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Risk Perception, Risk Propensity, and Unsafe Behavior: An Empirical Study of

Workers in Chinese Construction Industry

Y. P. Huang1, X. Q. Wang1, R. X. Ding1, N. N. Xia 2
College of Management and Economics, Tianjin University, Tianjin, China
Corresponding author at: College of Management and Economics, Tianjin University, Tianjin, China; email:

Abstract - As one of the most important participants in whether to follow the safety regulation strictly falls into
construction industry, construction workers unsafe the category of risk-based decision-making behavior.
behavior is very common on construction sites. From an Based on literatures review, Sitkin and Pablo [6]
individual level, this research aims to investigate the advocated that the factors influencing risk-based
relationship among risk perception, risk propensity and decision-making behavior can be divided into three levels:
unsafe behavior decision-making. A survey is conducted
within first-line workers in Chinese construction projects.
1) personal characteristics mainly including risk
The results show that: 1) risk propensity is positively and preferences, habits and outcome history; 2) organizational
significantly related to unsafe behavior, 2) risk perception is features including the heterogeneity of executive team,
negatively and significantly related to unsafe behavior, 3) organizational culture, the tendency of leaders etc.; and 3)
risk propensity is negatively and significantly related to risk the features of problems, e.g. the decision-makers
perception, and 4) risk perception partly mediates the experience and familiarity with the situation or problem.
relationship between risk propensity and unsafe behavior. Fogarty and Shaw [7] emphasized that individual behavior
Thus, project managers should pay more attention to could make a significant impact on the organizations
risk-seeking workers in order to reduce their unsafe performance in the research of construction workers
behavior. Moreover, individuals decision on behavior is
largely dependent on their intuition, previous experience,
Keywords - construction worker, unsafe behavior, risk educational background, attitudes to risk and other
propensity, risk perception, China subjective factors [8], [9]. Thus, it is necessary to explore
the construction workers unsafe behavior from the
I. INTRODUCTION aspects of personal qualities.
Previous researches have shown that many factors
There are approximately two hundred million people would affect the decision-making behavior through risk
engaged in the construction industry all over the word, propensity and risk perception. The model proposed by
which has made great contribution to the global Sitkin and Pablo [5] is also in conformity with it. Through
employment problem. In addition, the construction empirical research in the field of software development,
industry has played an important role in supporting other Keil [10] has confirmed that the risk propensity and risk
industries, such as cement, steel, wood and heavy perception have a significant impact on the risk-based
manufacturing, and so on. However, construction industry decision-making behavior. Thus, the decision-makers risk
is also one of the most dangerous industrial sectors [1], propensity and risk perception cannot be ignored in the
[2]. Many investigations of construction accidents have study of decision-making behavior [11]. Reference [8] has
shown that workers unsafe behavior is one of the also emphasized the importance of improving the
common causes of accidents [3]. Construction workers workers risk perception level in construction safety
behavior can be easily influenced by personal management. And another study used a paired comparison
characteristics, project environment, and other factors. technique to explore construction site dumper drivers and
Therefore, the exploration of factors, which can influence subject matter experts (SMEs) risk perception and its
the construction workers unsafe behavior, can help avoid relationship to risk-taking behavior [18]. However, the
accidents. effects of risk propensity and risk perception on unsafe
Unsafe behavior is traditionally referred to as behavior are still controversial [12]-[14]. Besides, such
violations, which involve the deliberate deviation from relationship is rarely examined within construction
rules that describe the safe or approved method of workers. Thus, this research aims to explore the
performing a particular task or job; as opposed to errors, relationship among risk perception, risk propensity and
which refer to unintended outcomes caused by slips, unsafe behavior.
lapses and mistakes made by individuals [4]. Uncertainty
is inevitable in workplace, coupled with the limit of II. RESEARCH MODELS AND HYPOTHESES
resources or time, and workers tend to violate regulations.
Risk-based decision-making behavior refers to the A. Risk Perception and Unsafe Behavior
decision which may cause serious consequence or may not There exists a big controversy about the relationship
when there are some uncontrolled factors [5]. When between risk perception and decision-making behavior.
workers are performing a particular task, the decision

978-1-5090-3665-3/16/$31.00 2016 IEEE 1121

Proceedings of the 2016 IEEE IEEM

Some scholars believe that there is a negative correction resulting in a higher level of risk perception.
between the two concepts: the higher perceived risk level,
the less likely a person will engage in risk-taking
behavior. While the other side claims there is a positive
correlation between them. For example, Kahneman and
Tversky [15] found that under negative problem frame,
decision-makers perceiving high levels of risk responded
with risk-seeking behavior. Johnson et al. [16] also found
that the underage smokers were even more aware of the
dangers than those who were not.
In construction workplaces, some workers may think Fig. 1. Research model
it is very dangerous to take a certain action, while others
disagree even if they are in the same situation. The former Stikin and Pablo [6] thought that risk perception and
who realizes the serious consequences of unsafe behavior risk propensity are two key variables that influence risk
are more likely to follow safety regulations. In contrast, decisions, and risk propensity can influence risk
those who are unaware of the potential risks will be more perception. Based on this, Stikin and Weingart [5] have
likely to take violations, such as not wearing a helmet. verified that risk perception mediated the relationship
Meanwhile, many previous research has confirmed that between risk propensity and risk decisions. Hence, the
there is a negative correlation relationship between risk following hypotheses are formulated:
perception and construction workers unsafe behavior [17, H3. Risk propensity has a negative effect on risk
18]. Hence, hypothesis 1 is put forward: perception. Risk-seeking workers are more intend to have
H1. Construction workers risk perception will be lower risk perception level.
negatively related to unsafe behavior. H4. Risk perception will mediate the relationship
B. Risk Propensity and Unsafe Behavior between risk propensity and unsafe behavior.
There are also inconsistencies concerning the Fig. 1 shows the conceptual model of the
relationship between the risk propensity and relationships specified in the hypotheses.
decision-making behavior. Forlani [19] advocated that the
propensity can work on the decision-making behavior III. METHODOLOGY
directly. But there is evidence indicating that this is not
always the case. Sitkin and Pablo [6], for instance, argue A. Samples
that the risk propensity may have an impact on risk The participants are Chinese housing construction
perception, namely the risk perception plays a mediating workers from Hebei province, Tianjin, Shanghai, Anhui
role. Lopes [20] believed that although risk propensity and province and Ningbo province.
risk perception both appear to influence decision-making, 373 questionnaires are collected, of which 325
they can interact with each other. questionnaires are valid. The samples cover a lot types of
The definitions and measurements inconsistency of work, including carpenters, masons, painters, etc. Their
risk propensity may account for the conflicting results. backgrounds are shown in Table I.
This paper follows the definition that the risk propensity is B. Measure
an individuals current tendency to take or avoid risks. It Unsafe Behavior: Because unsafe behavior is
is conceptualized as an individual trait that can change sensitive, we measured intention instead (2 items, e.g.,
over time and thus is an emergent property of the decision Ill wear the helmet correctly in the later operation.).
maker [6]. According to personal characteristics, risk The theory of planned behavior has confirmed that
propensity can be divided into risk-seeking, risk-averse, behavioral intention can directly affect decision-making
and risk-neutral. Based on this, hypothesis 2 is put behavior [21]. Behavioral intention can directly determine
forward: the behavior when personal abilities, access to
H2. Risk propensity will be positively related to information, opportunities, and resources are under
unsafe behavior. control.
Subjective judgment of risk can be influenced by Risk Perception: In this research, the scale developed
various factors, like psychology, social, environmental, by Simon is used. It is revised according to the
institutional and cultural ones. From the perspective of characteristics of Chinese construction situation (8 items,
individual differences, risk propensity is an important e.g., I believe that not wearing a helmet may bring a lot
antecedent of risk perception. Risk propensity can affect damage to myself.). The response format is a seven-point
the relative significance of opportunities and threat under Likert scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7
specific condition, leading to differences in risk (strongly agree).
perception. The risk-seeking decision-makers are more Risk Propensity: In previous studies, there are mainly
inclined to pay attention to positive results and two methods to measure the risk propensity. One is
underestimate the possibility of losses, resulting in a lower CDQ(Choice dilemma questionnaire). The other is the
level of risk perception. The risk-averse decision-makers extension of scale designed by Stikin and Weingart [5],
are more inclined to focus on the potential losses, which contains five items. Weber et al. [22] developed a

