Safety as a process: From risk perception to safety activity

Tore J Larsson

The frequency of occupational accidents in the Swedish food industry and agriculture is high. This thesis has therefore explored the 'process of safety' in order to detect and analyse factors that either hinder or facilitate safety activity and to further develop intervention methods towards increased safety activity. The first study was based on in-depth interviews with 54 injured food-industry operators and their supervisors, exploring preconditions of accidents, using the qualitative method of grounded theory. Results showed that the accidents were embedded in the "normal" in which the accidents occurred without any warning. Preconditions of accidents were technical and organisational deficiencies such as insufficient communication and learning, high responsibility in combination with low control, conflicting goals, and a gap between procedures and practice. These factors influenced the safety culture toward risk acceptance and a normalisation of accidents. The second study tested a hypothetical model of the casual relationship between risk perception and safety activity as well as risk acceptance. Results were based on a cross-sectional questionnaire exploring the attitudes towards risk and safety of 315 farmers and farm workers. The results mainly confirmed two paths, one mediated by risk manageability and one by work stress, which counteracted each other The third study was an evaluation of a safety intervention methodology based on group discussions with three levels of structure. Eighty-eight farmers and farm workers divided into 9 groups gathered on seven occasions during one year. A pre-post questionnaire was used to evaluate the effects. The results showed a significant increase in safety activity. Stress as well as risk acceptance were reduced, but risk perception and perceived risk manageability did not change. The fourth study evaluated the process of the intervention. Results indicated good feasibility of the method. The social network was stated to be most beneficial and a time span was needed. The conclusions of the thesis were that the process of safety might benefit from reflecting and discussing incident experiences, detecting hindrances/facilitators to safety. Risk acceptance and normalisation of accidents may be influenced by focusing on work stress and the priority of safety, supporting a participative process of change with an honest climate.

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