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Forskning inom säkerhet, organisation och ledarskap.
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Safety, Organization and Leadership

Research group
Active research
Project owner
Institute of Medicine

Short description

Our theoretical basis is within organizational psychology, specifically regarding organizational climate and culture. We largely apply longitudinal study designs, to be better able to understand causal mechanisms. We also develop, test and evaluate organizational interventions to increase the knowledge on how “good organizations” may be developed in practice. We apply quantitative as well as qualitative methodologies, and develop psychometric instruments to measure safety and security climates. We take a specific interest in the complexity of organizations, and the need to balance competing demands. We perform our empirical research in a variety of occupational branches, such as construction industry, healthcare, public administration, energy production and air traffic services.

Background

”We take measures as soon as we identify a hazard, but accidents occur anyway. We try to identify machinery and areas in our production plant where accidents are more common, but we see no such patterns. The accidents seem stochastic. We don’t know how to approach the problem.” 

This is the voice of a production manager, a person who demonstrated a great and sincere commitment to safety but still was unable to prevent occupational accident in the plant. The reason is, as we see it, that the traditional manner of understanding accidents, by focusing the physical/technological environment, and rules and regulations, is not sufficient. Safety is also to a large extent dependent on social interaction, and risks grounded in deficient social interaction do not manifest themselves through the sought patterns. Good social interaction contributes to relations characterized by mutual trust and shared responsibility. To be able to increase occupational safety, but also other types of safety and security, we need in-depth knowledge on how safety and security is influenced by psychological and social factors in interaction with the physical environment and the organizational structures. It is the goal of the research team Safety, Organization and Leadership to contribute to such knowledge.

Theoretical grounding and empirical approach

Our theoretical basis is within organizational psychology, specifically regarding organizational climate and culture. We largely apply longitudinal study designs, to be better able to understand causal mechanisms. We also develop, test and evaluate organizational interventions to increase the knowledge on how “good organizations” may be developed in practice. We apply quantitative as well as qualitative methodologies, and develop psychometric instruments to measure safety and security climates. We perform our empirical research in a variety of occupational branches, such as construction industry, healthcare, public administration, mining industry and flight services.

Organizational complexity and competing demands

We take a specific interest in the complexity of organizations. A successful organization must provide good working conditions and a high level of safety for its employees. But it must also be efficient and innovative. Research on the work environment, quality and efficiency in organizations is normally performed within different and well separated research fields, applying an either/or perspective. Practical implementation of research results, as well as organizational goal attainment, however, requires a both/and perspective. How do paradox and value conflicts influence occupational safety and health? How do they influence patient safety in healthcare organizations? How may the organization support their employees to better handle value conflicts, and thus obtain positive effects on health and safety as well as on organizational efficiency and quality? These are issues that we approach in several of our studies, in industry as well as in healthcare, as shown below.

Research projects

Here we describe ongoing and closed research projects. Klick on the titles to learn more about each project. 

Full title: What is essential for a high level of safety in healthcare, for the staff as well as the patients?

A good safety climate is important for the safety of the healthcare staff as well as for the patients. But how do these two types of safety climate relate to each other, and which are the organizational preconditions to support the development of a high level of safety for both patients and staff in the healthcare sector? We investigated this in a project. The results are presented in a popular science form in the book ”Säkerhetskultur i vård och omsorg”, that may be downloaded on our Swedish page (choose Swedish in the header of this page).

Financial support: AFA Insurance and Västra Götalandsregionen. 

Healthcare is facing large challenges, to improve the psychosocial health among the staff and retain the nurses and physicians, but also to improve the efficiency and patient safety. The care sectors is one of the most fundamental functions in a welfare state, but problems with stress and psychological ill-health has contributed to a large number of registered nurses leaving the occupation, and the problem of stress is also increasing among the physicians. The care sector is large and a large number of the staff are women. The sector is also important for the integration of new Swedes in the occupational life. But demands on high efficiency and quality often create ethical value conflicts in healthcare, which result in moral distress. Moral distress has been found to be a cause for nurses to leave the occupation.

In a research project during 2018-2021 we will study:
1) if an organizational climate of Perceived Organizational Support (POS) may support registered nurses ability to constructively handle value conflicts at work and thereby contribute to their psychological health, higher retention of nurses, but also to care efficiency and patient safety.
2) We also aim to elucidate which organizational conditions in the care organization that support/impede the development of a climate of perceived Organizational Support.

Research partners: The project is performed in cooperation with University West in Trollhättan and University of Skövde, as well as hospital organizations in the Jönköping Region and Skaraborg.

