Cheryl E. Gray, M.A., A.B.D., University of South Florida; Kelsey L. Merlo, Ph.D., University of South Florida; Roxanne C. Lawrence, B.A., University of South Florida; Jeremiah Slutsky, M.A., University of South Florida; Tammy D. Allen, Ph.D., University of South Florida

Drawing from Neal and Griffin’s model of safety behavior (2004), this research investigated organizational factors (i.e., perceived safety climate, safety-related organizational constraints, occupational risk) and individual factors (i.e., conscientiousness, safety attitudes, and risk aversion) associated with employees’ safety performance shortly after returning to on-site work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic threatened employees’ health and safety more than any event in recent years. Although millions of employees transitioned to working from home to mitigate infectious disease exposure, many worksites re-opened amid the pandemic as high infection rates persisted longer than expected. Safety guidelines were issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and other national initiatives to improve the health and safety of employees returning to on-site work. The current work addressed predictors of infection control safety behaviors in a general working population that largely lacks infection control training and expertise.

Data were collected from 232 full-time employees between July 20, 2020 and August 27, 2020 through the online panel, Prolific (Palan & Schitter, 2018). During the time of data collection, the daily number of new confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide ranged from 202,706 to 328,808 (Dong et al., 2020). Fourteen participants were removed from the study for failing to respond appropriately to attention or comprehension checks or withdrawing from the study. One-hundred and twenty-nine additional participants were excluded because they spent less than 25 percent of their worktime on-site, resulting in an eligible sample of eighty-nine full-time employees (54 male, 35 female) across occupations. Participants completed an online survey with measures of safety performance, supervisor safety, coworker safety, safety-related organizational constraints, occupational risk, safety attitudes, conscientiousness, and risk aversion. Cronbach’s alphas of the measures ranged from .72 to .93. Sample items are included in Table 1.

Perceived safety climate, safety attitudes, and conscientiousness were positively associated with safety performance, r = .55, p < .01, r = .51, p < .01, r = .55, p < .01, respectively. Organizational constraints were negatively associated with safety performance, r = -.39, p < .01. Occupational risk and risk aversion were not significantly associated with safety performance, r = .00, p > .05, r = .02, p > .05, respectively. See Table 2. Johnson’s (2000) relative weights analysis was conducted using an R program prepared by Tonidandel and LeBreton (2015). Together, the organizational and individual safety predictors accounted for 50 percent of variance in employees’ safety performance during COVID-19 (R2= .50). In order of most to least variance in safety performance explained, the predictors were conscientiousness, perceived safety climate, safety attitudes, safety-related organizational constraints, risk-aversion, and occupational risk. See Table 3.

This research lends credence to Neal and Griffin’s theoretical framework of safety performance (2004). Significant predictors of safety performance were identified associated with the work environment and with the individual. These findings support an underlying premise of the Neal and Griffin model as well as the broader theory that individual behaviors are meaningfully driven by both person and environment factors (Lewin, 1951). Neal and Griffin (2004) further specify that work environment factors include two core components: safety climate and organizational variables; individual factors include individual attitudes and individual differences. Presented findings support the relevance of these factors to safety performance; perceived safety climate, safety-related organizational constraints, safety attitudes, and conscientiousness were significantly associated with safety performance. Together, the predictors accounted for significant variance in safety performance among on-site employees during COVID-19. The potential for diseases to spread is continuously rising due to increased global travel, urbanization, climate change, human-animal contact, and health worker shortages in under-developed countries (Dodds, 2019). Enhancing the understanding of safety performance is critically important to mitigate and effectively respond to dangerous realities going forward.

During COVID-19, workplaces were forced to implement critical safety measures without a roadmap. Drawing from the Neal and Griffin model of safety performance, the current work addresses work environment and individual antecedents of safety behaviors. The results indicate that the work environment antecedent of perceived safety climate and the individual antecedents of conscientiousness and safety attitudes predict unique variance in COVID-19 safety performance. This research provides insights to enhance workplace safety performance during the ongoing pandemic, future health crises, and more generally.

Tags: Applicable to all occupations/industries, COVID-19, Empirical study, Hazardous Work Environments and Safety, High Risk Jobs; Vulnerable/At-Risk Populations, Safety Climate; Safety Management; and Training, Workplace Injuries and Illnesses