Reasons for Underreporting Incidents by Employees
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Section 1: Introduction
1.1. Background of the Study
Safety in the workplace is critical because of its humanitarian elements. It is paramount for safety issues to be addressed as part of corporate safety, health and environment policies in addition to the development of safety management systems, as well as safety goals and objectives (Saudi Aramco, 2007). Most damages in the workplace do not only result into fatal permanent injuries to people, but also the loss of significant asset value. Most companies consider the work done instead of safety to be the highest priority (Simmons, 2005). Management needs to ensure that all employees understand and comply with safety policies outlined in the company safety plan and international standards. It can be achieved through strict adherence to safety rules and an effective safety plan. By means of such measures, organizations can solve, reduce, or eliminate unfortunate consequences resulting from safety violations altogether (U.S. Department of Transportation, 2011).
The field of industrial safety entails a wide range of issues pertaining to the safety of electric power, high-pressure gas, gas utility, explosives, various forms of heat supply, LPG, and mines (Al-Jubrab, Hassan, & Solares, 2010). There is a need to advance the effectiveness and efficiency of the industrial safety regulation to promote self-imposed safety activities owing to the improvement in industries’ capabilities, licences and requests for streamlining the future rules and the international compliance with technical standards (ILO, 1995).
Safety needs to be a key part of all business activities of a company. It should be clearly reflected in the overall management tools of the enterprise and every individual affiliate firm (Saudi Aramco, 2007).
This research examines the issue of safety at Saudi Aramco, a Saudi Arabia’s national oil company headquartered in Dhahran with subsidiaries in Europe, North America, and the Far East. The firm is an integrated petroleum enterprise being a world leader in production, exploration, refining, distribution, shipment and marketing. Saudi Aramco manages large crude oil reserves of 2.601 billion barrels and approximately 279 trillion cubic feet of gas (Nolan, 2011).
1.2. Research Problem, Objectives, Research Questions and Hypothesis
Despite independent safety management programs at Saudi Aramco, other safety policies do not operate efficiently (Kirsten & Karch, 2011). The company has a range of compliance issues with safety standards, which are influenced by several factors. Similarly, there is insufficient reporting of incidents/injuries at Saudi Aramco.
It is often expected that every enterprise, including Saudi Aramco, will adhere to safety standards in the workplace and ensure that all incidents are reported instantly and correctly. In particular, it is due to the ultimate goal of a company is to have a zero incident rate. Therefore, this serves as an incentive to attain the best possible performance level and continuous vigilance in the direction of ensuring greater safety. The general objective of this research project is to understand the state of compliance and non-compliance with reporting incidents at Saudi Aramco.
Specific objectives of this research are three-fold as stated below:
- Examining the issues of compliance with safety standards.
- Identifying possible factors affecting safety culture.
- Identifying possible reasons for underreporting incidents/injuries.
The study has three research questions, which are as follows:
- What are the issues of compliance with safety standards at Saudi Aramco?
- What are factors influencing the safety culture of the company?
- What are the reasons for underreporting incidents/injuries at Saudi Aramco?
Hence, the following hypotheses are put forward in this study:
- There are problems with compliance with safety rules at Saudi Aramco.
- The underreporting of injuries and incidents compromises the safety culture of Saudi Aramco.
- The safety culture of the company is influenced by diverse factors.
- There is a room for improvement in Saudi Aramco’s safety culture.
1.3. Relation to the Previous Research
According to Fogarty and Shaw (2010), workers explain several reasons for failing to report injuries in the workplace, namely the fear of reprisal, a myth that pain is a normal outcome of work activities, the history of management in-action after injury/incident reports, and the need to remain at their usual job. Mearns, Hulme, Carter, Leemans, Lal, & Whetton (2001) argue that the management poses administrative and other barriers to injury/incident reporting because of the desire to have a clean record of unreported cases, and misconceptions regarding recordability requirements. The research by Beus, Payne, Bergman, & Winfred (2010) has shown that corporate and facility safety incentives have a significant indirect negative impact on the appropriate reporting of workplace injuries by employees (Gyekye, 2005). The study by Shaw, Shiu, Hassan, Wilson, Bekin, & Hogg (2007) notes that recordable injury logs are not so effective as compared to worker surveys and symptom reports, which offer more valuable and timely information about risks in the workplace. Further researches, including the one by Gunningham & Sinclair (2009), showed that many companies did not provide safety incentive programmes to serve as a stimulus for safety-related changes that would in turn discourage under-reporting.
