An injury-free workplace requires attention to three basic domains: the environment (including tools, equipment, and climate of the work setting), the person (including attitudes, beliefs, and personalities of the employees), and behavior (including safe and at-risk work practices, as well as intervening for a coworker's safety). These factors are interactive, dynamic, and reciprocal. Influencing one factor eventually has impact on the other two. For example, changes in the environment have indirect effects on peoples' behaviors and attitudes, and behavior change usually results in attitude change and some change in the environment. Thus, to achieve and maintain an injury-free workplace, employees need to address each of these domains daily during the development, implementation, and evaluation of intervention strategies to remove environmental hazards, decrease at-risk behaviors, increase safe behaviors, and provide more user-friendly or ergonomically-sound work stations (cf. Geller, 2001).
This presentation focuses on the person (or personality) factors that contribute to the safety performance of an organization. Piles of research in psychology show that personality factors influence behavior. In fact, the first involvement of psychology in safety focused on finding the "injury-prone personality". Methods of studying such a concept varied dramatically over time, and potential explanations for why some people seemed to suffer more injuries than others ranged from chance or "bad luck" to innate personality characteristics or traits. Each of these explanations and their accompanying methodologies suffered flaws, leading to studies that produced inconsistent or ambiguous results (Hadden, Suchman, & Klein, 1964; McKenna, 1983; Shaw & Sichel, 1971).
Therefore, data related to the control of injuries with person factors were often misinterpreted, creating miscommunication and confusion among researchers and leading many to scoff at the concept of injury proneness. Nevertheless, the idea that person factors determine unintentional injury resurges in the literature every decade or so, often by a consultant with a new employee selection tool or a researcher identifying prior miscommunications and urging further study.
Over the past several decades, safety researchers have largely focused their efforts on environment and behavior factors, mainly because these are readily observable and can be reliably measured. These environmental and management-systems strategies did not fail. They tackled the low-hanging fruit and prevented numerous injuries and fatalities as a result. However, today the context has changed for many leading-edge companies. With environmental conditions and management systems more safety relevant, appropriate attention to the human dynamics of safety (including personality factors) will reap observable benefits.
Here we want to provide a context for understanding the role of personality in industrial safety and health. This could provide increased awareness and understanding of the diversity of individual differences related to injury prevention and inform the development of interventions to improve safety-related attitudes and behaviors.