Using the past to map out the future of occupational health and safety research: where do we go from here?

Di Fan, Cherrie Jiuhua Zhu, Andrew R. Timming, Yiyi Su, Xinli Huang & Ying Lu

International Journal of Human Resource Management, Vol. 31


Recommend reason

Research in occupational health and safety (OHS) has grown significantly over the last several decades. As a complex and cross-disciplinary field of research, policy and practice, OHS interacts with a broad spectrum of stakeholders and concerns (Zohar, 2010; Beus, Mccord, & Zohar, 2016). It goes beyond the traditional emphasis on physical harm and now increasingly embraces emotional and psychological health as well as the implications of safety for individual productivity and firm performance. OHS research spans a number of fields, from epidemiology, industrial hygiene, toxicology, occupational medicine and ergonomics, to general management, organization studies and human resource management and employment relations (HRM&ER), with the latter field serving as the focus on this paper. Curiously, within organizations, OHS is one of the core responsibilities of the HR function—as evidenced by the fact that many textbooks in our field include a chapter on health and safety, but whether OHS receives the same core attention in HRM research is an open question, and one that we attempt to answer through a comprehensive literature review.

About the author

Di Fan, Swinburne University of Technology

Cherrie Jiuhua Zhu, Monash University

Andrew R. Timming, University of Western Australia

Yiyi Su, Tongji University

Xinli Huang, University of Western Australia

Ying Lu, Macquarie Business School


HR practices; literature review; occupational health and safety; workplace safety

Brief introduction

The purpose of this study is to take stock of the extant research on occupational health and safety (OHS) with the aim of identifying gaps and mapping out a future research agenda for human resource management (HRM) scholars. A comprehensive review of OHS research from 1956 to 2019 was first conducted. A total of 564 articles from 17 leading journals were then identified and categorized into five distinct, yet inter-related, themes: (1) antecedents and work-related factors influencing OHS; (2) industrial policy and regulations surrounding OHS; (3) OHS management practices; (4) approaches to, and models of, managing OHS and (5) outcomes of OHS management. The review also discusses OHS research methodologies and design foci. Overall, we found that OHS research is poorly integrated into the field of HRM, and we identify a plethora of opportunities for HR researchers to add value to this field of research. A future agenda is formulated, encompassing new OHS theory-building, novel directions for empirical research, and innovations in research design and methodology.