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Lost in translation: Institutionalised logic and the problematisation of accounting for injury

Sharron O'Neill (Faculty of Business and Economics, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia)
Geoff McDonald (Geoff McDonald & Associates Pty Ltd., Crestmead, Queensland, Australia)
Craig Michael Deegan (School of Accounting, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia)

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

ISSN: 0951-3574

Article publication date: 16 February 2015

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to seek to extend the work of Robson (1991, 1992) by exploring the accounting implications of the way in which subsets of non-financial accounting numbers are constructed. In particular, the study investigates whether the different procedures for organising subsets of a set of accounting data may lead to different conclusions about (the same) reality.

Design/methodology/approach

The empirical analysis focuses on the procedures by which organisations translate work-related injury outcomes to accounting numbers. First, existing procedures are problematised within their institutional context. This highlights complementary elements of translation and neo-institutional theory that together explain how institutional factors might operate to constrain the problematising process. An empirical analysis of workers’ compensation data covering a ten year period is then conducted to calculate and contrast performance using two competing logics of accounting for injury.

Findings

The findings demonstrate that different representations of reality may result not only from accounting choices as to “what” is measured, but also from accounting choices as to “how subsets of measured data are organised”. Specifically, different ways of organising injury data into subsets led to different representations of the reality of overall injury performance. The evidence further suggests taken-for-granted assumptions and institutionalised practices may prevent adequate problematisation of the underpinning logic that guides the procedures for organising translations of work-related injury and illness to accounting numbers.

Practical implications

The results suggest the existing logic of accounting for injury fails to recognise the financial or non-financial complexity of non-fatal injury outcomes. “Lost time injury” measures are revealed as neither valid nor reliable measures of injury (or safety) and therefore inappropriate for informing the occupational health and safety (OHS) decisions of managers, boards and external stakeholders. These findings reveal an urgent need for change in injury accounting practice and, in turn, raise serious concerns about the increasingly institutionalised global template for external disclosure of OHS performance information.

Originality/value

This paper takes a novel look at the construction of social performance measures and suggests further attention to the construction of accounting subsets is warranted. In demonstrating serious problems in accounting logic that underpin existing, and deeply institutionalised, measurement and reporting practices, the findings reinforce the need to routinely re-problematise accounting practices. Failure to critically review those accounting translations that underpin decision-making may prove a fatal mistake.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to acknowledge the feedback offered by participants at the University of Sydney and University of Wollongong accounting research seminars, the 2010 ACSEAR annual conference. In particular, the authors thank Professors Jan Mouritsen and James Guthrie, as well as the three anonymous reviewers, for their constructive and helpful comments on this paper.

Citation

O'Neill, S., McDonald, G. and Deegan, C.M. (2015), "Lost in translation: Institutionalised logic and the problematisation of accounting for injury", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 28 No. 2, pp. 180-209. https://doi.org/10.1108/AAAJ-03-2014-1625

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited