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J Safety Res. 2003;34(2):143-56.

Mental models of safety: do managers and employees see eye to eye?

Author information

  • 1Seattle University, Seattle, WA 98122, USA. gprussia@seattleu.edu

Abstract

PROBLEM:

Disagreements between managers and employees about the causes of accidents and unsafe work behaviors can lead to serious workplace conflicts and distract organizations from the important work of establishing positive safety climate and reducing the incidence of accidents.

METHOD AND RESULTS:

In this study, the authors examine a model for predicting safe work behaviors and establish the model's consistency across managers and employees in a steel plant setting. Using the model previously described by Brown, Willis, and Prussia (2000), the authors found that when variables influencing safety are considered within a framework of safe work behaviors, managers and employees share a similar mental model. The study then contrasts employees' and managers' specific attributional perceptions. Findings from these more fine-grained analyses suggest the two groups differ in several respects about individual constructs. Most notable were contrasts in attributions based on their perceptions of safety climate. When perceived climate is poor, managers believe employees are responsible and employees believe managers are responsible for workplace safety. However, as perceived safety climate improves, managers and employees converge in their perceptions of who is responsible for safety.

IMPACT ON INDUSTRY:

It can be concluded from this study that in a highly interdependent work environment, such as a steel mill, where high system reliability is essential and members possess substantial experience working together, managers and employees will share general mental models about the factors that contribute to unsafe behaviors, and, ultimately, to workplace accidents. It is possible that organizations not as tightly coupled as steel mills can use such organizations as benchmarks, seeking ways to create a shared understanding of factors that contribute to a safe work environment. Part of this improvement effort should focus on advancing organizational safety climate. As climate improves, managers and employees are likely to agree more about the causes of safe/unsafe behaviors and workplace accidents, ultimately increasing their ability to work in unison to prevent accidents and to respond appropriately when they do occur. Finally, the survey items included in this study may be useful to organizations wishing to conduct self-assessments.

PMID:
12737953
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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