Labor Day offers an opportunity to highlight the effectiveness of regulatory enforcement in improving workplace health and safety and the effect that safety inspections have on improving worker safety.
Government health and safety inspections that result in citations or penalties effectively motivate employers to make improvements that reduce work-related injuries, according to a systematic review of research by the Institute for Work & Health (IWH).
The review, led by IWH Senior Scientist Dr. Emile Tompa, was published online in June in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.
“These findings reinforce the importance of regulators being out in the field and identifying, citing and penalizing non-compliant organizations,” says Tompa.
Tompa acknowledges that no regulator has the resources to inspect all workplaces and to levy penalties for all violations, which makes additional efforts to drive awareness and reduce injuries and illnesses necessary as well.
“Regulators may need to heighten awareness by actively communicating the consequences of non-compliance, and possibly make information about non-compliers easily available to the general public,” he added.
Researchers set out to answer the question: “What is the strength of the evidence on the effectiveness of occupational health and safety (OHS) policy levers in creating incentives for organizations to improve OHS processes and outcomes?”
The team searched for English-language studies related to this question that were published in peer-reviewed journals between January 1990 and June 2013. In the end, 43 studies were rated of sufficient quality to be included in the review.
Besides finding strong evidence that inspections with penalties reduce work-related injuries, the team also found strong evidence that inspections without penalties do not reduce injuries.
“This further confirms that specific deterrence – inspections resulting in penalties – is much more effective than general deterrence – the possibility of being inspected,” notes IWH President Dr. Cam Mustard.
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