Failure to report workplace injuries is a persistent safety problem in the construction trades. In an ironic twist, new research sponsored by the Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR)  suggests that one of the reasons construction workers don't report their injuries is fear of losing incentives provided in safety programs that reward workers for limiting lost work time.

The study analyzed responses from 135 plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters about their own unreported injuries. Of the respondents, 27% admitted that they did not report work injuries at some point in their careers. Seventy-two percent of those agreed with the statement that their injuries were too small to warrant reporting.

Research in the workplace safety field suggests that no injury is too small to report: minor injuries and near-misses are perceived as indicators of weaknesses in safety protocols and are vital to the study of workplace injury prevention. In the long term, diligent reporting of all incidents can prevent major injuries and lost work hours.

However, research by Sue Dong with CPWR in 2011 indicates that as much as 75% of non-fatal injuries to Hispanic workers and 40% of non-fatal injuries to non-Hispanic white workers employed by small construction contractors are unreported.

The study, led by Jeffery Taylor Moore with the Colorado Dept. of Health and Environment, involved focus group discussions conducted with a team of researchers and paper surveys distributed to plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters on the roster of a union in the Northwest.

“It's possible you would see even more endorsement of these reasons for not reporting injuries among non-union members, because they don't have that union to support them,” says Moore.

Moore says the study found no significant difference in the reasons why the represented trades did not report injuries.

The second most common responses in Moore's study, agreed with by 47% of respondents with unreported injuries, stated that “pain is a natural part of the job” and that self-treatment, such as pain medication and anti-inflammatories, were adequate care for the injuries.

Other responses with which respondents agreed include: “I am not sure if my pain or symptoms are the result of work activities” (36%) and “I am afraid I won't be hired again...if I file a claim” (25%).

The study points out that while 14% of respondents indicated that they did not report their injuries to avoid losing an incentive for minimal lost work time, safety incentive programs have been associated with accident reduction and increased preventative safety behavior in prior research.   Moore recommends using safety incentive programs “with caution.”