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Global Vision:
The Psychology of Safety 

Mark A. Griffin and Boris Kabanoff
Queensland University of Technology

Safety at work is of immense concern to employees and organizations. Despite the importance of the topic, research into safety has not been well integrated with I-O psychology. Compared to other work outcomes, occupational health and safety issues are often investigated through different research literatures, administered by different management functions, and monitored by different legislative mechanisms. In recent years, a number of research programs have built bridges between the mainstream I-O psychology and the general management of safety (e.g., Hofmann & Morgeson, 1999; Hofmann & Stetzer, 1996; Reason, 1990, 1995).

In this issue we report on five international research programs that are integrating psychological approaches to safety with broader management practices. These programs are characterized by researchers with strong industry links and well-articulated research programs. Below, we describe some of the key people in each program, the types of projects they are conducting, and contact details. The review is not exhaustive; there are many other quality programs around the world. However, the descriptions provide some indication of the depth and diversity of research that is currently increasing the application of I-O psychology to the creation of safer workplaces. 

IsraelTechnion University of Technology 

The first research program is led by Dov Zohar at the Technion University of Technology, Israel. Dov has been an influential figure in the psychology of safety, particularly safety climate (Zohar, 1980) for quite some time. He continues to add to the development and understanding of this area (Zohar, 2000). Researchers investigating safety at the Technion come from various disciplines including I-O psychology, human factors, engineering, and medicine. Research projects are often conducted in an interdisciplinary fashion, under the umbrella of the Research Center for Work Safety and Human Engineering.

The research group has conducted work in a variety of industries, spanning from aerospace and chip manufacturing, through metal and chemical processing to the (high-accident) building and agricultural industries. The research also includes some defense industries, as well as army field-units and air force squadrons.

Key I-O research issues addressed by the research include improved measurement of organization and group-level safety climates, group leadership as a factor in occupational safety, modification of supervisory safety practices as a means for improving workgroup safety records, and identification of group-level factors in occupational safety (e.g. coordination, cohesion). The research program has achieved substantial practical outcomes. The work has resulted in the development of better climate assessment tools based on integration of universal and tailored (industry- or mission-specific) components. This ties in with action research on methods for climate improvement, for example using hierarchical feedback concerning managerial and supervisory safety practices.

Future directions and key issues from the I-O perspective include better integration of behavioral safety with recent advances in organizational behavior research. For example, studying the role of leadership factors and the effect of leadership training on safety outcomes, using a broader spectrum of motivation constructs, and adopting a wider view of training in the context of safety research. The researchers can be contacted through Dov Zohar, Faculty of Management, Technion Institute of Technology, Haifa 32000, Israel (e-mail: dzohar@tx.technion.ac.il). 

AustraliaThe University of New South Wales 

The second research program is based at the University of New South Wales, Australia. The team includes Michael Quinlan, Phillip Bohle, Claire Mayhew, and Ann Williamson. A key project for the research team examines the effects of precarious employment (temporary workers, contractors, etc.) on safety processes and outcomes in three industries (transport, telecommuting, and hospitality). There is a growing body of international research pointing to serious adverse health effects associated with the increased use of contingent workers and associated organizational restructuring (e.g., Probst & Brubaker, in press). The research aims to identify the extent of these effects, the underlying risk factors, and appropriate organizational and regulatory responses. It is also intended to develop a comparative dimension to the research via collaboration with overseas researchers.

The research team recognizes that there have been significant changes to work organization and employment structures in virtually all industrialized countries and the effects of these changes, including those on safety and health, are likely to prove a key issue for I-O psychology over the next decade. The Australian research team has strong collaborative links with European researchers. Recent work is published in Frick, Jensen, Quinlan, & Wilthagen (2000). Michael Quinlan can be contacted at School of Industrial Relations and Organizational Behaviour, University of New South Wales, Sydney, 2052 (e-mail: m.quinlan@unsw.edu.au). 

