There have been a lot of changes made to the rules and regulations governing the workplace in America over the past century. From not allowing children to work to making sure meat packing plants don’t have maggots falling off of their products, I’d contend that pretty much all of them have been for the best. Safety is one topic, however, that every single workplace gets up in arms about and that the government absolutely ensures is always followed to the letter.
Or do they?
People obviously have an active interest in how safe their work environment is on a daily basis. While not everybody is spending their time as a rodeo clown or on a space shuttle bound for orbit, we all at least face minor obstacles on a daily basis. And if we knew just how lax the workplace has become these days, we’d yell and scream about it until things were changed.
Or would we?
A new study from the University of Chicago for the Public Welfare Foundation about how the American public views safety in the workplace sheds some serious light on these questions. Apparently, unless there is a mining accident, most people don’t really care about workplace safety, and they care even less about their own work environment.
For example, a series of three mining accidents in the mid-2000’s caught the public’s eye and were followed by anywhere between 26 and 47 percent of the population. The first in 2006 in West Virginia caught the most attention, though the novelty eventually wore off. The recent mining accident – again in West Virginia – was followed by only 26 to 33 percent.
The interesting part isn’t the decline in attention, though. It’s the fact that unless the workplace safety issue involves explosions and mining operations, America really don’t give a crap. Even the Deep Water Horizon accident failed to gain any sympathy for the apparent lack of safety measures that had been taken to protect the 11 workers who lost their lives.
Lots of Americans really don’t have to worry about their safety, myself included. I mean my major issues involve ergonomics, repetitive stress injuries, mental health and making sure electrical cords are up to code. Though these issues aren’t going to immediately kill me in a giant fireball, they are long-term health issues that deserve at least a little attention, and 89 percent of Americans agree with me listing “workplace safety regulations” ranked most important of seven labor standards ahead of family and maternity leave, minimum wage, paid sick days, overtime pay, maximum hours limits and the right to join a union.
But that’s just what they say.
In 2001, Republicans in Congress repealed the Clinton’s administration’s repetitive stress injuries prevention measures, but only 10 percent of the public followed the story in the news and 70 percent didn’t even know that it happened.
Looking at this same phenomenon in a different way, about 90 percent of workers polled said that the safety of the workers is a very high priority of their own work place. Yet 27 percent of these same people claimed to know other employers that don’t report accidents and injuries, and that some workers are afraid to report them.
Something about those numbers doesn’t add up.
So I ask you, America, do you actually care about the safety of your place of business?