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Why Do Workers Take Safety Risks?—A Conceptual Model for the Motivation Underpinning Perverse Agency

2018-06-14 19:45 | Anonymous

In this paper we explore the application of psychology to identify why workers take short cuts with their own safety. We propose a new concept of perverse agency to explain the motivations from the worker perspective.

Zuzhen (Sean) is an Engineering PhD student at the University of Canterbury, and is researching  health and safety.

This paper is free to download and reproduce - you are welcome to copy and use it within your organisation if you find it useful.

Safety 2018, 4(2), 24;


Abstract: Exposure to chronic harm is difficult to manage and prevent in industry. There is a need to better understand the state of mind when workers disregard safety processes and expose themselves to this type of risk. This paper develops a theoretical model of the reason why workers voluntarily expose themselves to occupational health and safety (OHS) hazards. This Risk, Agency, and Safety & Health (RASH) model proposes that people willingly expose themselves to chronic injuries via a series of risk-taking processes. This causal chain starts with personal motivation and over-alignment with organisational purpose (including impression management). Ideally, that motivation would be moderated by an ability to predict future harm consequences from the task at hand, but that mechanism is weak because it is difficult to predict cause and effect, the consequences are too far in the future, and the opportunities for vicarious learning are few. The motivation then causes misdirected creativity, hence the development of personally novel ways of solving the problem, albeit with greater risk of harm. Perverse agency then sustains actions that exposure the person to harm. Original contributions are the provision of a detailed explanation for risk-taking, and the integration of multiple well-established psychological constructs.

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