The Association Between Beliefs and Risk Management

The Association Between Beliefs and Risk Management

Many organizations devise operating systems that encompass values and standards specific to their core beliefs about work, people and performance.


There are organizations that still believe that the risk of accidents occurring are the result of workers flagrantly ignoring good work practices, failing to use common sense, neglecting to follow company policies and procedures, making mistakes and/or using poor judgement. Many organizations' supervisors believe that workers are primarily responsible for their own safety and should engage in safe work practices, use good judgment and be constantly vigilant when working in potentially hazardous environments. These same supervisors also believe that their primary responsibility is to meet production goals and performance objectives. They believe that worker safety management is the primary responsibility of safety personnel. The typical traditional interventions utilized to manage worker safety include training, retraining, signage, focused inspections or some form or reward or disciplinary action. This practice of bifurcation of responsibility has failed to produce significant or long-term improvement.

Belief associated with Risk Management

Several research studies have identified that workers (as well as management) have different perspectives on risk and the potential negative, resulting outcomes from exposure to them. They also harbor beliefs about accident causations and preventive measures. This becomes more important in industries such as construction where there is more variability and uncertainty than others. This situation results from projects being unique in diverse locations, a mobile workforce, differing project constraints, different and multiple subcontractors and supervision, different cultures and values among all involved, to name a few. In spite of all these conditions, there are some construction firms that manage their projects in such a manner that their results are far superior to that of the industry at large.

Many organizations devise operating systems that encompass values and standards specific to their core beliefs about work, people and performance. This is also true of the people who actually perform the work, as well. So, the project work system and the work practice are influenced by the underlying beliefs of the people involved, thereby affecting the perception of risk, beliefs about accident causation and the overall risk management framework. This thinking establishes the basis for whether operating risks are acceptable, manageable or deemed unavoidable.

This colors management's outlook on risk in general and influences the measures taken by them to overcome the potential harmful effects of the risks encountered at the worksite. It also influences the workers' evaluation of their exposure to risk and their willingness to use protective systems provided, follow safety procedures or act upon articulated safety messages. Understanding the underlying drivers opens up a more systematic and targeted avenue to holistically address worksite risks and, therefore, more effectively reduce or eliminate accidents.

In this competitive economy, many organizations are highly concerned with identifying, evaluating and managing occupational and environmental risks. The beliefs people have influenced their perceptions of risks, and these perceptions affect their behavior with respect to performance and safety. Risks are generally perceived in relation to whether they are judged to be tolerable or intolerable, manageable or unmanageable, beneficial or harmful. Broadly speaking, safety may be seen as the level of risk that is judged acceptable in a particular work environment.

Studies on this subject have shown that risk perception is a complex phenomenon that can be determined by social, psychological, physical, political and/or cultural factors, to name a few. It is contingent on a great number of factors linked either to the risk itself, to characteristics of the perceiver and his or her personal history, or to the culture and values of the society, organization or crew. A subjective evaluation of risk can be influenced by beliefs about the risk. There are many possible factors at play, such as its familiarity, its utility, the perceived probability of the occurrence of an adverse outcome and its possible severity. Another important factor is whether the risk is voluntarily taken on or somehow imposed either naturally, technologically or operationally. Specific factors regarding risk include:

  • Ability. workers may contribute to this problem by primarily relying on experience, self-confidence and their physical abilities to performing their task safely in spite of the existing risks in the work environment. This may be due to the fact that they have performed such work in similar conditions in the past, without having any negative outcomes, such as getting injured.
  • Personal reasons. may cause a worker to avoid following safety measures due to a "macho" view of their abilities, or the fact that coworkers may ‘look down’ on the use of company expected use of safety practice or personal protective equipment.
  • Peer pressure. This could happen to a new employee who wants to be accepted into the (group) crew and, in order to gain such acceptance, they will mimic group behavior even if it is not in line with company required safety practices or procedures.
  • Force of habit. after having performed similar work over a period of time the worker develops a way, an approach to performing it. This then becomes a habit and to some degree, habits are rather hard to change.
  • Perception. The worker may not perceive the existence of the risk of injury or fail to assess the extent or severity of the exposure in the task he/she are assigned to perform. As a result, the employee will proceed work without taking the necessary precautions and eventually have an accident.
  • Carelessness. After doing similar work for some time a worker can perform it without much forethought or concentrated focus. This then tends to allow them to think of other things while performing the work. As long as conditions stay the same, the worker can do his/her job safely. But if a change occurs, the worker cannot react fast enough and may have an accident and/or get injured. After the accident, the investigator may attribute it to carelessness or inattention on the part of the worker, which does not get at the real cause of the accident.
  • Error. Everyone makes mistakes. In fact, some researchers have found that on average people make more than five mistakes per hour. So, if making mistakes is inevitable, then in those situations, accidents and injuries are bound to occur. In order to deal with these possibilities an effort must be made to make tasks error-proof. This requires that all tasks be evaluated for the risk of injury prior to the commencement of work and, where possible, those risks should be eliminated or at least the negative outcomes should be rendered less severe.
  • Exposure duration. The task is expected to take very little time to perform so even though the exposure is recognized ("it will only take a minute, and I can deal with it") may encourage a worker to believe that he/she can get it done before any adverse outcome can happen.
  • Production. Workers may deem the governing safety measures as an impediment to their ability to achieve production goals. They may understand the risk but assume that they are capable of dealing with it in order to get the job done. They may feel that to stay employed, they must meet production goals in spite of the risk, thereby causing them to consciously and willingly engage in the at-risk behavior.


Worker beliefs involving the impact of risk associated with the tasks to which workers are assigned may have a profound impact of the safety of the worksite. The perceived benefit of risk taking should be a factor that is assessed when considering or evaluating the motivation underlying the resulting worker behavior. Depending on worksite situation, beliefs can positively or negatively affect project safety and its management. Beliefs about the ability to control risks are important to any accident analysis and the explanations of causation. By gaining insight into the effect of such beliefs and taking those into account, accidents may be analyzed more realistically. This, in all likelihood, will lead to a more robust set of preventive measure which can be devised and implemented to more effectively deal with inherent risks associated with construction tasks. Numerous research studies have identified the importance of beliefs about risk play in workplace safety and its management. Researchers have also verified that subjective judgment by people is a major component in any risk assessment. If, to some extent, worker judgment is faulty, the risk management process and efforts will, in all likelihood, be misdirected resulting in inferior results. It has been asserted that in reality, much of accident preventive measures are driven by causal inferences rather than the actual drivers of such events.

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