Implications of Psychological Distance for the Structure and Motivation of Safety at Work




Ford, Michael Thomas

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Workplace safety behaviors can focus on present or future safety outcomes. They can also focus on one’s own safety or the safety of others and the overall worksite. These outcomes vary in their psychological distance, or more specifically their temporal and social distance. This distance has implications for how people construe, value, and focus on future events. In this study, ratings from 13 safety researchers were used to distinguish safety behaviors in the temporal and social distance of their outcomes. To identify distinct correlates of safety behaviors with psychologically distant outcomes, data were then collected from 198 hospital employees. Results suggest that psychological empowerment, management commitment to safety, and organizational identification are more strongly related to behaviors focused on the safety of others than those focused on one’s own safety. When all predictors were included in one model, psychological empowerment was the strongest correlate of safety behaviors with psychologically distant outcomes. Empowerment and organizational identification were also related to injury/illness rates at the department level. These results indicate that theories on workplace safety behavior can be enhanced by incorporating distinctions across behaviors. They also highlight the importance of empowerment and shared responsibility in safety-related industrial settings.



Safety, Motivation, Workplace safety, Empowerment, Regulatory focus, Organizational identification