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Safety Culture, Moral Disengagement, and Accident Underreporting

Abstract

Moral disengagement (MD) is the process by which individuals mitigate the consequences of their own violations of moral standards. Although MD is understood to be co-determined by culture norms, no study has yet explored the extent to which MD applied to safety at work (JS-MD) fosters safety violations (e.g., accident underreporting), nor the role of organizational culture as a predictor of JS-MD. The current study seeks to address this gap in the literature by examining individual- (MD) and organizational-level (culture) factors that explain why employees fail to report workplace accidents. We tested a latent variable structural model positing organizational culture typologies (autocratic, bureaucratic, clan-patronage, technocratic, and cooperative) as predictors of JS-MD, which in turn is expected to mediate the relationship with accident underreporting. Using data from 1033 employees in 28 Italian organizations, findings suggest that bureaucratic safety culture was related to lower levels of JS-MD, whereas technocratic safety culture was related to greater JS-MD. In turn, JS-MD positively predicted employee accident underreporting and fully mediated the relationship between culture and underreporting. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed in light of the increasing focus on underreporting as well as the adverse individual and organizational consequences of failing to report workplace accidents.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. Because we utilized a convenience sample, we also tested our results controlling for age and gender. Gender was the only variable significantly correlated with both accident underreporting and MD. Therefore, it was tested as an additional control variable in our hypothesized structural model. Notably, our results did not change after controlling for this sample demographic (results are available upon request to the authors). Therefore, we can rule out the hypothesis that these demographics are potential convenience sample bias that exert a significant influence on the activation of MD or accident underreporting.

  2. Because not all employees experienced a workplace accident, we ran an alternative regression analysis to test whether the strength and direction of the relationship between MD and underreporting remained consistent when restricting our sample to only include those individuals who actually experienced a workplace accident. After controlling for type of contract, public versus private sector, and managerial status, we found that MD remained a significant predictor of underreporting, F(1, 153) = 7.52, p < .007, ΔR 2 = .05. Notably, the beta coefficient was .22, which is nearly identical with the SEM results reported using the full sample where the path coefficient was .24.

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Correspondence to Laura Petitta.

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Petitta, L., Probst, T.M. & Barbaranelli, C. Safety Culture, Moral Disengagement, and Accident Underreporting. J Bus Ethics 141, 489–504 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-015-2694-1

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Keywords

  • Accident underreporting
  • Moral disengagement
  • Organizational safety culture