Safety culture in any working environment reflects the extent, to which safety standards are observed by the company’s management either in training, tools, protective measures, knowledge, or physical infrastructure, to ensure that employees and clients are always kept safe, and that their working activities do not result in the exposure to higher than the acceptable level of risk. Safety culture determines measures, which a company takes to ensure safety for workers. It reflects values embraced by the firm for the purpose of worker safety. A non-committal attitude to safety matters is indicative of a poor organizational safety culture, and is usually reflected in apathetic responses to worker safety or risks. Such a working environment does not encourage the reporting of injuries, as it does not force to react to complaints.
Probst (2009) studied incident under-reporting based on 426 workers drawn from five industries, and came to the conclusion that it was the highest in workplaces having poorer safety climate scores, as well as in companies with inconsistent supervisor safety enforcement.
In other research by Hasle, Thoft, & Olesen (2010), Danish businesses were found to attribute causes of accidents to worker faults. Thus, they did not find reporting incidents necessary. Similarly, Haines’ study (1997) on workplace fatalities in Australian Victoria construction firms revealed that supervisors relieved themselves of responsibility for death cases and put it on the deceased workers, or held that such incidents were beyond their control.
In light of these studies, it is likely that there is a connection between the effort of Saudi Aramco to maintain safety standards and the willingness of employees to report incidents that arise out of the lack of those safety measures. It may be due to the fear of reprisal or the perception that injuries have resulted from their fault. In seeking to establish levels of safety measures taken by Saudi Aramco, such aspects as underreporting injuries may serve as a clue to the company’s safety culture or the lack of it. Since there is a correlation between the two, the number of unreported injuries/incidents at Saudi Aramco can serve as an indicator of its safety culture.
This research attempts to look at the incidents in the Saudi Aramco Fire Protection Department based on the reporting rate and the desire to find out reasons for underreporting. Data are collected with the help of the survey based on 5% of the general population of the enterprise, which have had a good experience working for the company. None of the officials reported injuries or incidents, since the procedures to be applied were very difficult.
Injuries caused by fire and other objects are serious risk issues for the employees of the Fire Protection Department. The study looks at fire fighters, fire instructors, engineers, protection advisors and marshals, as they are the main workers in this department. The staff has skills necessary for handling injuries of various victims.
A number of studies have shown that the amount of issues related to incidents in the Fire Protection Department and the non-reporting rate are high. Through undertaking research on this issue, it is possible to get to know reasons and causative aspects. It is due to the availability of these data that one can acquire means of hindering future injuries.
1.4. Significance of the Research
In view of the growing number of cases connected with health and safety standards violations in large organizations, it is important to understand the state of compliance with them, as well as factors and reasons for underreporting incidents at Saudi Aramco (a world leader in the petroleum industry).
Section 2: Literature Review
2.1. Evidence of Injury Underreporting
It is highly important for workers, as well as individual employers, to maintain accurate reporting of incidents and injuries, illnesses and other health and safety records. Accuracy in the safety reporting system provides the possibility to determine original causes of incidents in the workplace and injuries/illnesses, to focus attention on the existent dangerous conditions, to ensure that employees receive necessary medical treatment, and finally to set up an effective system of safety management.
Most organizations and enterprises in developed countries are interested in the health and safety of their workers, and undertake all necessary measures to ensure it. However, the number of incidents and injuries related to work, including fatal cases, has been growing at an alarming rate. In particular, approximately 6,000 fatal work injuries and around 3.8 million nonfatal ones took place in the United States of America in 1998. As a result of these incidents, about 80 million production days were lost in that year, and roughly 60 million days in the next years (United States Census Bureau, 2000; Bureau of Labour Statistics, 2000). Moreover, approximately 833 fatal work-related incidents took place in Canada in 1999 along with approximately 380,000 serious cases, when workers were compensated in the form of lost wages or permanent disability payments (Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada, 2000). Hence, it is clear that fatal incidents, as well as occupational injuries and illnesses, are associated with enormous costs, both in terms of people’s lives and health and the production process of organizations.
