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Safety Climate and Safe Driving Behaviour [Blog]

Road_200Around the world, every 60 seconds of the day, one worker dies and 60 workers have a work-related incident (International Labor Organization [ILO], n.d.). Annually, this results in around 2.3 million work-related deaths and 317 million incidents (ILO, n.d.). In Australia, 374 Australians died as a result of work-related causes over 2010-11 (Safe Work Australia, 2012).

There are many contributing factors in the causation of work-related incidents. These factors include competence, risk perception, compliance to rules, process design, training, management attitudes and commitment to safety, supervision, safety knowledge and behaviours, fatigue and more (Akerstedt et al., 2002; Christian, Bradley, Wallace & Burke, 2009; Health & Safety Executive, 2003).

Safety culture and safety climate are also important factors in the prevention of work-related incidents. Poor safety culture/climate have been linked to major industrial disasters (e.g. Piper Alpha oil platform fire and NASA Challenger space shuttle disaster; Cox & Flin, 1998), and also to higher rates of work-related safety accidents (Vredenburgh, 2002), such as falls from heights (Health & Safety Executive, 2003).

However, given hazards such as working at heights may be more reflective of particular industries (e.g. construction and utility providers), this article will focus on a hazard which is more common across industries: driving. In Australia it is estimated that a third of all road travel is work related, with approximately 30% of all registered vehicles used for work purposes (WorkSafe Victoria, 2008). Motor vehicle crashes in Australia is the leading cause of work-related deaths, accounting for approximately two-thirds of all fatal accidents (Bureau of Infrastructure, 2011).

Given that a positive safety climate is predictive of safe work behaviours of workers in general, it is perhaps not surprising that it is also predictive of safe driving behaviours. Safe work-related driving can be seen as a “form of motivated behavior that is influenced by a range of workplace and individual factors” (Newnam, Griffin & Mason, 2008, pg. 632). Findings from three recent studies will very briefly be outlined in order to explore this link.

Newnam et al. (2008) studied the influences on self-reported workplace crashes through the survey of work-related drivers (n – 380), their supervisors (n = 88), and fleet management (n – 47). Study participants were selected from six state public sector government agencies. Some of the major findings from this study were that:

  • Safety motivation of drivers predicted self-reported crashes;
  • The way drivers perceived their fleet managers’ safety values influenced their motivation to drive safely;
  • An interaction was evident between supervisors and fleet managers such that drivers were more motivated to drive safely if they perceived their supervisor and fleet manager to value safety (Newnam et al., 2008).

These findings are interesting in that they demonstrate the profound influence that supervisors and management have on their workers’ safe behaviour conduct. Quoting the authors, these findings show that “perceptions of workplace safety values are transmitted across levels of the organization” (Newnam et al., 2008, pg. 632). This confirms the notion that a clear and visible commitment to safety from management is essential in creating a safe and healthy workplace. Figure 1 highlights the interaction between supervisors’ and fleet managers’ safety values (respectively) on drivers’ motivations to drive safely.

interaction_between_supervisors_and_fleet_managers_safety_values Figure 1. How the interaction between supervisors’ and fleet managers’ safety values (respectively) influence drivers’ motivations to drive safely. Note, higher values on the Y-axis ‘motivation scale’ indicate higher motivation to drive safely. Retrieved from Newman et al. (2008, pg. 640).

Another study measured (vehicle) fleet safety climate of 323 drivers from three large Queensland organisations with large vehicle fleets (Wills, Watson & Biggs, 2004). Specifically, this study looked at how fleet safety climate influenced current work-related driver behaviour, past crash involvement while driving for work, and past traffic offences while driving for work. Some major findings from this study were:

  • A significant positive relationship was noted between fleet safety climate perceptions and the safety of work-related driver behaviour;
  • Fleet safety climate perceptions predicted current work-related driver behaviour, and were a better predictor than other psychosocial and demographic factors (such as driving experience and driving exposure, and driver safety attitudes);
  • Although there was no statistically significant difference in driver safety attitudes between those involved in a crash or not, those who reported traffic offences had significantly lower driver safety attitude scores than those who did not; and
  • Drivers not involved in a crash reported better safety climate perceptions (Wills et al., 2004).

Of interest is that these results indicate fleet safety climate influences the current fleet driver behaviours. Interestingly, fleet safety climate did not significantly predict the likelihood of a previous work-related crash or offence involvement. Taken together, these findings suggest that managers and supervisors need to consider how organisational factors can influence current driver behaviour (Wills et al., 2004).

The third study by Strahan, Watson and Lennon (2008) looked at how safety climate (e.g. safety perceptions and attitudes) and occupational stress influences work-related driver fatigue, using data from vehicle incidents and vehicle near-miss events of over 200 drivers from two state government organisations. Researching fatigue in the vehicle space is important given that between 20-30% of motor vehicle accidents are attributed to fatigue (Australian Transport Council, 2011). Researchers used a safety climate survey made up of the following dimensions: communication and procedures; work pressure; management commitment; relationships; driver training; and safety rules. Two major findings were:

  • Occupational stress and safety climate predicted self-reported fatigue-related driving; and
  • Occupational stress and safety climate strongly predicted fatigue-related near misses, with safety climate being a stronger predictor.

Once again, these findings demonstrate that organisations have great opportunity in reducing the probability of work-related vehicle accidents, through systematically addressing the dimensions of safety climate at their workplace.
Some of the key factors and initiatives that must be addressed in ensuring effective safety culture in the workplace are:

  • Provide a strong and clear safety vision
  • Ensure the ownership of safety is appropriately assigned within the organisational structure
  • Effective employee engagement strategies and the use of consultation to improve safety ‘ownership’
  • Develop both proactive and reactive organisational level safety KPIs
  • Develop a safety communication strategy
  • Communicate near misses and successes related to safety in a succinct and timely manner
  • Provide meaningful recognition of appropriate safety behaviour
  • Celebrate successes on a regular basis
  • Review the safety reporting systems for reporting near misses
  • Ensure the organisation has in place rapid, useful and intelligible feedback channels to communicate hazards, feedback and the lessons learned
  • Team and site based coaching programs

TMS has developed the following model (detailed in our previous Safety Culture white paper) that assists organisations to address safety culture.

Although all levels of the organisation contribute to the safety climate and therefore, in the creation of culture, it is the clear and visible commitment from management and supervisors that provide the building blocks of this concept. Moreover, as is clear from the previously outlined studies, it is how management and supervisors perceive safety in their organisation that provides the motivation for workers to behave safely.

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TMS Consulting