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Qualitative Data

Last updated: September 15, 2019

What Does Qualitative Data Mean?

Qualitative data is virtually any type of information that can be observed and recorded that is not numerical in nature. Written documents, interviews, and various forms of in-field observation are all sources of qualitative data.

Analysis of qualitative data is commonly used in occupational health and safety to verify the implementation of safety measures, to verify the accuracy of quantitative measures, and to identify unintended or unknown characteristics of the safety process.

Safeopedia Explains Qualitative Data

Industrial hygienists utilize qualitative data as a major consideration of their workplace hazard assessments. Occupational health and safety professionals familiar with correctly applied operating procedures and hazard controls are able to use observational analysis to evaluate workplace safety controls and to assess compliance with health and safety regulations.

Use of qualitative data may be preferred to quantitative data in cases where the quantitative results are too varied to form a coherent trend or pattern, if the variables being analyzed are difficult to express in numeric terms, or if the sample size for the data is too small or idiosyncratic to provide meaningful quantitative results. While quantitative data can often be collected and analyzed according to standardized formulas, qualitative data relies on subjective observation of the data source. Because of this emphasis on subjective analysis, the interpretation of qualitative data is reliant on the expertise of the individual analyzing the data.

Quantitative forms of data analysis are often used to measure and analyze known workplace safety variables, whereas qualitative data analysis is used to discover unknown safety variables. Because qualitative analysis can reveal previously unrecognized variables impacting workplace safety, the collection of qualitative data often occurs at an earlier stage than the collection of quantitative data. This allows the qualitative data to be used to develop quantitative measures for analyzing the newly identified variable.

Qualitative interview data can be particularly helpful in determining whether a workplace behavioral or management issue could be responsible for a safety issue. For instance, workplace interviews could reveal that employees have been made to feel uncomfortable addressing a potential safety issue with their employer. As employees in developed world jurisdictions have both a right to refuse unsafe work and a right to have input on safety issues at work, such a situation would be a violation of the employer’s legal responsibilities under their relevant health and safety law (e.g. the OSHA Act).


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