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Understanding the Four Factor S.A.F.E. Model - Staying in Control

February 24, 2016

First in our series on the S.A.F.E. model of SafetyDNA® is the Stays in Control factor, which consists of two main components, perceptions of internal versus external control of one’s personal safety, and controlling one’s emotions in the workplace. Do you have a coworker who seems to always have a reason (other than their actions) for why things happen to them? How about a colleague who finds it difficult to keep their cool when they are overextended or frustrated at work? Personal control is a major predictor of safety incidents, so it is important to understand why people react differently to the things around them at work and what we can do to reduce their exposure to risk.

SI_SafetyImages_1-27 - red controlDo you believe that you are in control of, and responsible for, most things that happen in your life? Or do you often attribute these events to luck or fate? Your answer has implications for your safety behaviors on the job, and consequently the odds that you will experience a safety incident. Research in the safety and psychology fields has consistently found that employees who take ownership over their personal safety are significantly less likely to engage in at-risk behaviors and less likely to be injured at work than those who do not.

Individuals who internalize their safety control more effectively avoid hazards because they believe that each action they take can reduce their risk, while those who externalize control are less strict with themselves on following safety guidelines because they don’t believe that their actions have much of an impact on their safety outcomes. Furthermore, the latter often incorrectly attribute the cause of safety incidents to outside influences when they may have resulted from their own behaviors.

Thankfully, reducing the risks associated with employees’ beliefs about their personal control can be achieved through effective safety leadership. Specifically, management should:

  • Involve employees in the development of safety programs

  • Listen to employees’ concerns about hazards on the job site and feedback about the effectiveness of safety policies

  • Create opportunities for employees to oversee aspects of safety enforcement to make them feel involved and important to organizational safety performance

Strategies such as these will help employees feel empowered and more important to the company, which in turn will motivate them to display low-risk safety behaviors because they now have an increased sense of responsibility over theirs and others’ safety performance.

Switching gears, the Stays in Control factor also addresses the extent to which employees are able to effectively manage their emotions while at work. We all experience work stress and have the occasional bad day, but that is no excuse for someone to take unnecessary risks or violate safety policies. Whether it be injuring oneself due to careless behavior while working under intense pressure, or punching a wall after a heated exchange in a meeting, losing control of one’s emotions can be toxic for both the work environment and safety performance. Research has linked emotion regulation at work to safety attitudes and behaviors, incident rates, and job performance. Effectively managing your emotions involves:

  • Understanding the meaning of your emotions

  • Monitoring your emotions to keep disruptive impulses in check

  • Not letting emotions interfere with your attention to job tasks or safety procedures

  • Being aware of how your emotions impact your decision-making

  • Controlling your behaviors to maintain healthy relationships with coworkers and others

We are human and will experience a variety of emotions throughout the day. The point here is not to act completely unemotional or hide your stress from others completely; that can lead to negative outcomes in of itself. Rather, communicating your frustrations in a constructive way can reduce the pressure you feel and reduce your risk in potentially hazardous situations. Managers should pay special attention to this, as they not only must lead by example in their emotional expressions, but can also leverage this effective communication to improve organizational safety culture.

Research has demonstrated that emotional control is trainable to some extent, so if management notices that an employee tends to become overly stressed or emotional at work, they can set forth strategies such as taking a short break to calm down when the employee begins to exhibit negative emotional expressions, while working on specific techniques for recognizing and monitoring emotions to improve control.

Staying in control at work is critical for both employee safety and overall safety culture. Encouraging your employees to take ownership over their personal safety, and working with those who lose control to more effectively manage their emotions will result in reduced safety incident rates, reduced costs associated with injuries, and overall improved organizational performance.

Blind Spots: 4 Psychological Factors That Can Get Your Injured

Craig White Craig White is a doctoral student in the industrial/organizational psychology program at Texas A&M University. His research domains include selection test development, training, and team processes and performance. He has been closely involved in applied safety and health research projects at the Michael E. DeBakey VAMC Health Services Research and Development CoE in Houston, TX.