FRIDAY, Sept. 3 (HealthDay News) -- Safety is the most important workplace issue, say 85 percent of American workers.

Workplace safety, in fact, ranked first in importance among labor standards, ahead of issues such as minimum wage, family and maternity leave, paid sick days, overtime pay and the right to join a union.

That's the finding of researchers who analyzed dozens of surveys and polls conducted from 2001 to 2010 by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago.

The study was conducted for the Washington, D.C.-based Public Welfare Foundation, which includes a workers' rights program.

Even though there is widespread public concern about workplace safety, the media and public tend to pay the most attention to the issue when there are workplace disasters, said the researchers. But they noted that even when such tragedies occur, the fate of workers is often overlooked, citing the recent BP oil well disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

"Workplace safety is too often ignored or accidents taken for granted. It is striking that coverage in the media and public opinion polls have virtually ignored the 11 workers killed by the blowout and destruction of the (BP) drilling platform," Tom W. Smith, director of the NORC's General Social Survey, said in a University of Chicago news release.

The disaster is an example of how poor workplace safety can have a wide-reaching impact, he said.

Smith noted that if high levels of safety had been maintained on the drilling platform, "not only would the lives of the 11 workers been saved, but the whole environmental disaster would have been averted."

The study also found that about 12 percent of workers reported an on-the-job injury during the past year, and 37 percent said they have required medical treatment at one time for a workplace injury.

"Workplace safety should be a constant concern," Robert Shull, program officer for workers' rights at the Public Welfare Foundation, said in the news release. "Given the importance that workers themselves place on this issue, we should not have to mourn the loss of people on the job before government and employers take more effective measures to ensure that employees can go home safely after work."

More information

The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety & Health Administration has more about workplace safety.