Managers, mates and the role of social exchange : a multilevel model of safety climate and proactive safety behaviour
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The issue of safety in the workplace may be described as an area of both chronic and acute significance to workers, organisations, families and communities. The aim of my research was to develop and test a work-level model of safety climate by incorporating coworker commitment to safety with existing safety climate measures of manager and supervisor commitment to safety. Climate for social exchange, involving management, supervisor and coworker social exchange dynamics, was further proposed as a foundation climate supporting the development of facet-specific safety climate. The application of a levels-of-analysis approach to scale development recognises the hierarchical nature of organisations. Using explicit organisation referents for both the social exchange and safety climate domains and was intended to clarify construct definition, distinction and interrelatedness issues. Self-report surveys completed by 342 front-line workers (excluding supervisors and managers) representing 120 functional work teams in 80 departments, across nine organisations (including contractor affiliates) formed the main cross-sectional sample. Organisations providing less than ten valid front-line worker responses were excluded when describing organisational safety climate profiles (N=6) and work groups with less than two valid responses were excluded form group level analysis (N=77).Factor structures and predictive models of climate variables were examined using individual and group-level data, allowing the direct comparison of results obtained using different aggregation methodologies. Results indicated that supportive climates for social exchange provide a foundation for the development of positive safety climates at aligned work-levels. The emergent factor structures of organisation and group-level safety climate, reflecting management and supervisor’s commitment to safety, differed when analysed using individual and group-level analyses. A strong relationship was found between global safety climate and the safety behaviours of workers; however the hypothesised safety climatesafety behaviour injuries/ incidents mediation model was supported when using group-level analyses. Larger predictive effects were observed for self-reported near miss incidents than for minor injuries, supporting the potential utility of this index in future research. The more proximal influences of coworker and supervisor safety climate subscales were found to mediate the more distal influence of management safety climate on workers’ safety behaviours.The three work-level safety climate dimensions (i.e. management, supervisor and coworker commitment to safety) fully mediated the effects of social exchange climate on individual safety performance, supporting a hierarchical psycho-social model of workplace safety. It was concluded that incorporating the normative influence of coworkers and climate for social exchange in models of workplace safety, enhances our understanding of how the social context impacts workers’ safety perceptions and performance. The application of a level-of-analysis approach to construct operationalisation and data treatment generates practical, theoretical and methodological challenges for future safety research.
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