Attitudinal survey has promise but the restriction of data stifles discussion

The “Australia’s Behaviour Concerns” (ABC) survey has received a good deal of press in Australia this week as it provides so many options for each State’s media to report on concerns identified by the survey’s respondents.  Of the thirty-eight concerns identified, three involve occupational health and safety (OHS) directly:

  • Work Harassment
  • Discrimination and Bullying
  • Unsafe Work Practices.

One of the significant issues with such surveys and findings is that these measure perceptions of safety and not the reality.  Community concerns may be high but may mostly reflect topical events, campaigns and advertising so in terms of verifying marketing and OHS awareness campaigns, the survey may be most useful.  For instance  Ian Forsyth, managing partner at The Shannon Company and the former deputy chief executive at WorkSafe Victoria hypothesises that

“… because Victorian men aged 16 to 34 are more aware of the advertising/information/education about unsafe workplaces, they are therefore more aware of the dangers of an unsafe workplace and more determined to ensure their workplace isn’t unsafe – in essence, they’re more aware of the issues and risks, therefore they’re more concerned, therefore they work safer and experience fewer injuries.”

This is a logical argument and illustrates the attraction of awareness-raising marketing that is so popular with workplace and public safety organisations.  It sounds like common sense but such hypotheses still require verification, a verification that is almost impossible to achieve in this market sector.

This ABC survey is the first for this company and there is an intention to conduct another in a year’s time.  Repeated surveys provide at least some indication of trends as long as the major structure and criteria remain the same.

Below are some of the online survey findings provided to SafetyAtWorkBlog by Ian Forsyth.

“Four in ten Australians are concerned about workplace harassment, discrimination and bullying and a similar proportion has been impacted highlighting the issue as a significant concern. The level of concern about unsafe work practices is notably lower and fewer Australians report being impacted by this issue.”

“The Government’s efforts to address unsafe work practices receive more positive acknowledgement than the efforts to address workplace harassment, discrimination and bullying. The Governments contribution to addressing workplace harassment, discrimination and bullying is largely viewed in a negative light.

  • Victorians and Tasmanians are the most likely to forecast a positive change with regards to unsafe work practices.
  • Victorians are also the most likely to expect improvements in relation to workplace harassment, discrimination and bullying.
  • Compared to the other states and territories, Victorians also view the Government’s efforts to address work safety issues more positively.”

Care needs to be taken in speculating on causes.  There is often individual confusion of the distinction between workplace harassment, bullying and discrimination.  As this is a survey of perceptions or concerns, the technical differentiation can be missed and it may have been more useful to categorise the three issues under a more collective term of psychological hazards at work.  This would also allow for a clear line between physical injuries and illnesses and the psychological counterparts.

The confusion may be exacerbated by some States defining these three concerns differently.

The comment about Government’s approaches to physical hazards compared to psychosocial hazards is interesting and deserves more analysis.  It may be that the visceral reaction one has to physical trauma is more immediate because such injuries are visible and often with a simple cause and effect.  Psychosocial injuries are often treated with skepticism and doubt as they can be generated by personal interaction with complex motives and misunderstandings.

One can’t determine the survey respondents’ main source of information on OHS issues and so it is difficult to interpret the comments about Victoria above.  Victoria’s Government has taken a belligerent approach to Work Health and Safety laws that have been introduced in other States and so the comments could be interpreted as support for the Government’s stance but without knowing the legislative or OHS awareness of the respondents, no conclusion can be drawn.

Access to the full survey data is only available by subscription.  This is disappointing but not unexpected in this world of paywalls and such surveys can be expensive to produce.  Still, easy access to a survey that covers so many community attitudes would have been useful and could have stimulated debate on the divergence or similarity between the truth or reality of a risk or hazard and how such issues are perceived by the community.

Kevin Jones

2 thoughts on “Attitudinal survey has promise but the restriction of data stifles discussion”

  1. Why harassment, discrimination and bullying takes place at work place?
    The main reason is senior want to prove their superiority by generating inferiority complex in their juniors.
    The second reason is the seniors believe that they only have the contributory cause;in the progress; by virtue of their length of experience in comparison juniors,without recognizing the potential of juniors.
    The third reason is that they are afraid of the juniors talents and vibrancy may overshadow them.
    The fourth reason the seniors want them to be demoralized and they don\’t have the rival.
    The fifth reason they believe master – slave relationship and not the team spirit.
    The sixth reason they are by nature, demanding the respect and have lack of earning the respect.

  2. Since writing this article yesterday I have been wondering whether it would be possible to investigate the available workplace injury data in the context of the questions asked in this survey and some of its results, particularly the hypothesis put forward by Ian Forsyth.

    Given that there is a lot of attention being given to busting OHS myths, especially in the UK, perhaps we should be investigating these sorts of hypotheses. OHS decisions are often made on anecdotal evidence but this is far from evidence-based decision making. Anecdotal evidence, perception surveys, and OHS hypotheses deserve analysis.

    Academic researchers may say that such investigation is already occurring, and I don\’t doubt this, but perhaps we should be looking at an investigation method that does not have to jump through the grants and fundings processes that bog down the reearch process.

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