Document Type

Journal Article


CCH Australia Limited


Faculty of Business and Law


School of Management / Centre for Innovative Practice




This is an Author's Accepted Manuscript of: Bahn, S. T., & Barratt-Pugh, L. G. (2012). Hard or soft? The relationship between power and organisational incident rates. Journal of Health, Safety and Environment, 28(1), 33-43. Available here


This paper examines the power that managers have to impact on workplace safety and how in mixed method studies our preconceptions about the hardness and softness of the relevant data may be misplaced. The civil construction industry (CCI) in WA provides the case for this discussion. Workers in this industry are constantly battling between safety compliance and production pressures in an era of economic boom. The examination of 3,882 incident reports, upon which this paper’s conclusions are drawn, revealed that these ‘‘hard’’ data may often obscure incidents that occur as organisations may be pressured into providing reportable incident figures that make them appear safer than they really are. Torn between the conflicting responsibilities of ensuring safety compliance and simultaneously progressing work, managers may manipulate safety data and provide conflicting safety signals to their staff when their words appear to be contradicted by their actions. This research found that, due to deliberate or careless misrecording of data, the seemingly hard evidence of safety data was often a rather soft representation of the reality. Conversely, the research found that the softer evidence consisting of manager perceptions revealed how hard and instrumental management voices and actions can be in shaping workplace safety culture.

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