What causes accidents? – industrial safety

What causes accidents? – industrial safety – Workplace Performance

The influence of individual, group, and organizational behavior on industrial safety is addressed by David A. Hofmann and Adam Stetzer in the 1996 Personnel Psychology (vol. 49). According to the authors, a number of organizational factors that affect safety performance have been identified. They include pressure to complete work quickly, inadequate organizational procedures for routine hazards, ineffective communication on safety and a focus on production as opposed to safety at the management level.

Less is known about how these factors operate at an individual or a group level. Hofmann and Stetzer suggest that work pressure may lead to perceptions that short cuts are necessary to meet demands. Lack of communication may set norms that discourage approaching others engaged in unsafe behavior. Other factors might include the degree of emphasis on safety in work groups and the development of work plans with enough time allowed for safe performance. Finally, the actions of management set a “safety climate” for the organization.

To shed light on safety-performance issues, Hofmann and Stetzer surveyed 204 employees of a chemical plant on their perceptions of work pressure, group process, and safety climate. Each employee answered questions on performance pressure, work-group process, safety climate, and approaching other team members about unsafe behavior, in addition to a set of questions on the frequency with which they engaged in a number of unsafe behaviors. The latter was used in tandem with recordable accidents to measure safety performance.

As the authors predicted, individual performance pressure was associated with unsafe behavior, as were group process, safety climate, and on willingness to approach others regarding safety-related issues. Thus, for individuals, less-than-adequate time, training, and resources–all dimensions of performance pressure–were associated with unsafe behavior, as was an ineffective work group, a negative perception of safety climate, and a lack of willingness to approach team members about safety.

Team-level analyses indicated that safety climate and unsafe behaviors were associated with accidents, while group process and willingness to approach others about safety were somewhat related to accidents. Thus, effective groups–those that planned and coordinated efforts, had good knowledge of their jobs, shared information, and had confidence in fellow team members–engaged in less unsafe behavior, were more likely to approach members that exhibited unsafe behavior, and were associated with fewer accidents. In addition, worker perception of management commitment to safety-training programs, management participation in safety committees, review of work pace, and consideration of safety in job design–was related to both frequency of unsafe acts and accidents.

According to Hofmann and Stetzer, safety interventions tend to focus on the individual to the neglect of broader factors that may implicitly reward unsafe behavior. They indicate that safety practitioners should consider organizational diagnosis to identify root causes of unsafe behavior and accidents. In this example, role overload may call for an individual intervention, but the findings on group process call for team-level interventions. In addition, negative perceptions of the safety climate among some teams suggest that management can more strongly emphasize safety.

COPYRIGHT 1996 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group