October is National Safe Work Month, with the theme this year being: “Be a Safety Champion!”.
Anyone, any employee or worker, no matter your industry or role, can be a Safety Champion.
It can involve engaging in behaviours such as actively promoting, encouraging and rewarding safe behaviours, leading by example when it comes to safety, being aware of the hazards in your work environment, and complying with safety policies and laws.
Safety is a complex issue in the workplace which can be impacted by both situational factors such as the organisation’s safety culture and the behaviour of your co-workers, as well as individual factors including someone’s attitudes, beliefs, knowledge and skills in relation to safety.
While it is true that anyone can be a Safety Champion, someone’s individual attitudes and beliefs about safety may make them more naturally predisposed to being a Safety Champion.
The research literature on safety suggests that personality traits and preferences can contribute to someone’s likely behaviour at work, including someone’s tendency to avoid risks, their locus of control, and their attitudes towards drugs and violence, amongst other factors.
So let’s dig a little deeper to explore some of the more recent research on safety attitudes and beliefs.
A meta-analysis conducted by Beus et al. (2015) examined 69 different studies that looked at the big 5 personality traits (extraversion, emotional stability, openness to experience, agreeableness and conscientiousness) and the impact these different traits had on workplace safety behaviour.
Some of the more interesting findings included ‘sensation seeking’ (a sub scale of extraversion) was more strongly related to unsafe behaviours than overall extraversion. Another interesting finding from this study demonstrated that people that scored higher on agreeableness seemed less likely to engage in unsafe work behaviours. This was said to be a result of individuals that score high on agreeableness wanting to maintain positive relationships at work and caring about the wellbeing of their co-workers.
Finally, people that scored higher on conscientiousness were less likely to engage in unsafe work behaviours, suggesting that unsafe behaviour may impact their ability to achieve their work goals. This study concluded that personality traits added insight above and beyond situational factors (such as safety climate) when it comes to safety behaviour.
Another study by Haas et al. (2019) demonstrated that both locus of control as well as risk aversion (the tendency to actively avoid risks) were negatively related to near misses. A near miss is an unplanned event that did not result in injury, illness or damage, but has the potential to do so. This study concluded that people who tended to actively avoid risks and to attribute the outcome of events as a direct result of their own behaviour (as opposed to an external cause such as fate, or the environment), were less likely to experience near misses at work. The authors concluded that considering locus of control and risk aversion in workers in high risk roles, such as those in the mining industry, was vital to facilitating safe workplaces.
Other studies have focused on drug taking behaviour and attitudes towards violence and the impact these can have on safety behaviour. Frone et al. (2010) found workplace norms regarding the perceptions of how much colleagues use/approve of drinking or using drugs, predicted employee alcohol and illicit drug use before work, during the workday, and working under the influence of alcohol/drugs. Gunn et al. (2018) found that alcohol consumption resulted in clear impairments the next day to functioning of short term and long term memory, psychomotor speed and sustained attention, all which could have an impact on safety behaviours and incidents.
With regard to attitudes towards violence, Hershcovis et al. (2007) found that individual traits were important for predicting workplace aggression. Specifically, trait anger (the tendency to respond to situations with hostility) predicted interpersonal aggression as well as aggression directed towards the organisation itself.
While there are a number of factors that can impact safety behaviour in the workplace, the research indicates that an individual’s attitudes and beliefs about safety do have an impact on their safety behaviour at work. One way to ensure you have more Safety Champions in your workplace is to ensure you recruit employees that have pre-existing attitudes, beliefs and traits that are consistent with safety behaviour such as a stronger preference for avoiding risks, a high internal locus of control (or safety control), and avoidant attitudes towards drugs and violence. While some of these can be explored in an interview, the Revelian Work Safety Assessment can provide valuable insights to each of these areas, allowing you to gather more relevant information about whether you are recruiting Safety Champions into your workforce.
Bues, J. M., Dhanani, L. Y. & McCord, M. A. (2015) A meta-analysis of personality and workplace safety: Adressing unanswered questions. Journal of Applied Psychology. 100(2), 481-498. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0037916
Frone, M. R., & Brown, A. B. (2010) Workplace substance-use norms as predictors of employee substance use and impairment: A Survey of U.S. Workers. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. 71 (4). 526-534. doi: https://doi.org/10.15288/jsad.2010.71.526
Gunn, C. Mackus, M., Griffin, C., Munafo, M. R., & Adams, S. (2018) A systematic review of the next day effects of heavy alcohol consumption on cognitive performance. Addiction, 113. 2162-2193. doi: 10.1111/add.14404
Haas, E. J. & Yorio, P. L. (2019) The role of risk avoidance and locus of control in workers’ near miss experiences: Implications for improving safety management systems. Journal of Loss Prevention in the Process Industries. 59. 91-99. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jlp.2019.03.005
Hershcovis, S. M., Turner, N., Barling, J., Arnold, K. A., Dupre, K.,E… (2007) Predicting workplace aggression: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology. 91(1). 228-238. doi: 10.1037/0021-9010.92.1.228