Often programs for the prevention of work related injuries and diseases are developed without taking into consideration employee attitudes and perceptions toward occupational health and safety. Unfortunately, overlooking these factors has some serious consequences. Not only can a negative attitude towards safety increase an employee’s chance of being injured on the job, it can also have a negative impact on their job performance. In the United States, 90 percent of injuries are caused by unsafe acts and cost companies approximately $156 billion annually. Furthermore, workplace accidents and injuries tragically lead to approximately 5,200 fatalities annually.

Common Negative Attitudes Toward Safety

Some of the frequently exhibited negative attitudes towards workplace safety:

  • Carelessness. This is the most common cause of workplace accidents and it is often accompanied by unsafe acts.
  • Complacency. After completing a task repeatedly over a period of time without incident, an employee may come to feel that they are experienced enough to skip safety steps or procedures. By giving the task less of their attention, they increase the likelihood of accidents or injuries (see Awareness vs. Complacency: The Value of Reviewing Safety Moments to learn more).
  • Distraction. Working while distracted is not only unsafe, but also results in a poor quality work (see this Safety Moment Topic on Cell Phone Distraction for more).
  • Fatigue. Tiredness can slow down an employee’s mental and physical reactions. This lowered reaction time can lead to them or their co-workers being injured. Fatigue further compounds the risks by potentially making an employee careless, complacent, or distracted.
  • Strong Emotions. Employees should not let their emotions get in the way of doing their jobs. Being depressed or angry may lead to an employee being distracted or reckless, which can impair any positive attitudes towards safety (for a discussion of the relation between emotions and safety, see this Video Q&A on The 3 Levels of Safety).
  • Recklessness. Taking chances with tools, chemicals, or machinery is irresponsible and dangerous not only to the reckless employee but also to their coworkers.

Why Are Safety Attitudes Important in the Workplace?

Human factors, such as attitude, influence our behaviors in the workplace. Therefore, it is important for employers to identify attitudes that are potential barriers to working safely.

An employee's attitude (whether positive or negative) is usually based on their actual experiences. It could be argued, then, that an employee with a negative attitude towards workplace safety can adopt a more positive attitude if they witness positive workplace safety behavior. However, it should be noted that changing poor attitudes to safety into positive ones also requires a change in the motivator behind the attitude. Take, for example, employees who believe that their supervisor (the motivator) doesn't listen to their concerns regarding safety. If the supervisor starts listening to them and acting on the information they receive, that change in the behavior is likely to result in a positive change in the employees' beliefs about their workplace's safety culture.

What Can Employers Do to Change Employees’ Attitudes Toward Workplace Safety?

The first step that employers and organizational leaders should take in order to foster changes in their workers’ attitudes towards safety is to survey the workforce to get an accurate picture of those attitudes. Understanding where things stand can help direct resources where they are most needed and avoid wasting them by investing where there is little problem.

There are a number of practical ways to promote a positive attitude towards workplace health and safety, including:

  • Promoting a positive culture of safety in the workplace
  • Showing management’s commitment to the safety and well-being of both workers and the work environment
  • Regularly communicating with employees about workplace safety
  • Involving and consulting with employees in decision-making processes regarding health and safety
  • Conducting surveys often to obtain employee feedback
  • Developing and implementing site-specific safety programs
  • Conducting regular workplace inspections, safety audits and job safety analyses (find out what are the 4 Steps to Conducting Effective Job Safety Analyses)
  • Providing employees with proper training, information and personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Hosting regular safety meetings and toolbox talks

These are just a few of the activities that can be undertaken to create a positive workplace culture, which can result in an attitude shift among employees (learn the Essential Elements of Creating a Workplace Safety Culture).

Positive Safety Actions All Employees Should Adopt

Here are some simple actions employees can take, which shows a positive attitude towards workplace safety:

  • Follow all safety rules at all times (see Safety and the Broken Windows Theory to find out why even the smallest rules matter)
  • Take responsibility for your own safety, as well as the safety of your co-workers
  • Immediately report any injuries to a supervisor
  • Do not take shortcuts, take your time and do each task correctly
  • Always put safety first when completing a task, giving your job task your full attention every time
  • Be aware of your surroundings, looking out for potential hazards
  • Use all the appropriate personal protective equipment at all times
  • Ask for assistance if you are unsure what to do
  • Be team oriented
  • Ensure that you are well rested for work (see this infographic on The Unnerving Side Effects of Sleep Deprivation)
  • If experiencing strong emotions, take a short break to compose yourself
  • Learn how to operate equipment and machinery safely
  • Pay attention to and comply with safety protocols in the workplace
  • Take an active role in safety meetings and training sessions
  • Propose safety improvements
  • Cooperate with safety inspections and monitoring
  • Set an example of a good safety attitude for others, especially new employees
  • Volunteer for safety committees

Take Safety Seriously

Most safety management systems are unsuccessful because they fail to take into consideration human factors such as attitudes, perceptions, and behaviors. So, whether you’re a manager or an employee, you should always take a positive attitude towards safety in order to avoid accidents that can cause job-related injuries and exposure to hazardous substances that can lead to serious illness, not to mention maintain compliance with OSHA health and safety regulations. A healthy work environment combined with a healthy conduct towards safety is critical to the well-being of everyone in the workplace.