Trust in Communication Key to Workplace Safety

Aug. 15, 2008
Employees working in high-risk industries, such as manufacturing or construction, have to believe that there is reliable and useful safety information available before they can be expected to seek it out and act on it, according to research appearing in Communication Currents, an online publication of the National Communication Association.

“I think this study shows the importance of paying attention to the safety efficacy beliefs of individual workers,” said Kevin Real, Ph.D., from the University of Kentucky, who authored the study. “Workers who feel confident in their ability to seek out and use safety information are more likely to perceive that they are working safely.”

Real examined the communication patterns, risk perceptions and efficacy beliefs of workers in a large manufacturing plant. He used surveys to examine employee perceptions of safety information availability, information-seeking intentions and safety behaviors as they related to risk and usefulness.

Dangerous working conditions not only pose threats to the safety and livelihood of workers, but also have major ramifications that can affect families, employers and communities. The research indicates the importance of the availability of safety information and presents tips for organizations to help create more effective messages for employees:

  • Get personal – Research showed that workers preferred to receive important information verbally from their immediate supervisors. Having direct interaction about safety with the same individual in charge of productivity conveys the importance of the safety message.
  • Keep the message simple – Too many details are likely to create barriers to efficacy and cause important safety messages to be ignored. Organizations should, however, have more information available to those who seek it out.
  • Encourage positive safety behaviors – Organizations also should develop messages that focus on how to initiate pre-safety messages. Messages emphasizing the initiation of new safety behaviors (wearing safety goggles) are more like to be successful than messages that focus on the termination of certain behaviors (no horseplay).
  • Deliver messages through more than one medium – By asking workers to engage a safety message in different ways (watch it, hear it, read it), supervisors can better ensure that more workers receive it. This does not require multiple safety messages, but does require delivering the same message over various channels.

The willingness to seek out messages is also an important factor. Four separate groups of workers seek information differently based on their perceived risk while on the job.

  • Responsive individuals are those who believe they have a high risk of injury, but also believe they can take an active role in preventing any work-related injuries and are motivated to seek safety information.
  • Avoidant individuals are those who feel as if they are high risk for injury, but do not take any of the steps needed to address their safety behaviors.
  • Proactive members perceive having a low risk for injury, but believe they can prevent any injuries. These individuals are not motivated by their perceived risk as much as they are to remain injury free.
  • Indifferent individuals are those who do not believe that they have any risk of injury, or the ability to prevent such injuries.

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