Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Research: Why do workers take safety risks?

One of the more vexing aspects of workplace injury is when workers appear to disregard safety hazards and protocols and expose themselves to occupational hazards. Employer apologists often weaponize such events by blaming the victim of injuries.

I recently ran across an article entitled “Why Do Workers Take Safety Risks?—A Conceptual Model for the Motivation Underpinning Perverse Agency” that proposes a model by which we might understand worker decision making when faced with dangerous routine and novel tasks. The full text of the article appears to be available online if you want to read it.

The crux of the article is:
This Risk, Agency, and Safety & Health (RASH) model proposes that people willingly expose themselves to chronic injuries via a series of risk-taking processes.

This causal chain starts with personal motivation and over-alignment with organisational purpose (including impression management).

Ideally, that motivation would be moderated by an ability to predict future harm consequences from the task at hand, but that mechanism is weak because it is difficult to predict cause and effect, the consequences are too far in the future, and the opportunities for vicarious learning are few.

The motivation then causes misdirected creativity, hence the development of personally novel ways of solving the problem, albeit with greater risk of harm. Perverse agency then sustains actions that exposure the person to harm.
The paper does focus a lot on workers’ decision making and the underlying motives. But there is acknowledgement that worker decisions do not occur in a vacuum. Instead, workers’ approaches to tasks and safety may be negatively influenced by “over-alignment with organizational purpose” and the reward and cultural structure of the workplace (which are management creations).

Further, the nature of many occupational injuries may retard workers’ ability to grasp the consequences of the behaviour and adjust accordingly. Overall, a thought-provoking analysis of decision-making around safety.

-- Bob Barnetson

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