More recent data show that the number of reported work-related incidents and injuries has substantially increased. In particular, more than 4 million nonfatal cases took place in 2007 in the United States of America along with over 5,600 fatal incidents in the same year (Bureau of Labour Statistics, 2008). Nevertheless, according to the latest information of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, up to two thirds of all work-related incidents, injuries and illnesses are not reported by employees in organizations due to multiple factors, including the loss of valued incentives or due to the fear of disciplinary actions taken against them (U.S. Government Accountability Office, 2009). As a result, actual rates of incidents and work-related injuries in enterprises are substantially higher as compared to official statistics. Therefore, it is clear that the safety of the workplace largely depends on the perception of enterprises’ safety procedures, policies, and practices by workers (Zohar, 2003; Anderson, 2007). There is extensive evidence in the literature that those organizations that establish a safety climate, which supports safety, experience on average fewer occupational injuries and incidents as compared to those that have working environments, which do not support safety (Clarke, 2006; Christian, Bradley, Wallace, & Burke, 2009; Hahn & Murphy, 2008).
According to the research by Pransky, Snyder, Dembe, & Himmelstein (1999), approximately 85% of workers in several industrial organisations experienced work-related injuries or illnesses. About 50% of them had health problems related to work that lasted up to 7 days, and finally 30% of workers faced work restrictions or lost their working time due to work-related health issues. However, less than 5% of employees officially reported about their injury, incident or illness. In the majority of cases, workers refused to report incidents and injuries due to the fear of disciplinary actions and the official organization’s goal for zero injuries reinforced through incentive programs, according to which low levels of reported injuries were rewarded (Pransky et. al., 1999).
According to the findings of another study, approximately 40% of environmental service workers, who had been injured during the working process, did not report their injuries and incidents. Again, the most common reason for underreporting was the lack of the desire to face disciplinary action and the loss of respect from a supervisor. However, about 65% of workers noted that work-related injuries that they had experienced required medical care (Weddle, 1996).
According to extensive evidence in the literature, underreporting of incidents and injuries is a global trend. It has been confirmed by many studies undertaken in a number of countries (Simmons, 2005). Notably, the tendencies of incidents and their reporting vary from one nation to another, reflecting cultural variation and differences in models and legislation. The reasons for incidents differ from one company to another, and the variation in labour force safety is revealed through differences in units’ reporting. The research proved that reporting fire incidents was high in extraction and utility sectors, while it was quite limited in hotels and businesses (Vincent, 1999). Studies undertaken in the USA and United Kingdom proved contrasting levels of underreporting incidents and injuries in construction objects, health centres and voluntary areas.
Incident reporting has been noted to be a vital aspect in setting up a working risk management tendency and governance (Department of Health, 2000). A number of fire departments in the USA and UK are presently moving in the direction of risk control, including reporting errors (Huang, Ho, Smith, & Chen, 2006).
Underreporting is common in the setting of fire departments being a hindrance to elevating the safety of the staff (O’Dowd, 2006). The aspect is not just an issue in Saudi Arabia, but also in the UK and USA. Barach & Small (2000) state that underreporting has a severe rate in the USA, which is around 52-98% yearly. In Saudi Arabia, only several fire accidents were reported in 2005-2006, though 22% of injuries and 39% of incidents were left unreported. Although a good number of professional units are managed by policies, underreporting is believed to be an accepted code of behaviour. It is since the setting that upholds the reporting of mistakes has not been advanced yet.
The fire experts’ code of practice opts for the raise of the issue of incident reporting. The bodies related to this offer guidance to professionals lacking reporting. It brings about the advancement of limited standards and limits the vividness of incident reporting.
2.1.1. Empirical Evidence of Injury Underreporting
Incidents of injuries take place in the workplace of industries across all countries. Even though that injury rates (both reported and unreported) differ a lot, reasons for underreporting are common for all of them. There is a hot debate in the literature over the leading causes of underreporting, and what measures should be undertaken to eliminate its negative consequences.
According to Fogarty and Shaw (2010), workers explain several reasons for failing to report injuries in the workplace, namely the fear of reprisal, an idea that pain is a normal outcome of a work activity, the history of management in-action after injury/incident reports, and the need to remain in their usual job. On the other hand, the management of a company may also discourage reporting of injuries (Mearns et al., 2001). In particular, it poses administrative and other barriers to injury/incident reporting due to the desire to have a clean record of unreported injuries/incidents, and misconceptions regarding recordability requirements. As a result, corporate and facility safety incentives have a significant indirect negative impact on the appropriate reporting of workplace injuries by employees (Beus et al., 2010). Moreover, recordable injury logs are not so efficient as compared to worker surveys and symptom reports, which offer more valuable and timely information about risks in the workplace (Shaw et al., 2007). Further studies showed that many companies do not provide safety incentive programmes to serve as a stimulus for safety-related changes that in turn discourage under-reporting (Gunningham & Sinclair, 2009; Cree & Kelloway, 1997).
