored the research!

      What should be a certainty is that the findings appear in the publications of SIA and AIM. The AIM member magazine \”Management Today\” does penetrate the HR and senior exec sectors so others may run the survey findings from this source.

      Maybe I am expecting too much too soon but maybe the information is just not newsworthy. Like with so much good safety information there are too few avenues for reputable distribution or perhaps it is just a disinterest from the general public.

  3. Surveys are flawed in that they ask the respondant to reply on a scale of 1-10, there is no 0. So even if the respondant wanted to say 0 they could not. Likewise there is no \”not applicable\” so again the respondant must answer with the least applicable response.

    My concern is that surveys are taken and then the guesstimation of the answers are put forward as concrete information, when nothing could be further than the truth.
    To explain:
    I am asked do I like watching AFL football. I respond yes.
    I am asked do I support Adelaide Crows or Port Power. I respond no.
    The assumption is that because I live in Adelaide and I like AFL that automatically I must support either the Adelaide Crows of Port Power.
    There is no question to ask do I follow a AFL team or do I just enjoy watching football.
    So in that survey the guessing would have me as just watching football, but not have me listed as a Hawthorn supporter.

    And so it is with surveys, I would much rather go onto the factory floor and talk to the people there who can tell me everything that I need to know without the tarted up charts and graphs that everyone will talk about at the tea break but never refer to again.

    Cynic mayhaps, realist definitly.

  4. No Surprises here, the vast number of employees in this country are employed by SME\’s and if you want to survey that lot over say, 5000 businesses with an entirely independent researcher appointed by the Market Research Society of Australia, using completely unambiguous and simple questions then we are on the right track.

    Naturally, the survey would have to be based on anonymity because pretty much every respondent will be in breach of OHSW law in a significant way.

    This is definitely a broad sweeping view of matters but nevertheless one that I am more than happy to be challenged upon by anyone who feels the urge.

    I predict the unabridged results would show that OHSW at SME level is a catastrophe in terms of compliance and knowledge. I forget how many hundred thousand SME\’s there are in Australia. I think every one gets the idea and these are numbers that can\’t be refuted.

  5. I am appalled at this statistic \”34% of CEOs, Board members and senior managers say that OHS performance is not critical\” but perhaps not surprised.

    In many cases without dedicated OHS personnel small-medium business often view health and safety as something they have to do in a practical sense, but there is a distinct lack of guidance, time, and resources allocated for proper management strategies.

    Particularly evident in those business which have minimal accidents/incidents, (albeit not necessarily low risks) is, I\’m afraid a prevailing culture/attitude of \”it won\’t happen to us\” and \”we\’re too busy to allocate time to OHS activities\”

    It\’s often not until there is a near miss or they hear of their industry being targeted by WorkCover inspectors that they get serious about managing health and safety.

    An extreme example of this is the bullying and harassment (in which management was complicit) that led to the suicide of Brodie Panlock.

    In making a broad sweeping statement and of course without substantive quantitative data, I would suggest that there are tens of thousands of businesses for whom OHS is almost always an afterthought in business planning.

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