Workers are concerned about safety in their workplace more than anything else, states a new study at the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.
It was found that more than eight of ten workers - 85 percent - rate workplace safety first in importance among labor standards, even ahead of family and maternity leave, minimum wage, paid sick days, overtime pay and the right to join a union.
The study, 'Public Attitudes Towards and Experiences with Workplace Safety', draws on dozens of surveys and polls conducted from 2001 to 2010 by NORC.
Despite widespread public concern about workplace safety, the study also found that the media and the public tend to pay closest attention to safety issues when disastrous workplace accidents occur.
Even during those tragedies, the fate of workers is often overlooked, such as during the recent oil well disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
"Workplace safety is too often ignored or accidents taken for granted. It is striking that coverage in the media and public opinion polls have virtually ignored the 11 workers killed by the blowout and destruction of the drilling platform." Questions instead focused on the environmental impact of the disaster and overlooked worker safety, Smith pointed out. But he noted that "if optimal safety had been maintained, not only would the lives of the 11 workers been saved, but the whole environmental disaster would have been averted," said Tom W. Smith, director of NORC's General Social Survey (GSS).
Robert Shull, program officer for workers' rights at the Public Welfare Foundation, said: "Workplace safety should be a constant concern. Given the importance that workers themselves place on this issue, we should not have to mourn the loss of people on the job before government and employers take more effective measures to ensure that employees can go home safely after work."
Despite a decrease in workplace fatalities, the study found that reports of workplace injuries remained high.
Although most workers say they are satisfied with safety conditions at work, they also report job-related stress, a contributing factor to injury.
The study done for the Public Welfare Foundation found that about 12 percent of workers reported an on-the-job injury during the past year, and 37 percent said they have required medical treatment at one time for a workplace injury.
"Unsafe working conditions end up costing the public dearlyBut no matter what the cost to the general public, the workers and their families pay the highest price," added Shull.