Contrary to popular belief that the most dangerous jobs would lead to the greatest number of workplace accidents, a recent study reveals that accidents are, in fact, more prone to happen in moderately hazardous work environments.
“In highly dangerous environments, individuals engage in a high degree of safety behaviors, which offsets the chance of an accident,” said Dr. James Beck, lead author and a professor of psychology. “On the other hand, in moderately dangerous environments, people usually engage in some safety behaviors, yet most people do not engage in enough safety behaviors to avoid accidents.”
Safety behaviors are frequently perceived as burdensome and ineffective, leading to inconsistent adherence among workers.
According to Beck, under moderately dangerous conditions, people tend to underestimate the degree of safety behavior that is needed. As a result, they tend to respond to danger in a more-or-less proportional manner so that moderately dangerous situations are met with a moderate degree of safety behavior. However, the researchers found this response insufficient as “minimizing accidents requires a very sharp increase in safety behaviors, even in response to a small increase in danger.”
The authors conducted four studies. In two of the studies, historical workplace injury data were used to demonstrate that moderately dangerous environments were associated with the most accidents. The remaining two studies were experiments that had individuals complete work simulations in which they knew the level of danger and how to engage with it safely.
The experiments demonstrated that individuals under-allocate time and effort to work safely within moderately dangerous environments despite knowing about the dangers.
“It appears that the level of safety behaviors needed to offset moderate dangers is simply not very obvious or intuitive,” Beck said.
The findings provide insights into how workplace safety training programs may be designed to emphasize moderately hazardous work environments to help individuals avoid accidents.
Reference: “Moderation in all things, except when it comes to workplace safety: Accidents are most likely to occur under moderately hazardous work conditions” by James W. Beck, Midori Nishioka, Abigail A. Scholer and Jeremy M. Beus, 22 March 2023, Personnel Psychology.