Sensitivity to social information, social referencing, and safety attitudes in a hazardous occupation.J Occup Health Psychol. 2014 Oct; 19(4):425-36.JO
Social referencing, or seeking information cues from others, occurs when a worker must make sense of those aspects of work, like safety hazards, that are ambiguous. This is a central argument of Social Information Processing Theory (SIPT), a social referencing and job characteristics theory of work attitudes. Adapting SIPT to the understanding of safety perceptions and attitudes, this paper hypothesizes relationships between the worker's sensitivity to social information, the worker's social safety cognitions, and the worker's own safety attitudes. Findings from a field study of workers in a hazardous occupation, emergency care/firefighting, confirmed SIPT-predicted relationships among these factors: the worker's belief in management's willingness to provide a safe work environment, the degree of risk the worker associates with his or her job, the worker's concern about the frequency of exposure to hazards, and the worker's personal experiences with hazards. These findings also suggest that a social referencing and job characteristics perspective like SIPT provides a logical and useful theoretical framework for understanding workers' interpretations of safety conditions. This perspective also helps relate theories of safety attitudes to a broad set of theories of social information and organizational behavior.