• Jason Starke

Fostering Safety Citizenship Behaviors: A Key Challenge for High-Risk Organizations


There has been a lot of research on organizational citizenship behavior, which can be defined as employee extra-role behaviors performed for the betterment of the organization. Closely related to organizational citizenship behavior is the notion of safety citizenship behaviors which have been shown to be related to improved safety in high-risk organizations.


What is Safety Citizenship Behavior? Safety citizenship behavior is employee extra-role behavior, such as participating in safety management activities, to improve safety in the organization.

Aspects of Safety citizenship behaviors are:

  1. Affiliative or organizational - In other words, safety citizenship behavior can be directed towards protecting individuals or for improving safety across the whole organization.

  2. Multi-dimensional construct - One such construct is safety stewardship, affective commitment, safety choice, and psychological ownership. It is these dimensions that are thought to describe what safety citizenship behavior is.

  3. Strong drivers - It is thought that a strong organizational commitment in employees can lead to greater organizational citizenship behaviors and safety citizenship behaviors.

The notion of safety citizenship behaviors are important for high-risk and highly-reliable organizations. Generally, these organizations have something called a safety management system (SMS) which is used to identify and control risk in operations. A large part of identifying risk in the organization is employee hazard reporting. This is a process where employees who have identified hazards within operations fill out a report regarding the hazard and submit it to the safety team. Additionally, hazard reporting could include reporting employee errors and potential violations. Generally, filling out hazard reports is not a job requirement and considered voluntary. Since hazard reporting is a key aspect to a functioning SMS, organizations have strived to develop this particular safety citizenship behavior.

Some research indicate that safety citizenship behavior development are positively related to leadership approaches such as transformational leadership, empowering leadership, and positive leader-member exchange. Usually, these studies find that the different leadership approaches are mediated through constructs such as employee trust, organizational commitment, and social exchange to name a few. Regardless, how an organization can foster safety citizenship behaviors through leadership to improve safety is a key challenge for high-risk, high-reliability organizations.

Sources: Didla, S., Mearns, K., & Flin, R. (2009). Safety citizenship behaviour: A proactive approach to risk management. Journal of Risk Research, 12(3–4), 475–483. https://doi.org/10.1080/13669870903041433


Lee, T.-Z., Wu, C.-H., & Hong, C.-W. (2007). An Empirical Investigation of the Influence of safety climate on organizational citizenship behavior in Taiwan’s facilities. International Journal of Occupational Safety and Ergonomics,13(3), 255–269. https://doi.org/10.1080/10803548.2007.11076726


Li, M., Zhai, H., Zhang, J., & Meng, X. (2020). Research on the relationship between safety leadership, safety attitude and safety citizenship behavior of railway employees. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(6), 1864. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17061864


Muchiri, Michael K., Adela J. McMurray, Mathews Nkhoma, and Hiep C. Pham. “How Transformational and Empowering Leader Behaviors Enhance Workplace Safety: A Review and Research Agenda.” The Journal of Developing Areas; Nashville 53, no. 1 (Winter 2019): 257–65.


Reader, T. W., Mearns, K., Lopes, C., & Kuha, J. (2017). Organizational support for the workforce and employee safety citizenship behaviors: A social exchange relationship. Human Relations,70(3), 362–385. https://doi.org/10.1177/0018726716655863

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