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Why Injuries Often Go Unreported

It’s well known that occupational injuries are prevalent among construction workers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that 174,000 construction workers experienced illness or injury on the job in 2020 alone. Unfortunately, research suggests that this already-high number may be a gross underestimation, as underreporting of work-related injuries is a widespread phenomenon in the construction industry. According to some estimates, the actual number of occupational injuries is as much as three times higher than what’s reported.

LIUNA General
and LHSFNA Labor
Armand E. Sabitoni

“Reporting workplace injuries informs employers of jobsite hazards and safety protocols that need to be remedied,” said LIUNA General-Secretary Treasurer and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand Sabitoni. “Employers must create an environment where workers feel comfortable speaking up about injuries, accidents and near misses; it’s one of the most important tools in keeping our members safe.”

One exploratory study surveyed union construction workers to explore the construction industry’s underreporting phenomenon. The researchers found that 27 percent of these workers had at some point in their careers failed to report a work-related injury. Another study found that while 30 percent of surveyed workers had reported either injury-related lost time from work or physical limitations at work, only 5 percent of workers had actually reported their injuries to OSHA. Even OSHA itself has once estimated that half of severe workplace injuries go unreported.

Why Does This Happen?

While most employees know they can be compensated for work-related injuries, there are several psychological, social, economic and cultural factors that may tempt someone to keep their injury to themselves. Some of the most common of these include:

  • Fear of disciplinary action from supervisors
  • Fear of being labeled incompetent, lazy, a complainer or weak by coworkers and supervisors
  • Peer pressure because of poorly designed incentive programs
  • Complicated and time-consuming paperwork
  • Lack of paid sick leave
  • Thinking symptoms aren’t severe enough or attributing symptoms to age and normal wear and tear
  • “It’s just part of the job” mentality
  • In extreme cases, fear of being laid off or let go entirely

Why is Reporting so Important?

Regardless of how tempting it can be to keep quiet about getting hurt at work, this behavior can seriously undermine a company’s health and safety efforts. One of the main reasons to report an injury is to make supervisors and employers aware of existing hazards on the jobsite so they can promptly correct or remove them and prevent the same injuries from happening again in the future. Failing to report can allow an employer to continue operating in a potentially unsafe manner and put more workers at risk for injury. Injury reports are a good source of data to assess whether existing safety protocols are working or if more training, better equipment and/or new strategies are needed to enhance workplace safety.

Timely reporting of injuries can benefit the employee too. Often in jobs that involve manual labor (like construction), chronic pain and injuries are a result of multiple smaller injuries that accumulate over time. Continuing to work through injuries without proper medical attention and treatment can lead to avoidable pain and stress in the long run. However, when promptly addressed, ailments and pain can be better managed and given an opportunity to properly heal. Reporting the accident quickly can also allow the employer to provide the injured employee with options for treatment and answer any questions about the benefits available to them.

How Can an Employer Encourage Reporting?

Workplace culture plays a big role in how comfortable employees feel speaking up about their injuries and safety concerns. That’s why it’s important for employers to continuously foster a positive safety culture on the job and encourage workers to speak up without fear of punishment or discrimination. An employer can achieve this and encourage proper reporting by:

  • Creating a climate of open communication where employees are empowered to speak up about their concerns
  • Creating and communicating a clear, uncomplicated policy for reporting injuries
  • Assuring employees they won’t be punished for getting injured, regardless of who or what was “at fault”
  • Endorsing a constructive, non-punitive approach to accidents and injuries that focuses on lessons learned rather than blame

At the end of the day, the primary goal should always be to avoid injuries, illnesses and fatalities altogether. However, that can’t be possible unless all incidents are being properly tracked and addressed. While tempting, letting an occupational injury fly past the radar is a disservice to health and safety efforts and can cause even more problems in the long run.

[Hannah Sabitoni]

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