Recent research indicates that there is a relationship between accident rates and relative hazard. However, it’s not what you might think. It turns out that more accidents happen during tasks that are moderately hazardous than during hazardous tasks.
Dr. James Beck and his associates at the University of Waterloo, Canada conducted experiments and a literature review looking at this relationship between accidents and relative risks:
- An analysis of the hazardous conditions data from Canada’s Occupational Information Network and US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- An analysis of the maritime incident reports of the Canadian Transportation Safety Board.
- Undergraduate psychology students did computer-based work simulations to elicit perception of risks related to various degrees of relative hazard using a warehouse operation involving moving and storing boxes on shelves of variable physical condition.
- Recruits from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk) data base participated in a computerized exercise as a foreman in a foundry processing temperature data from a sequence of gauges.
Results demonstrate that more accidents most likely occur in moderately hazardous environments compared to hazardous environments. This inverted relationship is driven by a worker’s understanding of the risks of relative hazards. Most workers increased safety behavior in response to increase hazardousness. However, there came a point as the hazards continued to increase the safety behavior did not respond proportional to the risks. This area of response is typically where accidents occur. Interestingly, they found some workers significantly increased safety behavior in response to small increases in risk.
They concluded, “that many individuals lack critical safety knowledge and skills as well as situational awareness”. Workers in obviously hazardous operations are more likely to take their safety training more seriously than those in moderate risky operations. Consequently, if you want to reduce accidents proportionally more training efforts should be spent on workers in these moderately hazardous environments.
 Beck, James W. et al, Moderation in all things, except when it comes to workplace safety: Accidents are most likely to occur under moderately hazardous work conditions, University of Waterloo, Canada, Online Library, March 2023. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/peps.12586