Proceedings of the 2016 IEEE IEEM

DOSPERT (Domain-specific risk taking scale) scale by significant links between risk propensity and unsafe
considering both losses and benefits. Nicholson et al. [23] behavior (r = 0.335, sig < 0.01), which indicated that the
designed a series of questions from six dimensions and risk-seeking workers are easier to relax, resulting in more
unsafe behavior. There is also a significant negative
TABLE I correction between risk perception and unsafe behavior(r
SAMPLE BACKGROUNDS = -0.500sig < 0.01), and also between risk propensity
Item Category Number Percentage and age (r = -0.235sig < 0.01). A significant positive
Male 295 90.7% correlation is found between marital status and unsafe
Female 30 9.3% behavior (r = 0.253, sig <0.01), indicating that married
Marital Married 252 77.5% worker has a stronger sense of responsibility to family.
status Unmarried 43 22.5% B. Risk Perception and Unsafe Behavior
Primary 120 36.9% Linear regression method is used to further validate
Junior high school 157 48.3% the relationship among the three variables. Regression
Senior middle school 40 12.3% analysis between risk perception and unsafe behavior
Technical Colleges 7 2.2% indicated that there is a significant negative correlation
Bachelor degree or above 1 0.003% between them ( = -0.500sig = 0.000). The workers
20-29 46 14.2% who realize possible serious consequences caused by
30-39 135 41.5% unsafe behavior would pay more attention to avoid unsafe
Age 40-49 127 39.1% behavior. Thus, hypothesis 1 is supported.
50-59 16 4.9%
60 or above 1 0.003
C. Risk Propensity and Unsafe Behavior
Regression analysis between risk propensity and
respondents risk propensity can be measured by the
unsafe behavior indicates that there is a significant
frequency of their risk-taking behavior in different areas.
positive correlation between them ( = 0.346sig =
The definition of risk perception in this research
follows the risk-decision model proposed by Stikin and 0.008), indicating that the risk-seeking workers are easier
Pablo [6]. Besides, unsafe behavior mostly results in to relax vigilance, resulting in unsafe behavior. Thus,
losses not benefits. Therefore, we chose the scale designed hypothesis 2 is supported.
by Stikin and Pablo and revised it according to the D. Risk Propensity and Risk Perception
characteristics of Chinese construction situation. Finally, Regression analysis between risk propensity and risk
five items are included such as I tend to make decisions perception indicates that there is a significant negative
based on the rules and regulations of the project. The correlation between them ( = -0.439, sig = 0.001) when
response format is a seven-point Likert scale ranging from we take risk propensity as independent variable and risk
1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). perception as dependent variable. Risk-averse workers are
Control Variables: It is obvious that there are more likely to be aware of the serious consequences of
apparent differences of risk perception between male and unsafe behavior. Thus, hypothesis 3 is supported.
female. Women are more conservative, leading to a higher E. Risk Perceptions Mediating Role
level of risk perception. Meanwhile, Reference [24] found The four factors, i.e. family, co-workers,
that married workers tend to have a higher level of risk management and perceived behavioral control can affect
perception than the unmarried. Therefore, we chose the the unsafe behavior. In order to make a better inspection
basic information as the first set of control variables, of the relationship among risk perception, risk propensity
including sex, age, type of work, and marital status. and unsafe behavior, we should make the four factors stay
The theory of planned behavior suggests that a relatively stable level. During the inspection of
individual behavior is also influenced by subjective norms mediating effect, the four control variables which can
and perceived behavioral control [25]. Besides, the unsafe significantly affected unsafe behavior are added to
behavior of workers can be greatly influenced by regression equation as Model 1. We add risk propensity to
organizational management. Namely, the larger the scale the regression model to form model 2. Risk perception is
of a project is, the more stringent management and added to the regression model to form model 3. Finally,
punishment measures are. Therefore, subjective norms, risk perception and risk propensity are added to the
perceived behavioral control and the scale of the project regression model to form model4. The regression results
were set as the second set of control variables. are shown in Table II.
We can conclude that risk propensity has a
significant influence on unsafe behavior ( = 0.318, sig <
IV. RESULTS 0.05) from model 2 and risk perception has a significant
influence on
A. Preliminary Analyses unsafe behavior ( = -0.477, sig < 0.05) from model 3. As
All measuring scales obtained a very satisfactory it can be seen from Model 2, when we take the risk
reliability level because Cronbach of three latent perception as a mediated variable into the regression
variable scales are above 0.7(risk propensity = 0.753, risk equation, the regression coefficient is still significant,
perception = 0.725, unsafe behavior = 0.753). Then while regression coefficients of risk propensity drop from
correlation analysis is conducted. The variables yielded

Proceedings of the 2016 IEEE IEEM

0.318 to 0.195. So what could be inferred is that risk easier to understand for workers.
perception partially mediate the relationship between the
risk propensity and unsafe behavior. VI. DISCUSSION

TABLE II In this research, the theory of risk decision-making

HIERARCHICAL REGRESSION was applied to the field of unsafe behavior from the
Independent Model1 Model2 Model3 Model4 perspective of individual level. It made a clear
understanding of the relationship among risk perception,
-0.048 -0.060 -0.013 -0.027 risk propensity and unsafe behavior, which may be helpful
Co-workers in further research of the mechanism of unsafe behavior
-0.011 -0.107 -0.310 0.323
influence from the personal psychological level.
-0.443* -0.489* -0.496* -0.514*
behavioral -0.019 0.019 -0.026 -0.018
Risk propensity 0.318 0.195 We would thank to all the respondents of research. In
Risk Perception -0.477 -0.389 addition, we appreciate the financial support of the
R2 0.227 0.322 0.376 0.407 National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant
Adjusted R2 0.168 0.255 0.315 0.335


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