Am I in danger here? Incorporating organizational communication into an extended model of risk information seeking at work



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There is a notable deficiency in organizational communication literature on the topic of risk information seeking (Real, 2008), given that 3.7 million nonfatal occupational injuries occurred in 2013 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014). Previous research on organizational communication addressing health and safety at work tends to focus on employee attitudes toward risk (Real, 2008) or looks at the discursive emergence of safety in the workplace (Zoller, 2003), while overlooking how organizational-level constructs, such as information seeking norms and safety information availability influences employees’ search for risk information. In general, communication scholarship on this subject is fragmented, and lacks a representative model accounting for both individual and organizational influences on risk information seeking behaviors. In light of the frequency of on-the-job injuries and fatalities, this dissertation calls attention to the lack of research by organizational communication scholars on employee risk information seeking within high-reliability organizations (HROs). Using quantitative survey data from a large oil refinery, this dissertation expands the Planned Risk Information Seeking Model (PRISM: Kahlor, 2010) to (a) include organizational-level variables, and (b) account for information seeking sources and strategies used by employees. Originally, the goal of Kahlor’s (2010) PRISM was to integrate the relationships from well-known health information seeking models to build a model of risk information seeking that was independent of any health context. However, to fully capture the various constraints—power, control, status—which employees confront to either encourage or avert risk information seeking attempts, this dissertation alters Kahlor’s PRISM. This dissertation offers a set of theoretically-driven hypotheses and research questions to assess the explanatory value of the extended PRISM, aptly named the Organizational Planned Risk Information Seeking Model (O-PRISM). Using Analysis of Moment Structures (AMOS) to conduct structural equation modeling tests reveals that the O-PRISM accounts for 62% of the variance in risk information seeking behaviors. Follow-up testing of the PRISM revealed that Kahlor’s original model explained only 34% of risk information seeking behaviors. In addition to answering Real’s (2010) call for “health-related organizational communication” research concerning occupational safety (p. 457), the findings from this study offer insight for safety personnel tasked with encouraging risk information seeking. First and foremost, this study encourages high-reliability organizations to consider how organizational norms are communicated both formally and informally. The results also provide evidence that employee risk perceptions are a poor motivator for information seeking behaviors. Lastly, from a theoretical perspective, the present study provokes a discussion about the added value of model adaptations for organizational studies.