April 30, 2020

NIOSH Surveys Effect of "Safety Climate Constructs" on Mine Worker Health, Safety Performance

A new report (PDF) published by NIOSH discusses the findings of a survey conducted to determine significant influences on worker health and safety performance in the mining industry. The survey considered the effects of 10 “safety climate constructs” on health and safety performance, which was measured in the forms of worker proactivity, compliance, and reported near misses and other incidents. NIOSH evaluated four personal constructs, including risk tolerance, thoroughness, sense of control, and adaptability. The other six constructs assessed during the survey were considered organizational: supervisor support, supervisor communication, coworker communication, organizational support, worker engagement, and training. Nearly 2,700 workers at 39 mine sites in 17 states participated in NIOSH’s survey. The mines represented the three major mining subsectors—coal; stone, sand, and gravel; and industrial minerals—and nine major companies. Unlike previous reports that assessed safety climate at the crew or group level, NIOSH’s new report focuses on individual perceived safety climate.

The report identifies five areas of focus for improving the safety climates of mining organizations: going beyond annual refresher training; acknowledging and addressing risk tolerance; enhancing worker engagement opportunities; maintaining worker thoroughness and improving sense of control; and being accountable for communication practices. Although cultural strengths and weaknesses vary among workplaces, NIOSH anticipates that all organizations have room for improvement in at least one of these areas.

NIOSH researchers found that while training is a strong predictor of workers’ knowledge on the job, it has a smaller effect on their health and safety proactivity and decision-making. In order to increase workers’ sense of control and confidence, the agency suggests that management focus on improving workers’ opportunities and involvement with respect to their roles in work processes and practices. And rather than providing more training, managers should consider improving the content of training, follow-up, and post-training communication.

Another recommendation discussed in NIOSH’s report is for management to focus on enhancing workers’ decision-making autonomy in addition to building their knowledge and skills related to detecting and managing risk. The agency stresses that “the greatest threat is usually not missing a hazard but rather failing to mitigate the hazard due to a high tolerance for risks,” so management must address risk tolerance and workers’ associated decisions.

NIOSH also urges management to provide more opportunities for workers to engage with measures to improve safety climate. For example, companies could allow workers to choose a new type of personal protective equipment based on approved options; involve workers in health and safety committees; and improve the quality and amount of communication throughout the workday. The agency also encourages managers at mining operations to improve the transparency of safety communication between themselves and workers in order to increase workers’ safety awareness and appropriate response to risk.

For further information on NIOSH’s survey, see the full report.