Does Trust Correlate with Safety Performance for Workers? (part 2 of 2)

Neil HartleyHealth & Safety Issues/TrendsLeave a Comment

Does Trust Correlate with Safety Performance for Workers

In the first part of this two-part post exploring the possible correlation between trust and worker safety, we highlighted how countries with the highest degree of trust (in their fellow citizens and public institutions) also showed the best safety performance among their workers. Equally, those countries with the lowest trust displayed the worst safety performance.Trust in institutions

Fatal Injury at WorkAccepting that the normalised worker fatality rates produced by Eurostat have some deficiencies, it’s certainly reasonable to suggest correlation between trust and safety. In part 1 of this post we left with the question, “is there causation?” and an elephant in the room.

The elephant related to the fact that societal trust has shown a slow decline since the 1950s yet worker safety has improved significantly over the period. Of course, the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, after the watershed Robens Report in 1972, provided a great leap forwards for worker safety and laid the foundation for dramatic reductions in fatality and non-fatal injury rates. Changing Government and societal attitudes to health and safety in the workplace dramatically eclipsed any impact that a changing trust landscape may have had.

Back to the question of causation.

Would it be safe to test a hypothesis that a lack of trust leads to more rules? Intuitively that feels reasonable. We’ll all have worked for employers who did not trust their employees and who consequently mandated certain rules and practices be adhered to. Even today, less trusting employers are relying on activity monitors to ensure remote workers are active on their computers while working from home. More trusting employers would rely on worker output and performance indicators to maximise productivity.

Do we have measures of health and safety rule setting in the countries we focused on in part 1? Well, yes we do. Thanks to an ESENER survey in 2014 (of companies with at least 5 employees) we have the following chart. Remember that the countries are in the same position on the x axis as previously, i.e. lowest trust countries on the left rising to the highest trust countries on the right.

The trendline indicates that the production of health and safety documentation is, indeed, lowest in those countries with the highest trust.

Are we seeing support for The Peltzman Effect in these data (“where safety measures are mandated people will engage in more risky behaviour”)? As you can see above, the worst safety performance is on the left hand side of the chart…

Is this a narrative that Sidney Dekker would endorse? There’s certainly strong support here for Safety Differently.

Would we see a different story if we looked at workplace risk assessments? ESENER included this in the same survey.

We see the same story. A trendline showing correlation between the lowest use of risk assessments and the highest safety performance. We also see that 8% of UK companies at the time weren’t aware of the law and admitted to not conducting risk assessments!

What do you think? Correlation? We think so. Causation? Let’s take the Scottish option and go for unproven. After all, we’re looking at trendlines across a limited data set and if you look at individual countries, some don’t fit the narrative at all. Feel free to leave a comment below on the French narrative in all of this.

What is for sure is the need to improve trust, at least in each other. A starting point would be an acceptance of a middle ground and to break with the need to polarise positions on every subject. Do we believe Heinrich or Dekker? Why not take the best of both of them?

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