Leadership and Climate Influence Underreporting of Workplace Accidents

Workplace accidents threaten the lives or well-being of employees, and if that is not enough of a reason to prevent them, they are also very costly to organizations. Missed work time, potential lawsuits, and increases in health care costs are all among many reasons why accidents affect an organization’s bottom line. But if organizations want to reduce the likelihood of accidents, they need to be aware of their occurrences. Labor statistics vary, but all estimate that the majority of workplace accidents go unreported. New research (Probst, 2015) uncovers two factors that influence the degree to which accidents go unreported.


Organizational climate refers to a specific focus or value of an organization that is understood and shared by all employees. When an organization has a strong safety climate, it means that they have communicated the importance of following safety procedures, and they incentivize adherence to those procedures. The author reasoned that a good safety climate would encourage employees to report accidents and not sweep them under the rug. Similarly, leadership can play a role in determining the likelihood of reporting accidents. When leaders are careful to enforce safety procedures, it may show that they care about safety and want all accidents reported.


Data from over 1200 employees in 33 different organizations showed that having a strong safety environment did not alone affect whether or not employees reported accidents. However, leadership did matter. When leaders took a proactive role in safety compliance, employees were more likely to report accidents. In their final analysis, the authors found that safety climate did play a role in tandem with leadership. When an organization’s safety climate was poor (or not made to seem important), the effects of leadership were more pronounced. In these organizations, the proactive leaders who are concerned about safety were even more influential in getting employees to report accidents.


This study shows that leaders who emphasize safety are more likely to have employees who report accidents, and this is especially true when the organizational safety climate is poor. This provides important information for companies who want to ensure that accidents are reported. Strong perceptions of a safety climate may have positive research-supported outcomes, such as fewer accidents and injuries, but organizational climate may take time to change. This article shows that, instead, leadership can change employees’ propensity to report accidents. In fact, in the absence of a strong safety climate, the leadership becomes even more influential.

Clearly, leaders who are concerned about safety will emphasize and incentivize safety. By showing that they care about safety outcomes, employees will be more likely to report accidents. This is important for the overall reduction of accidents, because, as the author notes, “What goes unreported goes unfixed.”


Probst, T. M. (2015). Organizational safety climate and supervisor safety enforcement: Multilevel explorations of the causes of accident underreporting. Journal of Applied Psychology, 100(6), 1899-1907.