Three-quarters of British workers are too scared to complain about workplace safety because they fear that rocking the boat could cost them their jobs or promotion prospects.
The fear of singling yourself out as a “trouble maker” means that dangerous situations in factories, shops and offices often go unreported, a major health and safety law consultancy says.
According to the Protecting.co.uk legal company, this climate of fear surrounding a national decrease in job security could result in workplace accidents, injuries and possibly fatalities.
“We’ve spoken in confidence to hundreds of workers right across the country,” says spokesperson Mark Hall, “And the recurring theme is that reporting a safety problem is a real taboo in work places – even for the most trivial of complaints.”
Protecting.co.uk surveyed 1600 employees in offices, factories, shops and public service across the United Kingdom and found:
- 74% would be afraid to report a health and safety problem at work.
- This rose to 81% if it were something they thought trivial, such as a broken chair or a ripped carpet.
- 53% wouldn’t report a serious H&S problem such as an electrical fault or broken machinery in somebody else’s work area.
- 21% wouldn’t report a serious H&S problem such as an electrical fault or broken machinery in their own work area
The reasons given included:
- Afraid of losing my job.
- Worried about promotion prospects.
- Worried about missing out on a pay rise.
- Don’t want to be labelled a trouble maker.
“It’s a sad indictment of the way workplace relations have deteriorated in recent years,” says Mark Hall, “Employees feel they have far less job security, and would prefer to keep their heads down, even if it meant exposing themselves to danger.”
Protecting.co.uk says that media reports of whistle-blowers losing their jobs or being treated appallingly by their bosses deters people from speaking out themselves. However rare these stories, their relatively high profile – especially in public service employment such as hospitals – means that fewer people are likely to report dangers to their managers.
“We heard a lot of anecdotal evidence about people getting into trouble for complaining,” says Hall, “The survey turned up dozens of friend-of-a-friend stories that may or may not be true, but they do the rounds and scare people into silence.”
Recent changes to employment law has also deterred employees from rocking the boat over safety, Hall says. Increased fees and more complex access to Employment Tribunals mean that the number of people using the service has fallen by 59% in the last year.
“People are just too scared to take on their bosses,” says Hall. “Be it over pay, unfair dismissal, or health and safety, it’s suddenly become very hard to defend your rights.”
Protecting thinks safety in the work place is too important to be ignored, and calls for an end to this climate of fear.
“Safety shouldn’t be ignored. Workers at any level in a company should be encouraged to speak out, not fear for their livelihoods.”