Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Reaction to Safety Equipment Technology in the Workplace and Implications: A Study of the Firefighter's Hood

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Reaction to Safety Equipment Technology in the Workplace and Implications: A Study of the Firefighter's Hood

Article excerpt

Introduction

Background

The importance of understanding technological change and its impact on the worker has long been established, dating back to Karl Marx's 1867 seminal work Das Kapital (1976). In this study, Marx's focus on technological change was in understanding the manufacturing process, its alienation of the worker, and the workers' struggle to maintain control over this process (Attewell, 1990). After World War II, this argument was updated by contemporary claims on the pattern of skill change (see Spenner 1983, 1995; Vallas & Beck, 1996). Arguments were made that new technologies would act as a mechanism for increasing the skill levels of workers (Blauner, 1964; Kerr, Dunlap, Harbison, & Meyers, 1964). Others then followed contradicting these claims (Braverman, 1974), arguing that technology would strip workers with as much skill as possible in an effort to increase productivity (Vallas, 1990). These studies mainly consisted of antithetical, theoretically-based arguments absent of empirical evidence (Spenner, 1983, 1995).

Over the past few decades, there has been a new focus on the introduction of technology in the workplace. With the exponential increase of the adoption of computers and information technologies (IT), and availability of new data sources (Ward 2010), many studies now examine how IT effects the worker. Similar to earlier work, more recent research has focused on the relationship between technology and workers' skill levels (Autor, Levy, & Murnane, 2002; Bound & Johnson, 1992; Goos & Manning, 2007; Katz & Murphy, 1992; Levy & Murnane, 2004; Pianta, 2005; Piva, Santarelli, & Vivarelli, 2005).

It has also been recognized that before the impact of new IT can affect the skill levels of workers and productivity, the workers must accept and use this technology. A multitude of conceptual models seeking to understand technology acceptance have been developed and empirically tested. The result has been a unified theory of acceptance and use of technology (UTAUT) that finds performance expectancy, effort expectancy, social influence, and facilitating conditions all play a role in whether technology is accepted and subsequently used (Venkatesh, Morris, Davis, & Davis, 2003). While criticisms of the UTAUT do exist (Bagozzi, 2007), there is agreement that understanding workers' reactions to new technologies may be just as important as understanding how a technology impacts the workers' themselves.

Even with this long history of studying the introduction of new technology into the workplace, there still remains gaps in our understanding. The majority of previous research studies have maintained focus on manufacturing industries or the "white-collar" context of the professional office environment. Other industries, specifically those in the public service and non-profit sectors, remain understudied. In addition to this gap, there is another regarding the type of technologies that recent research has studied. While computers and IT have become the main focus of the majority of research on technology and workers' acceptance/reaction, they are not the sole type of technology being introduced. For example, advances in biochemical engineering and materials sciences have led to new technologies that now play a direct and/or indirect role in many occupations, whether one may realize it or not. Studies focusing on occupations that may fill these gaps, such as firefighting, have potential to add further understanding to the broader literature. (1)

Firefighters and New Technology

Research focusing on firefighters has been completely absent from the literature. In recent years a handful of studies have examined various aspects of the occupation of firefighting, including why individuals (particularly men) become firefighters in spite of the life-threatening hazards faced (Desmond, 2006, 2007, 2011), the ergonomics of wearing firefighter clothing (Park, Kim, Wu, & Allen, 2014), and firefighter-perceived occupational health and safety risks (Walker, 2016). …

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