On 6 April 2011, at the Safety In Action conference in Melbourne, the Safety Institute of Australia and the Australian Institute of Management released the findings of their 2011 Business Survey. The 2010 survey was discussed in an earlier blog article.
SafetyAtWorkBlog was allowed to see a version of the survey results prior to their public release next week but according to the media release of 6 April:
“More than 40 per cent (41%) of the occupational health and safety (OHS) personnel surveyed did not believe their organisation had a ‘well entrenched OHS culture.’ That view was shared by a quarter of human resources (HR) personnel and senior managers involved in the survey. In contrast, just 11 per cent of CEOs and Board members held that view.
Furthermore, almost half of OHS personnel (49%) who participated in the survey believed that efforts to minimise OHS risks were being impacted by concerns about reduced productivity. A quarter of CEOs/board members and senior managers also expressed that view.”
“The survey also revealed a worrying gap between the views of CEOs/Board members and OHS personnel when it came to answering the question: “Does top level management ‘walk the talk’ (action matches words) on OHS in your organisation?” Eighty-eight per cent of CEOs/Board members and 70 per cent of senior managers said ‘Yes’ compared to 47 per cent of OHS personnel and 55 per cent of HR personnel.”
These findings appear to be concerning but percentages are often misleading. The survey had 3,000 responses from “Australian business people” (the exact figure is 3,141). Therefore the 40 per cent mentioned in the first paragraph above represents around 1200 response. But the 40 per cent is only of OHS personnel. The demographics in the survey results list 19% of respondents as identifying themselves as OHS personnel. So the 40 per cent in the first paragraph really represents 228 of total respondents, less than 10 per cent.
Similar calculations can be made about those respondents who categorised themselves as HR personnel (4% (120) of total respondents) and CEOs/Board Director (3% (90) of total respondents). “11 per cent of CEOs and Board members” = 10 survey respondents.
The 2010 SafetyAtWorkBlog article includes this criticism which remains relevant:
“The survey is a good conversation starter but it is certainly not representative as the demographics included in the survey data seem to indicate.”
That the media release has been circulated widely but that the data is not similarly available for some days seems a little unfair.
It can also be contended that the attitudes to safety of Australian business people will vary considerably between businesses of different sizes. WorkSafe Victoria identified this some years ago when it focussed a lot of resources into supporting the “juggler” level of management. When reading the SIA/AIM media release it is important to realise that the survey demographics identify
- 50% (1500) of respondents were from organisations with over 500 employees
- 38% (1140) had between 51 and 500 employees, and
- 12% (360) had less than 50 employees.
This is a serious skew to larger organisations in the survey particularly given that, as one conference speaker from Safe Work Australia mentioned this afternoon, “80% of Australians work in small to medium enterprises”. WorkSafe Victoria provides OHS support to small businesses which they categorise as companies with less than 20 employees. Perhaps there needs to be a similarly-themed survey of the SME business people so that the results come from the sector that is most likely to be most beneficial to the largest number of Australians.
The results of the SIA/AIM business survey do not represent the OHS attitudes of Australian workers and it can be argued that they do not represent “Australian business people”. The impression of the survey in the media release exceeds the reality. Where the media release claims
“A major survey of more than 3,000 Australian business people has revealed that urgent action is needed to improve the safety culture at many workplaces”
the methodology of the survey says the survey
“…provides an insight into how Australian organisations regard workplace health and safety as a driver of organisations performance and employee engagement”.
The methodology statement is more accurate in that the results provide an “insight” but not an authoritative one and certainly not one that is representative. This would be of little concern in the safety profession as a whole except that there is a major push, reflected in the Safety In Action conference speakers, for the collation of reliable evidence on which policy decisions can be made.
The survey may be useful as indicative of attitudinal trends but this is only the second of the annual surveys and, although the organisations should be congratulated on providing comparative data, several more years of data are needed before any type of usable trend could be identified.
Lastly, survey data is all well and good but it is what is done in response to data that makes a difference. It was disappointing to hear, at the report’s release this afternoon, that although a management course for OHS professionals is being developed, an OHS training program for senior executives was not mentioned. Given that another of the conference’s major themes was the need for leadership on safety from the top of the organisational tree, it was a noticeable omission.