Safety is Viral!
How peer pressure can influence safety attitudes and behaviour
A key attitude statement that is ranked in all Safety Diagnostics attitude survey is “Peer pressure sometimes makes me do things that I know are wrong.” The degree of agreement with this statement within a population is an indication of the extent to which people are influenced by workmates to ignore or deviate from safety procedures.
Peer pressure can be an influence in unsafe behaviour
Where agreement with this statement is significantly higher than average, the result correlates with above average reporting of unsafe actions (I have worked when I thought it was not safe) and risk prone attitudes (I use my judgement about when to follow safety rules).
Analysis of Safety Diagnostics data shows that some demographic factors influence responses to this question. Younger respondents are more likely to agree with the statement while older respondents are less likely to be influenced by workmates. Parents are less likely to be influenced by peer pressure, regardless of age. Agency workers are more likely to agree than directly employed employees. Site based production workforce is more likely to agree than managerial or office based workers. Workers in a tunnel environment are more likely than others to be influenced by peer pressure.
Other factors, however, increase the likelihood of negative peer pressure. Where responses to Safety Diagnostics questions about leadership are less positive (My boss sets a good example: My boss will understand if I stop working), workforce respondents are more likely to agree that they are influenced by peer pressure. The inference here is that in the absence of strong safety leadership, workers are more likely to be negatively influenced by their peer group to ignore safety rules and work unsafely.
Safety Diagnostics research reveals that attitudes to safety are viral and ideas, beliefs and understanding spread quickly through the workplace, becoming received wisdom. It is difficult for individuals to challenge accepted beliefs and behaviours. The good news is that this cuts both ways. The most switched-on operations recognise that peer pressure can be harnessed to spread positive attitudes throughout the workforce. By using an informal system of key workers or trained safety coaches as evangelists for positive safety attitudes and behaviours, the prevailing culture can be shaped to support and reflect positive behaviours and attitudes.
Peer pressure is a powerful influence within the workplace and can undermine an otherwise well resourced and practical safety management plan or be harnessed to shape a positive, risk averse safety climate.
The key to managing peer pressure influence is by developing an understanding of the prevailing belief system within the workforce. This is best achieved by an independently conducted safety climate survey. A climate survey will not only supply data on current attitudes but will also indicate how these are shaping behaviour and where within the workforce the attitudes are most influential. Knowing what your people think and believe is a vital first step to shaping their future behaviour.