Financial support: AFA Insurance

Effective organizational development in healthcare requires the participation of all care professions, but the physicians’ engagement in organizational development is often low. If the physicians do not participate in such development work it induces an obvious risk that resources are spent to develop solutions that are not functional for or accepted by the physicians. The physicians’ own experience of their engagement in organizational development was previously studied in a qualitative doctoral project, which also aimed to describe principles for organization and management that promotes the physicians engagement in such work.

In a study (2016-2019), performed in cooperation with Legeforskningsinstituttet in Oslo (LEFO), we investigate how physicians experience relations between organizational conditions, work satisfaction and the quality of the interaction with the patients. The project aims to promote development processes that work well in practice. The approach is interactive in cooperation with two Norwegian healthcare clinics, and one in California.

The construction of the large Öresund tunnel and bridge link between Denmark and Sweden 1993-2000 allowed comparison of the frequency of occupational accidents among Swedish and Danish workers in the same construction project. That study, performed by a Danish team, showed an approximately four times higher accident frequency among the Danes, even when Swedes and Danes were working together at the same plants. National statistics also reveal large differences in the frequency of occupational accidents between the two countries.

During 1993-2012 the frequency of work related fatal accidents on the entire work market was 12% higher in Denmark than in Sweden. This difference remained after controlling for differences in age, gender, education, occupational branch structure, occupational distribution and company size. Within construction industry, the frequency of fatal accidents was 45% higher in Denmark during the same period.

This large difference inspired a joint Swedish-Danish research project, SveDan, where we investigated a spectrum of factors at the macro, meso and micro levels. The project offered a unique opportunity to identify factors and conditions of significance for occupational safety in construction industry Apart from scientific articles, the results of the SveDan project are presented in a doctoral thesis and in the popular science book, “Säkra bygget” (in Swedish) that may both be downloaded on our Swedish site. Please choose Swedish in the header of this page. 

Financial support: AFA Insurance 

There are more and larger potential work environment risks in construction industry than in most other occupational sectors. Large construction projects often engages subcontractors in a chain of several levels, comprising a large number of small companies in which it is difficult to establish systematic work environment methodologies. In an ongoing study, we develop and test a methodology for establishing well-functioning and continuous work environment development procedures in smaller construction companies within large construction projects.

The study will be performed in up to 20 smaller subcontractors in a large infrastructure project in Gothenburg. The methodology of the study is grounded in theory on organizational change and will be performed through a series of workshops where the companies will be offered both process support, based on the methodology Motivational Interviewing (MI), and support from the subject matter experts at the Occupational and Environmental Medicine clinic at the Sahlgrenska University Hospital.

Financial support: AFA Insurance, The National Transport Administration and the Western Götaland Region.

Leadership influence on safety in construction industry was evident in the results of the SveDan project (see above). Much other research has also shown the importance of leadership for the work environment as well as for productivity and quality. Managers are focal actors in the workplace, and their leadership is therefore an important research area in our team. In two intervention studies, one in construction industry (financial support: AFA Insurance) and one in public administration (financial support: FORTE), we investigate methods to improve managers’ leadership by supporting them in developing functional leadership behavior.

Through randomised controlled studies, we generate knowledge on how managers’ leadership behaviour influences occupational safety, the psychosocial work environment and productivity. We focus on the transformational, active transactional, passive/avoidant, rule oriented and participative leadership styles.

Financial support: AFA Insurance and  FORTE

Organizational preconditions that may influence security, i.e., protection of people or equipment from intentional damage, or information from manipulation or non-authorized acquisition, is another of our research domains. Making organizations resistant to such threats poses high demands on social interaction, where trust and distrust, rule compliance and own initiative must be combined. Our research in this domain has resulted in a questionnaire instrument to measure airdrome security climate. We also developed a questionnaire to measure airdrome safety climate (Financial support: Swedavia). Reports on these projects may be downloaded on our Swedish site, pleas choose Swedish in the header of this page.

Other studies focus on information security. Together with researchers from a number of universities and research institutes we participated in a research program on Security culture and information security (SECURIT) (Financial support: Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency). The program comprised a number of work packages, and our research team were responsible for two. One regarded the development and testing of a questionnaire to measure information security climate in organizations. We were also responsible for a study of value conflicts between information security and other important values in healthcare, in the use of electronic medical records. We focused on how such value conflicts were handled within the professional cultures of physicians and registered nurses. The results of the entire SECURIT program are presented in the popular science anthology, Säkerhetskultur och informationssäkerhet (Studentlitteratur, ISBN 978-91-44-12140-6).

In a new research program (2019-2023), Information Security Culture in Practice, the SECURIT researcher consortium takes the previous results further, partly by developing practical applications and organizational interventions to improve organizations’ information security. (Financial support: Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency).