Oregon forestry workers who were injured on the job were more likely to fully recover if they received treatment and support from their employers, according to a recent study at the University of Washington. Those workers also reported that their employer promoted safety through policies, practices, and resources—indicators of a healthy safety climate.
The NIOSH-funded survey, which was published in the Journal of Agromedicine, focused primarily on Latino workers, who are heavily represented in the state’s forestry industry. Most of the injured workers did not receive adequate treatment or support after work-related injury or illness.
Latino workers in a variety of industries and may be at greater risk for work-related injury and illness due to language, cultural, and socioeconomic barriers. To understand how safety climate affects their treatment and recovery after injury or illness, researchers interviewed 23 of these workers in southern Oregon. The research participants were Mexican males, with an average age of 30 years and an average of 3 years on the job, who were injured or sickened at work within the past 2 years.
The interviews focused on six factors: 1) work conditions, 2) job tasks, 3) employer safety practices, 4) injury or illness, 5) medical treatment, and 6) workers’ compensation benefits. When participants reported their injuries or illnesses to management and received medical treatment and workers’ compensation benefits, researchers categorized the incident as “system functional.” When participants faced challenges like employers instructing them not to report injuries and illnesses and losing their jobs for doing so, and difficulties in getting medical treatment and workers’ compensation benefits, they categorized the incident as “system failure.”
Reported injuries and illnesses included broken bones, chainsaw cuts, back pain, and heat- and pesticide-related illnesses. Interview responses showed that two-thirds of these incidents fell under system failure and one-third under system functional. In terms of safety climate, most participants reported at least one indicator at their workplace. Overall, researchers found that workers in companies with more safety climate indicators were more likely to recover. Additionally, injured workers who had an interpreter at their medical exams unaffiliated with their employers also had better outcomes. According to the researchers, these findings indicate that a healthy safety climate can help improve recovery for injured forestry workers, especially among vulnerable immigrants and other minority workers.
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