EnglandThe Institute of Work Psychology,
University of Sheffield 

The international collaboration based at the Institute of Work Psychology is based on the premise that improvements in occupational safety come through design, not destiny. Key researchers are Nick Turner from the Institute and Sharon Parker, now located at The Australian Graduate School of Management, The University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. Their research, which spans multiple levels of analysis and three continents, focuses on how managers and employers can improve employee safety through work and organizational design.

Their current microlevel research investigates how changes in work organization (e.g., a move from traditionally managed teams to semi-autonomous teamworking) at several Scottish petrochemical sites affect employee safety. The issue of empowerment and safety is controversial in safety-critical industries like petrochemicals. Proponents argue that the benefits of providing employees with greater autonomy and responsibility should carry over to proactive hazard identification, evaluation, and control. However, opponents have argued that decentralizing authority in high-hazard operations hinders an integrated understanding with the potential for a reduction in safety. Parker and Turner are also collaborating with Julian Barling (Queens University, Canada) and other colleagues in the UK on more macro-level safety research. An ongoing study explores the relationship between HRM practices and organizational injury rates using a large sample of UK companies. The next step in this research is to broaden the focus to include relationships between organizational practices, safety performance, and traditional performance measures such as financial performance or productivity. In the last few years, Turner and Parker have brought together safety researchers from around the world and have helped to boost the profile of safety in I-O research by organizing symposia at recent Academy of Management, SIOP, and Australian conferences. The research is also raising questions for further research. For example, one of the assumptions underlying most micro safety research is that concepts such as safety or injury have stable meanings, although their work with employees and managers across a number of companies contradicts this assumption.

A recent publication of their work (Parker, Axtell, and Turner) is in press. Nick Turner can be contacted at the Institute of Work Psychology, The University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK, S10 2TN (e-mail: nick.turner@sheffield.ac.uk). Sharon Parker can be contacted at The Australian Graduate School of Management, The University of New South Wales, Sydney, 2052 (e-mail: sharonp@agsm.edu.au). 

ScotlandUniversity of Aberdeen

The Industrial Psychology Group at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland specializes in the application of psychology to safety and emergency response in high reliability organizations. The group has conducted research and consultancy with the offshore oil and gas industry since 1986 and also with nuclear power, conventional power, civil aviation, and medicine (anesthetics). The main areas of interest include measuring and managing safety culture and climate, crew resource management, and performance of teams in high-risk domains. They also conduct projects on human factors in accident analysis, benchmarking health and safety management, and decision making in emergencies.

The group is currently implementing a wide range of projects such as the development of a behavioral markers taxonomy for anaesthetists nontechnical skills and evaluation of a nontechnical skills behavioral marker system (NOTECHS) for European pilots. Much of their work deals with managing decision making in emergency situations. They are currently conducting training for emergency management on nuclear plants, decision making by fireground commanders, prison emergency response teams, crisis management in police officers, and safety on oil platforms.

Group members are Professor Rhona Flin, Kathryn Mearns, Peter McGeorge, Kristina Lauche with researchers Rachael Gordon, Margaret Crichton, Paul OConnor, Georgina Fletcher, Angela ODea, and doctoral students Patrick Tissington, Robin Bryden, Steven Yule, Calvin Burns, Anne Sneddon, Bill Rattray, and Majeed Khader. Professor Eduardo Salas (University of Central Florida), an honorary professor of the University, is collaborating on the team skills projects.

Clients and research sponsors are Agip, AMEC, Amerada Hess, British Energy, British Petroleum (BP), British Gas, Chevron, Coflexip Stena, Civil Aviation Authority, Conoco, DERA, EC (DGTREN), Elf, Fire Service College, Halliburton, Health and Safety Executive, Kerr McGee, National Power, Phillips, Powergen, Salamis, Schlumberger, Shell, Talisman, Texaco, Total, and UK Nuclear IMC.

