Organisational factors, not individual traits, drive workers' behaviour

In research which confirms the union view that behaviour based safety programs are a crock, researchers from Iran found safety experts perceive organisational structures as being the major contributing factors influencing unsafe behaviours by workers - greater than both individual traits or socioeconomic issues.

The investigation team, led by researchers from the Shiraz University of Medical Sciences,  found one of the most influential factors identified by study participants was the priority of productivity over safety. "Numerous" studies have shown this is perceived as being a key cause of workplace accidents, they say.

For the study the researchers divided organisational structure into factors including procedures and working conditions, communication, OHS monitoring, organisational safety culture, resource allocation and human resources. 

Individual factors were broken down into personality traits and task competence, while socioeconomic conditions were classified as including the financial position of organisations, ownership (government or private) and local community attitudes to safety.

They then analysed the responses to questions on these asked of a group of industrial health and safety experts, production supervisors and line workers from a wide range of industries. Organisational structure was most commonly quoted as having the biggest influence on safety behaviour at respondents' workplaces.

Organisational factors causing the greatest concern were: excessive time pressures, piece work payment structures, poor production processes, the hiring of unsuitable workers, poor communication between supervisors and workers, lack of safety monitoring, lack of resources and poor employer attitudes to safety. These factors were identified as greater drivers of unsafe behaviours than workers taking risks, ignoring rules, overstating competence, being over-competitive or having a poor attitude to authority.
Read more: 
Mahdi Malakoutikhah et al, The factors affecting unsafe behaviors of Iranian workers: A qualitative study based on grounded theory [Full article] ScienceDirect Source: OHS Alert 

High physical work demands have worse consequences for older workers

Danish researchers investigating the role of age in the association between physical work demands and long-term sickness absence (LTSA), have not surprisingly found that the health consequences of high physical work demands increase with age.

The researchers followed 69,117 employees of the general working population (Work Environment and Health in Denmark study 2012–2018), without LTSA during the previous 52 weeks preceding initial interview, for up to 2 years in the Danish Register for Evaluation of Marginalisation. Self-reported physical work demands were based on a combined ergonomic index including seven different types of exposure during the working day. Using weighted analyses controlling for years of age, gender, survey year, education, lifestyle, depressive symptoms and psychosocial work factors, they determined the interaction of age with physical work demands for the risk of LTSA.

The main finding of the study was that the negative health consequences of high physical work demands depend on the age of the worker. Thus, the risk for LTSA from higher physical work demands increased with increasing age of the worker. This finding remained robust in subgroup analyses including only unskilled and skilled workers and stratifying for gender.

The researchers concluded that the study has important practical implications: 

  1. workplaces need to consider the age of the worker when planning work tasks that are physically demanding. Better use of assistive devices, better planning and organisation of the work, and offering physical exercise to stay fit even at a high age may be a way forward. Some of these elements may be included in senior policies.
  2. Lifelong learning and further education may be necessary at the individual level to be able to change to a less physically demanding job later in life. The researchers identified job groups that require little further education which can be found at the lower end of the scale, for example, bus and taxi drivers and customer services clerks.
  3. A differentiated pension system taking physical work demands throughout life into account may be necessary.

They said that although the study did not provide practical solutions, it highlighted the challenges of having high physical work demands with increasing age.

Read more: Lars Louis Andersen, et al High physical work demands have worse consequences for older workers: prospective study of long-term sickness absence among 69 117 employees. [Full article] Occupational and Environmental Medicine, online first May 2021 doi: 10.1136/oemed-2020-107281

Sedentary work linked to deadly cancer

Korean researchers have found that sedentary work is exposing workers to a significantly increased risk of one of the world's deadliest cancers.

In a review of studies done over decades, they found sedentary work increased the risk of colon cancer by 21 per cent, and rectal cancer by eight per cent.

Extensive epidemiological evidence suggests a direct relationship between sedentary behaviour and colon cancer, but few previous studies focused on the link between this cancer and sedentary behaviour in the work environment.

They found that reducing sitting time and encouraging physical activity among sedentary workers should be treated as a primary preventive measure for colorectal cancer, which is the third most deadly and fourth most commonly diagnosed cancer in the world.

According to the researchers from the Catholic University of Korea and Seoul National University College of Medicine, sedentary behaviour involves sitting or reclining postures combined with minimal energy expenditure, and is distinct from a lack of physical activity or inactivity.

"Sedentary behaviour leads to negative metabolic and cardiovascular consequences that cause obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and death from all causes," they say.

The researchers also referred to other studies which found: workers who spent 10 years in sedentary work had double the distal colon cancer risk of those who have never done sedentary work; and a two-hour increase in daily sitting time was associated with a two per cent increment in the risk of colorectal cancer.  Read more: JaeYong Lee et al, Association of sedentary work with colon and rectal cancer: systematic review and meta-analysis [Abstract] Occupational and Environmental Medicine, online first April 2021, doi: 10.1136/oemed-2020-107253. Source: OHS Alert

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