What drives a response where the outcome is an incident, injury or death? Is there some underlying control of human behavior? Previously completed research gives an answer to this question and identifies methods to obtain safe behavior from employees when they are exposed to hazards. Findings from this study can be identified in other hazardous industries. Additionally, conclusions and recommendations from this study have application in other work environments beyond coal mining

This research on human behavior in hazardous work environments originated from the request of a coal mining company. This company questioned why experienced and trained employees continued to be injured or killed at work. Specifically, a fatality of an experienced, head electrician led the coal mining company to question the effectiveness of their safety training and behavioral observation programs.

The research explored the issue of unsafe decisions by experienced and trained employees through three stages:

  • Employee interviews;

  • Review of scientific research and current safety efforts in industry;

  • Development and application of experiential program.


Informaion was gathered from those directly involved in hazardous situations to better understand the reasoning, thought processes, behavioral reinforcement, or other possible reasons for unsafe behavior. Interviews with coal persons were used to determine why workers in the coalmines neglected to respond safely to hazards.

The interviews obtained words, descriptions, images and perceptions at the mining locations. Information on the communication styles, practices, behaviors, attitudes, goals, thoughts, beliefs, and values of the persons was also gathered in the interviews. Worker perceptions of safety were a portion of the output of the interview process (Monteressi, 1998).

The style of the interviews was structured to maintain consistency in questions between different individuals. There were no identifiers placed on the interview forms, which would identify the person, or their work location. Each interview was handled in a confidential fashion and the interviewee was notified prior to the start of the interview of the confidentiality of their responses and the fact that participation was voluntary. This confidentiality was important to gain their cooperation during the interviews (Monteressi, 1998). The person being interviewed was isolated from other workers to reduce the effect others may have on the honesty and openness of his or her responses (Cormier and Cormier, 1991).

Questioning sought to identify why a particular individual behaved in a safe or unsafe manner when faced with a hazardous or potentially hazardous situation. The interview moreover served to capture an actual life-threatening event that this particular person had experienced. This event was then dissected with further questioning to determine the thought processes and reasoning involved in making decisions during this event (Monteressi, 1998). A goal of an interview was to determine the source of this person's behavior or what was motivating this person to make certain decisions or behave in a particular manner when faced with that hazardous situation (Monteressi, 1998; Cheney, 1991; Lindell, 1994).

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