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Workplace safety and health information dissemination, sources, and needs among trade associations and labor organizations
  • Published Date:
    July 2017
  • Series:
    DHHS publication ; no. (NIOSH) 2017-166
  • Language:
    English
Filetype[PDF-816.38 KB]


Details:
  • Description:
    EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: From April 2008 to April 2009, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) conducted the survey, "Workplace Safety and Health Information Dissemination, Sources, and Needs among Trade Associations and Labor organizations." The survey obtained information from business and professional associations and labor organizations to better understand how they obtain workplace safety and health information and communicate it to their members. The organizations also provided information about their perception and use of NIOSH as a source of workplace safety and health information. Because business and professional associations and labor organizations are powerful resources for providing information to their members, the survey results are intended to improve NIOSH's efforts to partner with these organizations. Improved partnerships will enable NIOSH to better reach employers and employees with workplace safety and health information. NIOSH has a long history of partnering with individual business and professional associations and labor organizations on projects designed to prevent occupational injuries and illnesses. These associations are crucial to the mission of NIOSH because they are trusted sources of occupational safety and health information and guidance that are essential to their industry [Boléat 2003]. This study was the first effort of NIOSH to systematically obtain information from business and professional associations and labor organizations within the eight original National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) industrial sectors about the communication channels they use and the types of workplace safety and health information they provide to their members. This study also gathered feedback about their knowledge and perception of NIOSH and its products and services. Of the 2,324 organizations contacted for inclusion in the survey, only 308 completed the full survey instrument. In contrast, a total of 1,640 respondents completed a two-question short form, which allowed NIOSH to assess the extent of workplace health and safety information distribution for the overall sample. Among the 1,948 organizations responding to either the full survey instrument or the short form, approximately 40.9 % of labor organizations, 15.6% of business associations, and 9.6% of professional associations indicated they distribute workplace safety and health information to their members. Large differences were also observed between the eight NORA industrial sectors, with the construction sector having the highest percentage of organizations disseminating workplace safety and health information to their members and the service sector having the lowest percentage. Of the 308 organizations responding to the full survey instrument, over 95% of all three organization types indicated they disseminate workplace safety and health information to their members. This was in sharp contrast to the 1,640 organizations completing the short form where only 7.5% of the labor organizations, 0.8% of the business associations, and 1.5% of the professional association indicated disseminating workplace safety and health information to their members. The low percentage of organizations completing the full-survey instrument may in large part be due to the lack of occupational safety and health activities conducted within these organizations. The following are key findings for all sectors combined, among the 308 organizations responding to the full survey: 1) Disseminating workplace safety and health information: A large majority of the organizations surveyed reported disseminating workplace safety and health information to their members. Government agencies were the leading source of workplace safety and health information for business organizations and professional associations, and the second most used source for labor organizations which relied on other labor organizations as their primary source. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was the most mentioned agency. 2) Importance of workplace safety and health information and unmet workplace safety and health needs: Workplace safety and health was rated as highly important to members by most organizations. More than 25% of all three organization types indicated they had unmet workplace safety and health needs. 3) Channels of communication: Websites were the most common communication channel offered by most organization types. Of those organizations with websites, a majority indicated that they used their website to disseminate workplace safety and health information. Most organizations among all three types reported sponsoring conferences that provided workplace health and safety information and training. 4) Knowledge and perception of NIOSH and use of NIOSH information: Labor organizations and business associations were most familiar with NIOSH before the survey. Most organizations surveyed knew that NIOSH made recommendations, rather than regulations, and that NIOSH was a research institute. Almost all organizations with prior knowledge of NIOSH either agreed or strongly agreed that NIOSH is an important and credible resource for workplace safety and health information. Approximately two-thirds of labor organizations with previous knowledge of NIOSH were aware of the Health Hazard Evaluation (HHE) program, compared to 37% of professional associations and 25% of business associations. Seventy percent of labor organizations aware of the HHE program indicated they had previously used an HHE report. A majority of all three organization types indicated an interest in receiving workplace safety and health information from NIOSH, and more than half indicated an interest in having NIOSH contact them about partnering on a workplace safety and health issue. CONCLUSIONS: The findings in this report suggest that the majority of professional and business trade associations and labor organizations do not disseminate workplace safety and health information to their members. All three types of organizations have been shown to be effective intermediaries for reaching their members [Boléat 2003; Cunningham, Sinclair 2015; Wilts, Meyer 2005]. However, these survey results indicate that fewer than half of all labor organizations, 20% of business associations, and 10% of professional associations provide workplace health and safety information to their members. Given these findings, there appears to be unrealized opportunity to use these organizations as intermediaries for transferring workplace safety and health information to their members, especially within the professional and business associations. Research by Walters and Lamm [2003] and Cunningham and Sinclair [2015] highlights the engagement of these organizations in that they have the greatest chance as intermediaries to improve workplace safety and self-regulation of small-business work environments. This is especially important since small-businesses often don’t have the resources to devote to safety and health beyond the cost of association membership. Labor organizations have a tradition of holding worker safety as a core value. They have continued to invest in education and technical guidance to improve their credibility and appeal among workers [Ceniceros 2012]. Labor organizations are generally efficient in gathering and disseminating information on workplace rights and laws [Weil 2004], informing workers on issues unique to individual sectors [Viscusi 1983], and using formal and informal channels to collect and distribute information [Weil 2004]. For these reasons, partnering with labor organizations to disseminate information might be considered a best practice for improving worker safety and health. In general, the organizations in this study reported relying on the government as a trusted source of workplace safety and health information. Respondents identified approximately 40 different government agencies as sources, with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) being the most frequently mentioned. Agencies such as NIOSH have a unique opportunity to expand their partnerships with professional and business trade associations and labor organizations to address the specific workplace safety and health needs and concerns of their members. These organizations can play an important role as intermediaries for transferring tailored OSH information to union workers, professional association members, and businesses within specific industrial sectors [Chartered Quality Institute 2016]. With regard to sector-specific findings, the percentage of associations disseminating workplace safety and health information was greatest in the construction sector and lowest in the service sector. Many respondents across the sectors indicated that their organization had unmet workplace safety and health needs. These findings represent new opportunities for strengthening channels of communication and delivery, as well as building relationships with associations to address the unmet needs. A limitation of these findings is that they depict perceptions occurring between 2008 and 2009, which pre-date the proliferation of social media (such as Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook) that allow agencies such as NIOSH to provide new dissemination channels to these organizations. Advanced formats such as smartphone apps allow intermediaries to customize the information they retrieve, decide what is relevant to their industry, and repackage it for dissemination to their members. To facilitate its rapid uptake, government agencies should continue to develop and use new communication technologies when delivering workplace safety and health information to these organizations. Another observation is that responding organizations elected to participate in the study because of apparent vested interests in workplace health and safety. This potential bias could have led to more positive responses to questions about the importance of OSH issues or opinions of NIOSH as an important and credible source of OSH information.

    Suggested citation: NIOSH [2017]. Workplace safety and health information dissemination, sources, and needs among trade associations and labor organizations. By Scholl JC, Okun AH, Schulte PA, Cin- cinnati, OH: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2017-166.

    NIOSHTIC no. 20050096

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