Working Safely at Some Times and Unsafely at Others: A Typology and Within-Person Process Model of Safety-Related Work Behaviors

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Why do individuals choose to work safely in some instances and unsafely in others? Though this inherently within-person question is straightforward, the preponderance of between-person theory and research in the workplace safety literature is not equipped to answer it. Additionally, the limited way in which safety-related behaviors tend to be conceptualized further restricts understanding of why individuals vary in their safety-related actions. We use a goal-focused approach to conceptually address this question of behavioral variability and contribute to workplace safety research in 2 key ways. First, we establish an updated typology of safety-related behaviors that differentiates behaviors based on goal choice (i.e., safe vs. unsafe behaviors), goal-directedness (i.e., intentional vs. unintentional behaviors), and the means of goal pursuit (i.e., commission vs. omission and promotion vs. prevention-focused behaviors). Second, using an expectancy-value theoretical framework to explain variance in goal choice, we establish within-person propositions stating that safety-related goal choice and subsequent behaviors are a function of the target of safety-related behaviors, the instrumentality and resource requirement of behaviors, and the perceived severity, likelihood, and immediacy of the threats associated with behaviors. Taken together, we define what safety-related behaviors are, explain how they differ, and offer propositions concerning when and why they may vary within-persons. We explore potential between-person moderators of our theoretical propositions and discuss the practical implications of our typology and process model of safety-related behavior.

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