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New study: closing gaps in worker/manager OHS attitudes key to reducing manufacturing injuries

New study: closing gaps in worker/manager OHS attitudes key to reducing manufacturing injuries

A 2023 study from WSPS and Toronto Metropolitan University offers clues to why Ontario’s manufacturing sector is overrepresented when it comes to workplace injuries, as well as solutions for improving health and safety performance. 

The study looked at the attitudes, beliefs, and perceptions about health and safety among managers and workers in the sector, and found ‘significant’ differences, with managers painting a brighter picture than workers. “These differences can lead to misunderstandings, conflict, increased risk, and poorer safety performance, says Craig Fairclough, a co-author of the study, and WSPS Consulting Services Manager. 

Previous reports have found that the manufacturing sector accounts for 15 per cent of workers’ compensation claims even though it employs only 12 per cent of Ontario’s workforce, and that many manufacturing workplaces were not meeting the minimum mandatory requirements for health and safety policies and education. 

“Bridging the gaps in manager/worker perceptions is necessary to decrease injuries.” says Craig. Below, Craig outlines some the major differences the study found, and suggests ways employers can bridge the gaps in order to improve health and safety performance.

Survey Highlights

Surveys were filled out by 2,401 workers and 1,562 managers/supervisors in the manufacturing sector to gauge their perceptions of health and safety, their belief/attitude statements, and their top occupational health and safety concerns. 

The results show some ‘statistically significant’ differences between workers and managers that indicate workers feel less safe than managers. “Statistically significant means the differences are caused by something other than chance,” explains Craig. 

Key Differences 

  • a larger number of workers felt the workplace was “a bit unsafe.” “This may be due to the fact that workers often face more hazards than managers do,” says Craig.

  • the vast majority of workers and managers could not identify the ‘employer’ as the party primarily responsible for health and safety in the workplace. “This speaks to the need for a training review of the roles and responsibilities of the workplace parties,” says Craig. 

  • more workers than managers felt that health and safety training was insufficient and inadequate

  • workers were less confident about health and safety measures in the workplace, including:  that workers are involved in safety decisions, that there are frequent communications about safety in the workplace, that workers are regularly asked about safety concerns, the safety of workers is a high priority 

  • the majority of both groups agreed that ‘workplace injuries and accidents are an inevitable part of life.’ “This points to a problem with the safety culture in the workplace,” says Craig. 

  • machine safety was the top concern of both groups, but managers were far more concerned. “This is an important gap to address because of the potential impact on workers’ health and safety.”

Recommendations for Employers

Studies show that workers’ safety performance is greatly influenced by their relationship with their managers, including a reduction in injury rates when their managers showed greater concern for them and supported the workers’ positive safety behaviours. As such, bridging gaps in perceptions, attitudes, and beliefs is critical to improving performance. 

The study recommends that employers take the following steps:

  • provide more education and training. Health and safety training leads to improvements in knowledge, safe behaviours and health and safety outcomes, says the study. 

  • be proactive about health and safety concerns. “This sends a message that you care about the wellbeing of workers and are doing everything possible to reduce injuries.”

  • improve your safety culture. “Negatives attitudes about the inevitability of accidents need to be addressed so that everyone recognizes that work-related incidents are preventable.”

  • improve communication on health and safety issues. “Constant and effective communication will ensure both managers and workers are singing from same song sheet.” 

How WSPS can help 

Watch a two-minute video featuring study highlights. 


Other resources