“When it comes to their health, workers always know best.” (Workers Health International Newsletter No. 42).” Analyse the different research methods that unions and workers use to identify ill health caused by work.
The topic I have chosen to look into for this assignment will be “When it comes to their health, workers always know best.” (Workers Health International Newsletter No. 42).” Analyse the different research methods that unions and workers use to identify ill health caused by work. I have chosen to look into this subject to see what different research methods are out there and what kind of information we can gather from them. I will do this by analysing and evaluating each known method, and then establishing which is more suitable for my own workplace.
I intend to be able to use some of these research methods on my members and in my workplace, to see if there are any potential hazards in the workplace. After trying out some of these research methods I will collate the data and if an issue is raised create a plan of action to eliminate the problem. I also intend to share my findings with my members and present this data at the next health and safety meeting.
What types of research method is there?
A simple research method would be to “look and listen” by this I mean observe your surroundings, listen to members concerns, check things like the accident book or has there been a number of claims? Another type of research can be to do comparisons between different things in the workplace for example does one area have more accidents then another or does an area have additional hazards compared to others. A really useful research method for trying to find out if there is a specific health problem with your work is body mapping. Body mapping is a way of identifying common patterns of health problems amongst workers in a particular workplace or doing the same job.
Whilst it is not certain that any such common ailments are work-related, it highlights areas for further investigation. A similar technique is risk mapping/hazard mapping where instead of highlighting areas of pain on the body like a body map does this highlights risks on a map of the workplace. From this map you will be able to build up a clear picture of where the hazards lie in the workplace.
One of the most popular types of research is to do a survey, this may be because there are lots of different ways you can do surveys and you can tailor them to be as specific as you want. You don’t even have to come up with the questionnaire yourself as there are a lot of pre made ones online which may fulfil your needs. Another research method is to examine records to see if you can find any anomalies or similarities in the data. Records can range from asbestos registers to pesticide passports.
Pros and cons of research methods
One of the pros of body mapping is that it is a simple starting point to be able to identify health problems within the workforce. Another advantage is that it is very easy to set up, and very quick to be able to participate in, even those with disabilities and those who are not English speaking can partake, which should encourage people to take part. The results can be swiftly obtained, and are clear and easy to present to management. A strength of using this method is that it can raise health and safety awareness in the workplace, and then finally body mapping can be anonymous, hopefully encouraging more members to get involved.
A weakness of the body mapping method is that it is only a starting point for investigation, and it is hard to pin down to work issues, and so you would need to follow it up with different research methods, for example: surveys and discussions to try and highlight what the hazard may be. A disadvantage is that all employees’ who have taken part would need to do the same job in order for the data to work or you have to do multiple body maps (the hazards may vary from job to job).
One of the advantages of using the survey method is that it can be conveyed in multiple ways, such as email, internet, paper or post. This style of research makes it easy to target large populations of people. Another pro is that the survey can be as specific or general as you like, dependent upon the questions you wish to ask. You can ask open questions which will give you detailed responses, or closed questions which are quick to interpret data from and you will get fast results.
By using this method you can repeatedly use the same survey over a period of time to assess any changes that may be taking place. A disadvantage of this method is that survey design often requires special skills from the researcher in sampling proper question design and analysis. Another weakness is open questions can create a lot of data which is time consuming to analyse and it may also put people off participating. Surveys might not be accessible to all members, such as foreign workers or people with disabilities. Another drawback is that it is difficult to get people to participate as it takes too much time to complete or they cannot be bothered.
By using the risk mapping method, it can highlight to workers any potential hazards that they may be exposed to, and any physical, chemical or biological problems that might arise when doing the job. Workplace risk mapping is a technique where workers can get together to get these concerns down on paper. This approach takes the control away from experts like health and safety professionals, by using the knowledge of workers and acknowledging the essential contribution they make, and are developed from everyday experiences. Risk maps can be enhanced if the hazards are coded using colours or symbols, it may even be possible to match these codes to areas with body mapping results. An advantage of using this method is that it can allow workers to keep track of management’s activities to remedy the hazards the map has identified.
A disadvantage of the risk mapping method is workers may lack interest in the process, and wish to ignore hazards in their work area, especially if they have been doing the job for a long time, not wishing to change from what they have been doing (they may be scared of change). A weakness can be seen to be employers not enforcing the findings of the risk mapping, therefore encouraging members to work unsafely. There could be an issue with members not wanting to take part due to a worry of pressure from management to ‘get the job done’. A weakness could be that if there is a lack of commitment from employers once issues have been highlighted, there could be a delay in the risk being removed or controlled.
Conclusion and recommendations
After analysing various types of research methods, it is clear that no method is perfect. It seems that depending upon the type of data required, this may determine which method is best to be rolled out. Even the possibility that one research method might not be enough to get all data required (the body mapping method may only be a starting point), and so more than one method may be suitable in certain cases. From analysing this data, when approaching the workforce it may be better to use more than one approach in order to accurately report potential risks to management. This approach will not only make the data more precise, but also make the case more conclusive. After looking into all the different research methods I intend to recommend that either the TU or the company, or both utilise some of the research methods, starting with body mapping and leading on from there to other techniques.
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