Risk Taking and Rule Breaking

Safe Work Australia recently released findings on a risk taking and rule breaking study. This study presents key material in light of the Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012-22.

Work Safe reached out to 1052 employers, 520 sole traders and 1311 workers and 669 HSRs/ WHSPs, to gauge perspectives and insights into the crux of dangerous workplace behaviours. 

Risk taking is healthy in the sense of fostering creativity and collaboration but not when it means compromising workplace safety. It was found that 15% of workers accept risk taking at work and 37% of WHS professionals agree that not all safety instructions were followed. The findings of the report differ with worker type, business size, occupation and industry but all reinforce pertinent messages. 

Worker Type

90% of all worker types revealed they do not accept risk taking behavior. However, although we would like to think that all organisations across the board have a zero tolerance to dangerous behavior, the remaining 10% of worker types still look the other way if no accidents ensue. However, workers are over 3 times more likely than employers to accept risk taking in the workplace with sole traders following closely behind. 

Business Size

The trend in this area sees the larger the business the more risk averse in their attitudes. Even if the work schedule is tight, 80% of employers in large businesses will not accept risk contrasted to the lesser 63% and 55% of small businesses and sole traders respectively. These trends are however contrasted to rule breaking with large businesses bending the rules and taking short cuts to complete tasks. On the culture side of business, small and medium sized businesses generally break rules due to management and workmate and incentive pressure. 


An occupation in community & personal services and machinery operation & driving as a sole trader, risk is considered unavoidable at 48% and 47% respectively. On the culture front, machinery operators & drivers and technicians and trades are occupations considered not to suit those risk averse.  In particular, 25% of employers in the trades and technicians occupation consider minor accidents as a part of everyday work. The research also found almost no workers across all occupations accepted dangerous behaviours. Working as a labourer however, showed consistencies in generally accepting risk taking and rule breaking.


A positive stance towards shows 97% of Public administration & safety industry employers react strongly against people who break health and safety rules. Employers feel a strong trend within the transport, postal & warehousing industry indicating the highest levels of breaking rules due to management and workmate pressures, bending & breaking the rules along with workplace conditions preventing safety rules being followed. Workers in the construction & accommodation industries have a strong response to indicating risks are unavoidable at 51% and 48% respectively. We can also see that workers that 41% of construction, 36%  of agriculture, forestry & fishing and 31% of health care & social assistance have admitted to taking short cuts in their work.

Please visit the Safe Work Australia website to download the full report.

Source: Safe Work Australia, December 2014