Details of the groups current projects and publications can be found on the Internet at www.psyc.abdn.ac.uk/serv02.htm. The group can be contacted through Professor Rhona Flin, Department of Psychology, University of Aberdeen, Kings College, Old Aberdeen AB242UB, Scotland. (e-mail: r.flin@abdn.ac.uk). 

GermanyForschungsstelle Systemsicherheit FSS
(Research Center Systems Safety) 

The FSS, founded in 1990, is part of the Division of Work and Organizational Psychology of the Berlin University of Technology. It is directed by Professor Bernhard Wilpert. FSS focuses its research on the role of Human Factors in safety and reliability of organizations with high hazard potential.

The research focus in the past years was directed towards the conditions for high hazard organizations to learn from their operational experience. In the pursuit of this objective, FSS developed an incident analysis methodology Safety through Organizational Learning SOL to be used in nuclear industry. SOL is based on socio-technical systems thinking and psychological theories of the genesis of incidents (accidents, near-misses). It facilitates the systematic retrospective analysis of systems breakdowns in using a problem-solving approach instead of the received checklist or fault-tree approaches. The methodology has been tested experimentally and in practice realms (nuclear power plants, chemical plants, civil aviation), is easy to use by practitioners (e.g., nuclear plant staff), economical and effective. Its modules enable systematic incident reports for incident data bases or regulators. SOL is now available in different languages as a computer-assisted version which offers heuristics for corrective actions. It has been adopted by nuclear plants.

Further FSS research covers the analysis of safety culture in an East European nuclear plant, a European consortium research on organizational factors and nuclear safety. A recent extension of the research scope concerns the application of the methodology to operation theatres and intensive care units.

FSS research is always conducted in interdisciplinary fashion through a worldwide net of cooperating research institutions. Its work is funded by German governmental agencies, the European Union, the Berlin University of Technology, and industry. Two recent examples of their work are Falbruch and Wilpert (1999) and Wilpert and Falbruch (1998). Professor Wilpert can be contacted at the Institute of Psychology, Berlin University of Technology, Franklinstr, 28, FR 3-8, D-10587 Berlin, Germany (e-mail: bernhard.wilpert@tu-berlin.de). 


The five research programs provide a brief glimpse of the active work being undertaken to integrate safety management with broader management issues in organizations. The programs cover a wide range of issues and all of them integrate I-O psychology with wider systemic issues concerning safety. Each program has clear practical application and also suggests rich lines of enquiry for further research.


Fahlbruch, B. & Wilpert, B. (1999). System safetyAn emerging field for I-O psychology. In C. L. Cooper & I. T. Robertson (Eds.), International review of industrial and organizational psychology, 1999 volume 14 (5591). New York: Wiley.

Frick, K, Jensen, P., Quinlan, M., & Wilthagen, T. (Eds). (2000). Systematic occupational health and safety management: Perspectives on an international development. Oxford: Elsevier.

Hofmann, David A; Morgeson, Frederick P. (1999). Safety-related behavior as a social exchange: The role of perceived organizational support and leader-member exchange. Journal of Applied Psychology, 84, 286296.

Hofmann, David A; Stetzer, Adam. (1996). A cross-level investigation of factors influencing unsafe behaviors and accidents. Personnel Psychology, 49, 307339.

Parker, S. K., Axtell, C., & Turner, N. (in press). Enhancing employee safe working: The roles of job enrichment, communication quality, and supportive supervision. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology.

Reason, J. (1990). Human error. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Reason, J. (1995). A system approach to organizational error. Ergonomics, 38, 17081721.

Wilpert, B., Fahlbruch, B. (1998). Safety-related interventions in interorganizational fields. In A. Hale & M. Baram (Eds.), Safety management: The challenge of change (235248). Amsterdam: Elsevier.

Zohar, D. (1980). Safety climate in industrial organizations: Theoretical and applied implications. Journal of Applied Psychology, 12, 7885.

Zohar, D. (2000). A group-level model of safety climate: Testing the effect of group climate on microaccidents in manufacturing jobs. Journal of Applied Psychology. 85, 587596.

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