Safewash! Risk attenuation and the (Mis)reporting of corporate safety performance to investors

Sharron O'Neill*, Jack Flanagan, Kevin Clarke

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


This paper responds to the recent call in Safety Science for greater academic attention to voluntary corporate disclosure of occupational health and safety information. The study extends prior literature by focusing in detail on occupational injury performance measures provided publicly by Australia's 50 largest listed firms. Content analysis of a sample of 239 annual reports issued between 1997 and 2009 revealed, as expected, firms in hazardous industries provided significantly higher rates of disclosure, in terms of both number of performance measures and frequency of reporting, than firms in less hazardous industries. Yet higher disclosure did not translate to adequate reporting on measures needed to demonstrate the prevention of serious injury. Instead, there was a strong reliance on variations of highly aggregated frequency rates often criticised in academic and practitioner safety literature. Further, evidence appeared to demonstrate strategic efforts to reduce the visibility of high-consequence safety system failures over time, thereby attenuating investor perceptions of occupational safety risk. The results provide important insights into the communication of corporate OHS performance to investors and suggest the presence of quantitative performance measures is not necessarily indicative of high quality disclosure. The findings also have important implications for the development of disclosure indices in future voluntary reporting research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)114-130
Number of pages17
JournalSafety Science
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2016


  • Annual report
  • Investor information
  • Occupational injury
  • Risk management
  • Safety performance


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