Researchers uncover the key to promoting safety in the workplace

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New research has found that motivated employees who take initiative at work could hold the key to making Australian workplaces safer.

The research involving Curtin University researchers, published in the European Journal of Work and Organisational Psychology, examined the role of safety in the workplace, what motivates an employee to initiate safety-related change in their jobs, and the positive impact this has on an organisation.

Co-author Professor Mark Griffin, Director of the Future of Work Institute based at Curtin University, said workplace safety was more than simply following the rules, yet organisations often responded to risks with more rules and stricter compliance requirements.

“Employers need to not only ensure that their employees are compliant with the safety rules and procedures in place but instead take initiative and act proactively when faced with challenging situations that may put other colleagues at risk,” Professor Griffin said.

“Our research showed that employees who were compliant with the safety rules in an organisation, but did not take initiative, were less likely to be effective when it came to dealing with risks and hazards in the workplace.”

Co-author ARC Laureate Fellow Professor Sharon Parker, from the Centre for Transformative Work Design at Curtin’s Future of Work Institute, said employees played a critical role in helping stem the disturbing level of workplace incidents and injuries around the world.

“Most employees have the skills, expertise and local knowledge to prevent problems and accidents in the workplace, but we wanted to understand why only some will go the extra step to initiate better overall safety,” Professor Parker said.

“Our research also showed that employees who took ownership of situations, had strong capabilities and a future-focused outlook were more likely to make changes that improved workplace safety when they faced a potential difficulty or stressful event.”

The research was conducted with researchers from Leeds Beckett University in the UK and co-authored by researchers from Curtin University.

One thought on “Researchers uncover the key to promoting safety in the workplace

  1. Whilst this may be the key, it is also commonly a sticking point with employers. Some employers will proactively target a HSR or Whistleblower, threaten them to stem their proactiveness because it is becoming disruptive to the business.

    Managers who proactively engage in targeting HSRs and Whistleblowers need to be purged from the business. These managers blame everyone except themselves for workplace safety breaches.

    Their behaviour can result in:

    (1) less safety reporting;
    (2) safety reporting only if the manager supports the safety report; and
    (3) intimidation of proactive safety leaders in the workforce

    Example

    An aircraft maintenance employee raises a safety report about an inaccessible eyewash station in a hangar due to electrical cable coiled on a pallet as part of routine work.

    The reporting employee is summarily criticised for not raising the issue with the supervisor first because the supervisor doesn’t want safety reports tarnishing their own reputation.

    The coiled installation is not moved, rather the reporting employee is asked to find a new location for the eyewash and change the installation.

    When faced with such behaviour, a reporting employee is likely to be less enthusiastic about safety.

    So yes, it is the key, but it is not without risk for the individual in an organisation which has a high public safety profile and doesn’t want to see reports of safety breaches tainitng that profile.

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