Citations, penalties from inspectors reduce workplace injuries

In brief

  • General deterrence — that is, the potential to be inspected, cited and fined — is less effective in reducing injuries than the specific deterrence effect of an actual inspection.
  • Citations and penalties, which are examples of specific deterrence, do have an impact. This suggests that, for regulation to be effective, regulators need to "be in the field" undertaking investigations and actively seeking out cases of non-compliance for regulation to be effective.

Why was this review done?

Regulators and insurers use two general policy approaches to create safer workplaces and reduce injury rates: regulation and financial incentives. Governments use occupational health and safety (OHS) regulation to set and enforce standards of workplace practice. Compensation boards use experience rating. With experience rating, the insurance premiums paid by workplaces are tied to their compensation claim activities. Experience rating is widely used by workers' compensation authorities across Canada and the United States. This review looked at the research evidence on the effectiveness of these two approaches.

How was the review done?

A systematic review was conducted to identify studies in journals, books, reports and theses. Reviewers evaluated all studies that met the criteria to be included for the topic under review. The strength of evidence was ranked based on the quality, quantity and consistency of studies on a particular policy.

What did the researchers find?

For actual citations

  • There is strong evidence that actual citations and penalties reduce the frequency or severity of injuries. (This evidence is based on consistent findings from at least three high-quality studies.)
  • There is limited to mixed evidence that the threat of inspections, citations and penalties deter the frequency or severity of injuries.

For OHS regulations

  • There is mixed evidence that introducing OHS regulations is associated with a decline in the frequency of injuries.

For experience rating

  • There is moderate evidence that the degree of experience rating reduces the frequency or severity of injuries.
  • There is moderate evidence that introducing experience rating reduces the frequency of injuries. (This evidence is based on consistent findings from at least three studies of medium- or high-quality.)

What are some strengths and weaknesses of the review?

One of the key strengths of this review was the comprehensive search of the research on this topic. Reviewers searched journals, books and unpublished reports, theses and working papers. Another strength was the structured approach to identifying, evaluating and synthesizing the research.

Publication Information



Tompa E, Trevithick S, McLeod C


Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health, 2007: vol. 33, no. 2, pp. 85-95