Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Thinking of Better or Worse? How Goal Orientation Affects Safety Behavior in near Misses

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Thinking of Better or Worse? How Goal Orientation Affects Safety Behavior in near Misses

Article excerpt

A great proportion of occupational deaths and disabilities have occurred in high-risk safety-critical organizations (SCOs), such as the aerospace and oil and gas industries. For example, in 2012 there were 4,628 work-related fatal occupational injuries in the US (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012). The prevention of fatal accidents in the workplace is a significant goal for safety-related management practices. Learning from accidents has been shown to be a useful method for managers in charge of workplace safety for preventing similar failures of safety management in the future (Dillon, Tinsley, & Cronin, 2011; Edmondson, 2011; Madsen & Desai, 2010). However, there is ample evidence to indicate that learning from safety failures can be constrained by various factors at both organizational and individual levels (Edmondson, 2011).

Individual employees may find it extremely difficult to learn from an accident in SCOs because accidents or major incidents in safety-related management occur very rarely, leaving few chances for employees to observe and to learn (Denrell, 2003). Because of the low tolerance for accidents in safety management in SCOs, learning through trial and error can hardly be practiced. A near miss, which is an event that could have escalated into an accident but, only by chance, did not (Dillon, Tinsley, & Burns, 2014), may provide useful clues and rich information from which employees in SCOs could learn effectively (Chen, Wu, & Zhang, 2012; Kalnins, Swaminathan, & Mitchell, 2006; Kim & Miner, 2007). First, compared to accidents and injuries, near misses happen more frequently in workplaces (Phimister, Oktem, Kleindorfer, & Kunreuther, 2003). Second, near misses may bring valuable and key information for managers who are in charge of safety and employees whose work involves safety activities. Unfortunately, however, what are considered "normal" events or small errors often receive little attention from safety management staff (Perrow, 1984).

The process of learning from near misses can be influenced by various cognitive and motivational factors. For managers of SCOs, the goal of productivity coexists with safety goals. Management agents set the prioritizing of goals, and this largely influences the employees' cognition and behavior. Despite the content of specific goals of organizational employees, employees may hold a dispositional goal orientation (Dweck, 1986; van Dam, 2015), which may be either a learning goal orientation or a performance goal orientation. A learning goal orientation is one in which the individual emphasizes environment mastery and has a tendency to seek to control situations, whereas a performance goal orientation is one in which the individual focuses on the abilities he or she has learned compared to others (Dweck, 1986; Mehmood, Hamstra, Nawab, & Vriend, 2016). The learning goal orientation that the individual holds may determine the depth and scope of his or her learning and also his or her cognitive processes (Fonseca, Blascovich, & Garcia-Marques, 2014). Some scholars have found that goal orientation influences an individual's performance through acquiring more knowledge or skills than others (Mega, Ronconi, & De Beni, 2014). According to the elaboration likelihood model, there are two modes of information processing: the central route, which refers to an emphasis on the learning and retention of relevant information, and the peripheral route, which is associated with inference based on simple clues and with an individual who lacks motivation for deeper learning (Kitchen, Kerr, Schultz, McColl, & Pals, 2014). We speculated that individuals with a learning goal orientation may adopt the central route for information processing, whereas individuals with a performance goal orientation may use the peripheral route for processing of information, and may lack motivation for deep learning.

Drawing on the elaboration likelihood model, our aim in the current research was to explore employees' goal orientations and safety participation in SCOs, and to shed light on the mechanisms of how goal orientation influences an individual's safety behavior through their processing of information about a near miss. …

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