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Logo of oenvmedOccupational and Environmental MedicineVisit this articleSubmit a manuscriptReceive email alertsContact usBMJ
Occup Environ Med. 2004 March; 61(3): 239–246.
PMCID: PMC1740724

Why do workers behave unsafely at work? Determinants of safe work practices in industrial workers


Aims: To explore the relation between safety climate (workers' perceptions regarding management's attitudes towards occupational safety and health) and workers' behaviour at work.

Methods: Cross sectional survey of workers at the pottery industry in Castellon, Spain. Sampling was stratified by plant size and workers' gender, according to data on the working population at this setting. A total of 734 production workers were interviewed. Information was collected on safety climate and workers' behaviour towards occupational risks with a specific questionnaire. A safety climate index (SCI, scale 0–100) was constructed adding scores for each item measuring safety climate in the questionnaire. Workers' unsafe behaviour was analysed for the different safety climate index levels.

Results: Mean score for SCI was 71.90 (SD 19.19). There were no differences in SCI scores according to age, gender, education, children at charge, seniority at work, or type of employment. Small workplaces (<50 workers) showed significantly worse SCI (mean 67.23, SD 19.73) than the largest factories (>200 workers). Lower levels of SCI (SCI <50) were related to workers' unsafe behaviours (full/high accord with the statement "I excessively expose myself to hazards in my work", adjusted odds ratio ORa 2.79, 95% CI 1.60 to 4.88), and to lack of compliance with safety rules (ORa 12.83, 95% CI 5.92 to 27.80).

Conclusions: Safety climate measures workers' perception of organisational factors related to occupational health and safety (for example, management commitment to risk prevention or priorities of safety versus production). In this study these factors are strongly associated with workers' attitudes towards safety at work. Longitudinal studies can further clarify the relation between safety climate and workers' behaviour regarding occupational safety and health.

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