Under-Reporting Workplace Accidents in Third-World Countries

In recent years, awareness about workplace safety and health has increased significantly. The credit goes to private health and safety training providers working in their capacity. Most of the training providers are professionals having international qualifications and work experience gained by exposure to international companies. Their continuous sharing of experience and knowledge with young students is the major contributory factor. The number of NEBOSH IGC (International General Certificate of Occupational Safety and Health) certified practitioners are growing, and knowledge of workplace safety and OSHA standards are increasing rapidly.

Young students and practitioners now actively engage in discussions about poor health and safety standards in Pakistan. On one such occasion, a young practitioner asked me for the reasons behind poor accident reporting of incidents and accidents in Pakistan.

Here are the reasons I provided to answer this critical question:

  • poor management towards health and safety
  • complicated reporting procedures
  • peer pressure
  • to save the department’s prestige
  • lack of awareness about health and safety at the workplace
  • lack of management response to previous incidents\accidents

These tend to be the same answers I currently receive from health and safety peers, as well as standard safety literature.

The following personal experiences will help us identify some more important areas in safety, including significant contributory factors towards non-reporting of work related incidents and accidents, in Pakistan and other third world countries.

In the late seventies, I was a young worker at an oil and gas production company. I noticed young people preferred not to report accidents, even if they were hurt, just to save their gallantry and to show fearlessness.

Workers also did not report incidents or accidents due to fear of losing their jobs at a young age. For example, when I was in charge of a production company, I asked a young injured worker about his failure to report the accident. He eventually told me he had a family to support and to report such an incident could be considered as a sign of compromised performance, resulting in the loss of his job.

Similarly, a shift manager did not report a quarrel at the workplace to save his family prestige. He said he feared some people might consider him a coward. Later on, he took revenge by seriously injuring the other worker involved in the incident. This act of violence could have been avoided by reporting the incident in the first place.

I have witnessed on various occasions during excavation and construction work where workers lost their lives in a cave-in or as a result of a collision with a moving vehicle. Relatives of the deceased classified the unfortunate chain of events as an act of God. This caused them to refrain from reporting the accident to authorities. Sometimes, people do not want to report workplace deaths to avoid an autopsy. They tend to think this would hurt the dead. Sometimes, the intricate legal processes are the leading cause of work-related accidents going unreported.

Another reason for failing to report an incident/accident may include an attempt to save fellow workers from disciplinary action. On one occasion, again from my personal experience, an employee of an organization hit my car with his bike from the rear while giving home delivery service and was severely injured. His co-workers came at the site and asked me to not report the incident. They informed me that the employee was already in emotional stress due to the recent loss of his father a week earlier. They thought the reporting of this accident would increase his problems. However, I decided to report the incident. After a settlement, management told the employee that reporting the incident was in his best interest.

There might be several more reasons for non-reporting of such incidents; however, talking and identifying them can help prevent future accidents. I believe this would contribute to the improvement of health and safety standards in Pakistan and other third world countries.