Perceptions of personal vulnerability to workplace hazards in the Australian construction industry.J Safety Res. 2011 Aug; 42(4):253-8.JS
The importance of risk perception for workplace safety has been highlighted by the inclusion of risk appraisals in contemporary models of precautionary behavior at work. Optimism bias is the tendency to think that negative events are less likely to happen to oneself than to the average person, and is proposed to be related to the reduced use of precautions.
Building on studies of optimism bias for workplace hazards using samples with heterogenous risk profiles, the current study aimed to investigate whether optimism bias is present in a sample of workers exposed to similar workplace hazards. 175 Australian construction workers completed a brief survey that asked them to rate the likelihood of common construction industry hazards occurring to them and to the average worker of the same age doing the same job. Significant levels of optimism bias were found for many hazards (including being electrocuted, being trapped in a confined space, falling from heights, and causing someone else to have an injury).
Optimism bias was not related to perceived controllability, contrary to findings in other domains, yet consistent with findings of optimism bias for workplace hazards. Optimism bias was not found to be related to a reduction in safe work behaviors, though this may be due to difficulties in measuring safe or precautionary behavior, such as social desirability.
IMPACT ON INDUSTRY
That most workers think that hazards are less likely to happen to them than to the average worker presents a significant problem because it may ameliorate the efficacy of safety programs, yet constitutes a largely unexplored opportunity for improving workplace safety performance.