Overall, two groups of factors can be identified that have an impact on the underreporting of injuries/incidents in enterprises, including organization-related factors (the size of a company, the system of incentives, safety culture, and others) and worker-related factors (for example, discipline).
The company’s size is considered to be one of the reasons for under-reporting. In the UK and the USA, many researchers agree that small organizations are highly bound to underreport or even not to report injuries or incidents. It is largely explained by the lack of awareness of the legal reporting needs in smaller companies and being unfamiliar with important documentation that accords a high number of problems as opposed to bigger companies.
The absence of safety incentive measures and rewards for a drop in the size of workstation incidents and injuries is another enterprise-related cause of underreporting (Garavan & O’Brien, 2001). Such measures should have been applied in the Fire Protection Department for the purpose of elevating safety records and trimming safety-based costs. However, full agreement has not been reached in terms of efficiency or value incentives to elevate safety in the workstation.
Generally, there is consistency in the research that incentives can elevate performance, though inherent issues may arise due to the way of applying them. It ought to be taken into account that a one-size-fits-all method may not be successful, as many researchers believe. Hence, it is imperative for such methods to allow for dynamic application. Incentives may not similarly bring about motivation; however, the manner, in which they are brought forth, impacts performance evaluation and the probability of adverse implications. Programs that are reliant on the result are more popular and better to manage, but may increase injury figures. Thus, the aspect of underreporting is the most common, where incentives are in the form of financing.
Safety culture in a working environment reflects the extent, to which safety standards are observed by the company management either in training, tools, protective measures, knowledge or physical infrastructure, to ensure that employees and clients are always kept safe and that their working activities do not result in the exposure to higher than the acceptable level of risk. Safety culture determines measures, which a company takes to ensure safety for workers. It reflects values embraced by the firm for the purpose of employee’s safety. A non-committal attitude to these matters serves as an indicator of a poor organizational safety culture, and is usually reflected in apathetic organizational responses to worker’s safety or risks. Such a working environment does not encourage the reporting of injuries, as it does not force to react to complaints. Other potential explanations of injury/incident under-reporting include a poor safety climate in an organisation along with inconsistent supervisor safety enforcement (Probst & Estrada, 2010; Hirsjärvi & Hurme, 2001).
Underreporting of incidents is advanced by the availability of a poor safety culture, and the lack of models for reporting hazardous cases. An issue that is vital for the effectiveness of the application of any reporting model is required for meeting dynamic and clear organization’s obligations. Hence, underreporting is probable to be symptomatic of the failure to do the latter to ensure a secure workstation, as diligent companies with a rigid safety obligation make it vivid to the staff and top management that underreporting incidents is undesirable (Goldenhar, Williams, & Swanson, 2003).
From the workers’ perspective, the underreporting of injuries in the work place is often explained by workers’ faults. In other words, employees may find it unnecessary to report (Hasle et al., 2010). Similarly, supervisors may relieve themselves of responsibility for death cases and put it on the deceased workers, or hold that such cases are beyond their control (Haines, 1997).
A risk is a probability of facing a loss. In a fire department, risk control is based on harnessing data that may reduce the number of injuries or deaths, financial losses and losing reputation. This information can be acquired through reporting fire incidents, since underreporting hinders the acquisition of important data and puts the lives of people at risk. Risk control in the fire department is a procedure that changes and is limited in connection with the investigation of its advancement. Literature sources have brought a reduced theoretical setting forth. There is the absence of the scientific basis for the risk control training model (Thomas, 2004). Furthermore, error control can offer a valid model that the fire department can look into to advance the safety of its staff. The application of a risk matrix integrated with a risk list is important, since it helps strategize an effective plan.
The research has shown that the underreporting of work-based injuries can bring about the absence of reporting skills, administrative hindrances and insufficient reporting methods. More precisely, unsatisfactory reporting methods are considered by employees to be time-consuming.
