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ATTITUDE and its effect on risk taking behaviour

ATTITUDE and its effect on risk taking behaviour

Hazard identification and risk assessment isn’t only about the process.  “Of course not!”  I hear you say – but are you aware of the attitude of the people in your workplace?

“Safety is fundamentally a people science. It is about the actions, motivations and behaviours of people””

Corrie Pitzer, a specialist in behavioural safety writes: “Safety is fundamentally a people science.  It is about the actions, motivations and behaviours of people”1.  As human beings we know that there are many things that influence our choice of behaviour, but did you know that one of them is risk perception, and that this stems from the underlying mindfulness and attitude we have when undertaking a task?


A choice of behaviour is the result of mindful and intentional human thoughts; that a worker “accepts the risk associated with certain behaviour”2 if, based on their own “subjective assessment”2 of risk and harm, they believe that there is a benefit in that behaviour.  Real or perceived, the belief in this ‘beneficial outcome’ shapes their perception of risk associated with undertaking a task or a job, and modifies the attitudes towards how to perform the task safely, resulting in a more constant and / or greater display of at-risk behaviour.


Over time this intentional risk-taking behaviour becomes habitual – a “behaviour that is chosen so quickly that is an unconscious decision”3 – and shapes attitudes toward work.  And not just day-to-day work; place a worker in a fast paced, dynamic environment requiring spontaneous decisions and it is this hazardous behaviour pattern that they will most likely default back to.


So what can you do to limit the introduction of this perilous behaviour in your workplace?

i) Be aware of your staff’s attitude towards their work;

ii) Engage in meaningful discussions about people’s approach to their tasks;

iii) Move away from the mindless ‘tick and flick’ tools used to evaluate risk;

iv) Revisit the goals and targets placed upon work crews; and

v) Create a safe and just environment where people can speak up about how they feel and what they see.


In short, create a mindful workplace where everyone is aware of their part to play in safety, for regardless of the programs and procedures put into place, we now know it is the attitude and mindfulness of the worker, and the resultant perception of risk they hold of the task, that has a greater influence on the outcome being safe or not.


Direct References

1.  Pitzer, C.J., (2005).  Competency Based Behavioural Safety.  Retrieved from

2.  Walker, C. (2003).  Behaviour Based Safety Programs – or – “If it’s rat psychology, who is Pied Piper and who are the rats?”  Canadian Auto Workers IAPA / WHSC Session, “Myth of the Careless Worker” (pp. 1 – 14).  Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

3.  Clancy, J., (2003).  Behaviour-based Safety:  A Case Study Illustrating A Successful Approach.  Queensland Mining Industry Health and Safety Conference (pp. 1 – 9).  New Farm, Queensland, Australia.


Influential Prose

Whiting, J.F., (2002).  All Safety Behaviour Depends on Risk Perception.  Asia Pacific Occupational Health and Safety Organisation 20th Annual Conference (pp. 13 – 25).  Hanoi, Vietnam.

Whiting, J.F., (2004).  The Missing Element of OHSMS and Safety Programmes – Calculating and Evaluating Risk.  Journal of Occupational Safety and Health, 1, 9 – 24.

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