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Attending Weak Signals: The Prevention of Work-related Illnesses

Journal article
Authors Ewa Wikström
Roy Liff
Ann-Charlotte Eriksson
Published in Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies
Volume 7
Issue 2
Pages 49-69
ISSN 2245-0157
Publication year 2017
Published at Gothenburg Research Institute (GRI)
Department of Business Administration, Management & Organisation
Pages 49-69
Language en
Links doi.org/10.18291/njwls.v7i2.81599
Keywords Formal information, informal information, occupational health services, qualitative, weak signals
Subject categories Business Administration

Abstract

This article examines the characteristics of communication among managers, human resource (HR) experts, and occupational health care specialists, as they deal with such informal information as weak signals in the prevention of work-related illnesses, using a theoretical framework in which the prevention of work-related illness is analogous to theory on crisis management. This is a qualitative study in which individual and focus-group interviews were conducted in a Swedish context with occupational health care specialists, managers, and HR experts. The results suggest that organizational solutions have failed and continue to fail at controlling workers’ health problems, although the main difficulty is not in identifying the ‘right’ individually oriented weak signals. Rather, it is upper management’s reliance on formal information (e.g., statistics and surveys) – because of the difficulty in supplementing it with informal information (e.g., rumors and gossip) – that makes it difficult to improve traditional health and safety work.

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