In light of these studies, it is likely that there is a connection between the company’s effort to maintain safety standards and the willingness of employees to report incidents that arise out of the lack of safety measures. It may be due to the fear of reprisal or the perception that injuries have resulted from their fault. Seeking to establish safety measures by a company, such aspects as underreporting injuries may serve as a clue to the firm’s safety culture or the lack of it. Thus, since there is a correlation between the two, the number of unreported injuries or incidents at Saudi Aramco can serve as an indicator of its safety culture (Marcel & Mitchell, 2006).
2.1.2. Theoretical Approaches to Understanding Injury Underreporting
A number of theoretical approaches have been developed in the attempt to explain potential reasons of underreporting and find possible ways of hindering its possibility. One of the most common theoretical models that have been tested empirically is the one developed by Webb, Redman, Wilkinson, & Sanson-Fisher (1989). It describes the documentation process of work-related incidents and injuries in an organisation and belongs to the class of filter models that are commonly applied by the Bureau of Labour Statistics. Even though data from other systems are not designed for surveillance, they are widely used in the empirical research and the development of public policies (National Technical Information Service, 2000).
The documentation process of work-related incidents and injuries involves sequences of events. In the framework of the model developed by Webb et al. (1989), barriers to these sequences are characterized as “filters” and are thoroughly analysed. The authors of the model explained that “unless the filters are entirely permeable, the injuries detected at consecutive levels will be fewer and harsher” (Webb et. al., 1989, p. 116). At the same time, other factors can also have an impact on permeability, such as the ones related to a direct work environment, individual worker, as well as larger social, legislative and economic contexts (Morse, Dillon, & Warren, 2000; Firth-Cozens, 2002).
According to the filter models adapted to the one developed by Webb et al. (1989), the following four cases can be experienced in the course of the occupational injury reporting process. In the first case, when the incident of a work-related injury is officially reported, the documentation process takes the next steps. At the beginning, an injury or incident takes place in an enterprise. Then, a worker perceives the fact that he or she has been injured or got sick. Next, the employee perceives that the injury or illness is related to his or her work. As a result, this worker realises the need to report about the case to the supervisor. Therefore, he or she provides an official report about his injury or sickness. It is followed by the supervisor perceiving that the worker in the enterprise does have a legitimate health problem related to work. Hence, the former gives permission to the latter to take a leave for a certain amount of time or establishes some restrictions to work. At the same time, the worker requires medical help, receives it and pays for medical treatment, and informs his/her supervisor about it. As a final step of the work-related injury documentation process, the supervisor logs in information about the injury or incident according to the official rules and record-keeping requirements (Azaroff, Levenstein, & Wegman, 2002).
Another case is the documentation process of a work-related injury, when a worker perceives that his or her injury is work-related with the help of a physician. In particular, at the beginning, an incident or injury takes place in a company. Next, the worker perceives that he or she is either injured or sick obtaining necessary medical treatment. At the same time, a physician provides an accurate diagnosis of the worker’s condition based on the occupational history taken from the worker. On the other hand, at this stage, the employee can realise that his or her injury is related to work and informs the physician about it. As a result, the latter shows a link between the health problem that the worker has and the workplace exposure. Next, the physician identifies that the employee has been disabled as a result of the work-related injury for the corresponding period of time. Hence, the incident is officially reported (Azaroff, Levenstein, & Wegman, 2002).
The third case of the work-related injury documentation process is when health insurance is involved. When an incident or injury takes place, a worker reports about it to his or her supervisor, who perceives it as a case related to work, and reports about it to the compensation insurer of the worker’s employer. On the other hand, the employee perceives that the injury is related to work, and contacts his insurance company in order to receive the financial coverage for treatment expenses. As a result, the worker receives medical care at clinic or hospital, which cooperates with the workers’ health insurer. Next, a physician provides a diagnosis of the worker’s condition. He takes the occupational history of the employee and identifies the relatedness of his injury to work, or the worker himself/herself perceives that and informs the physician. Therefore, the latter officially demonstrates the relationship between the health problem and the workplace exposure of the worker. Finally, the insurance company provides payment for treatment (Azaroff, Levenstein, & Wegman, 2002).
The last case of the work-related incident documentation process concerns the reporting of it by a physician. Once an incident takes place in a company, and a worker perceives himself/herself that he or she has been sick or injured, then he or she gets access to medical care. Next, the physician provides an accurate diagnosis of the worker’s condition and takes his/her occupational history. Hence, he realises that the condition of the worker is related to work and reports about it according to the requirements (Azaroff, Levenstein, & Wegman, 2002).