The Psychology of Workplace Safety: Understanding the Behavioral Factors

Occupational safety is a concern for the industrial sector. In addition to ensuring physical safety, organizations should identify psychological factors that strongly influence workers, their productivity, and performance. If not managed well, these psychological factors have the potential to negatively affect the workers. 

A study conducted in America found that severe psychological distress was 4.74% prevalent in workers due to occupational injuries, 3.58% for non-occupational injuries, and 1.56% for no injuries. 

These results suggest that the prevalence of severe psychological distress in workers was 3.58% and 1.56% for non-occupational injuries and no injuries, respectively. 

Workers who did not suffer any injuries were also severely psychologically distressed. This raises the question of what other factors besides injuries contribute to psychological problems in occupational settings that lead to accidents. 

The behavior of workers, colleagues, and supervisors plays an integral role in maintaining occupational safety. 

This article explains how behavior influences employee’s occupational safety. 

Behavioral factors that affect employee’s safety: 

  • Teamwork:

Teamwork instills a sense of companionship and promotes cooperation among workers. When an organization promotes teamwork, it is most likely to flourish. OSHA training programs like OSHA 10-Hour Construction training courses educate employees on how to work as a team and handle emergencies. 

When employees work as a group, they take responsibility for everyone’s safety. A workforce that works as a unit can promptly handle emergencies. They will be able to resolve conflicts better as each one of them will contribute their innovative ideas and collectively resolve the crisis. 

For example, if an accident happens at a construction site, a team of workers will assist one another in quickly evacuating the area as aged workers need support. The accident will be immediately reported to the headquarters, and urgent assistance will be provided. Those who get injured will receive prompt medical attention, which will save them from potential fatalities. 

Thus, working in a team is related to a safe occupational environment.

  • Leadership:

Supervisors are responsible for the prosperity of an organization. They also shoulder the responsibility of maintaining their workers’ safety. OSHA 30-hour courses are exclusively designed for supervisors to educate them about their responsibilities. 

Research studies also suggest that a supervisor with leadership qualities spends time at the workplace, participates, regularly monitors the performance of workers, gives feedback, and effectively communicates. This participatory approach results in more safely performing units. 

A supervisor who engages and shows involvement in safety-related decisions produces good compliance from its employees. Open communication in high-risk environments results in fewer accidents. 

Therefore, the behavior of a person in authority strongly influences the safety behaviors of workers. 

  • Monetary Benefits:

Pay and monetary benefits not only attract workers but also influence their behavior and promote health and safety. Researchers have coined the term “Safety Motivation.” These motivational processes promote safe behaviors among employees. They are motivated to carry out safe operations, and in return, they get to enjoy incentives and rewards. On the contrary, employees who are responsible for accidents do not get to enjoy these benefits.

Another outcome of these incentives is reduced absenteeism. Employees who work regularly without taking days off show compliance with OSHA policies regarding employee responsibilities. However, as an employer, you should also be aware of “presenteeism,” as you don’t want your workers to be present at work when they are sick. This can slow down their recovery. 

Understanding occupational psychology, organizations now offer bonuses for workers who practice safe behaviors and prevent accidents. However, the efficiency of these bonuses varies from industry to industry and worker to worker. 

  • Job Insecurity:

Employees who suffer from job insecurity report lower job satisfaction and an increased prevalence of health conditions. Most workers feel insecure because they lack safety knowledge. Research indicates that employees who are anxious and depressed are less likely to use their Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) properly. OSHA online training programs like educate your workers on the relevant information they need to ensure safety. 

Job insecurity can also lead to stress. Employees who are stressed do not focus on environmental factors such as heavy winds at construction sites. They tend to be focused on work tasks only. Ignoring external factors can cause accidents, as explained in OSHA 10-Hour and 30-Hour Construction courses.

Lastly, job insecurity can also stem from organizations lacking a collectivistic work culture and ethics. 

  • Blame:

Workers are blamed for mistakes they didn’t make. Supervisors view a few workers as scapegoats. When it becomes a consistent pattern, it gets harder for workers to stay motivated. They start accepting responsibility for every minor inconvenience and do not strive to improve. Lack of motivation results in increased accidents in occupational settings. 

Employees develop a fear within themselves and stop reporting safety concerns, thinking they will be held accountable. Their fear prevents them from reporting emergencies, and their silence causes significant damage to other workers and the organization. 

Along with fear, blame culture gives stress and anxiety to the workers. A stressed worker is unable to direct his attention and make efficient choices. This impaired cognitive functioning results in occupational hazards.

Therefore, organizations should adopt a problem-solving approach and create an environment where every worker is respected. Such a working culture reduces anxieties and would consequently result in fewer work-related accidents. 

  • Contingent Work:

Contingent work is synonymous with casual work or part-time work. They have a limited tenure and are contract-specific. Research suggests a strong relationship between contingent work and organizational health and safety (OHS). In comparison to full-time work, contingent work has poor OHS outcomes. These include a large number of physical injuries and psychological distress. 

Contingent workers do not have experience and sufficient training because the duration of their employment is limited, making them more prone to injuries and accidents. These workers are not made a part of formal discussions, due to which they lack effective communication. 

Since contingent workers have a temporary job type, they don’t receive rewards from organizations even if they perform well. This reduces their motivation and consequently results in frequent blunders. 

  • Maladaptive Behaviors: Substance Use

Employees’ substance use results in workplace injuries and accidents. Research has shown the consumption of alcohol, marijuana, and sedative drugs affects performance. Employees who consume alcohol get into tiffs with their supervisors and coworkers. They feel sleepy while working, which increases the risk of accidents.

Substance use results in poor attention and concentration. If an employee exhibits such maladaptive behavior at high-risk working sites such as construction sites, it can cause severe consequences. 

Substance use causes drowsiness, and when done in a work setting, it can have adverse effects. Intoxicated workers are unable to concentrate and are more likely to make mistakes, which results in accidents. 

OSHA supports a drug-free environment and ensures employees don’t engage in such maladaptive behavior while at work. 


Safety concerns in the workplace are paramount because if they are not taken care of, it can cause significant losses for your organization. Thus, it is crucial that we start working on the prevention of occupational injuries and illnesses. 

It is a mandatory step to get acquainted with occupational psychology to maintain the health and security of employees. Who better than OSHA can shoulder this responsibility. Enroll for an OSHA training program now!