What is the influence of coworkers upon the individual’s internalization of safety? Despite it being recognized as one of the most pervasive determinants of individual behaviour, social influence upon individual safety motivation has largely been overlooked by safety studies. This study operationalized group level safety climate to focus on coworker influence – an alternative to the predominant group level leadership perspective.
This exploratory, qualitative study interviewed 55 workers across three safety critical industries: firefighting, whitewater raft guiding, and paramedicine. The interviews were combined with workplace visits and six group interviews, using a theoretical proposition guided research model. The semi-structured qualitative approach allowed for the nature of the unstudied relationship between coworker influence and individual safety values to emerge. The focus of the study was at the group level.
This study found that there is significant complexity at the coworker or group level regarding safety; more so than the predominant hierarchical safety climate paradigm. The major theoretical contribution of this research is a finding that coworker influence and social identity were an active influence upon internalizing safety motivation. Shared experience, social bonding and trust allowed for the individual to socially identify with their group and internalize group safety priorities and incorporate these into self-concept. Coworker social support and trust validated the individuals’ sense of competency. This sense of competency was the first defense in dealing with work ambiguity, but more existentially, coworker endorsement of competency also anchored basic work identity. Safety at its most concrete level was about not getting hurt. Safety at its more meaningful level was about the potential harm from finding one’s self on the outside of the work group and the internal or psychological implications of such exposure.
This research adds complexity to the field of safety studies by including peer interaction and internal safety values. This research also introduces to safety studies as-yet underutilized social theories as a means of examining coworker influence and internalizing safety. In particular, self-determination theory and social identification theory are applied to group and individual level safety behaviour.