Skip to main content

Characterizing Occupational Risk Perception: the Case of Biological, Ergonomic and Organizational Hazards in Spanish Healthcare Workers

  • Mariona Portell (a1), Rosa M. Gil (a2), Josep M. Losilla (a1) and Jaume Vives (a1)

Understanding how risk is perceived by workers is necessary for effective risk communication and risk management. This study adapts key elements of the psychometric perspective to characterize occupational risk perception at a worker level. A total of 313 Spanish healthcare workers evaluated relevant hazards in their workplaces related to biological, ergonomic and organizational factors. A questionnaire elicited workers' ratings of 3 occupational hazards on 9 risk attributes along with perceived risk. Factor and regression analyses reveal regularities in how different risks are perceived, while, at the same time, the procedure helps to summarize specificities in the perception of each hazard. The main regularity is the weight of feeling of dread/severity in order to characterize the risk perceived (β ranges from .22 to .41; p < .001). Data also suggest an underestimation of expert knowledge in relation to the personal knowledge of risk. Thus, participants consider their knowledge of the risk related to biological, ergonomic, and organizational hazards to be higher than the knowledge attributed to the occupational experts (mean differences 95% CIs [.10, .30], [.54, .94], and [0.52, 1.05]). We demonstrate the application of a feasible and systematic procedure to capture how workers perceive hazards in their immediate work environment.

Corresponding author
*Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Mariona Portell. Department of Psychobiology and Methodology of Health Sciences. Edificio B. Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. 08193. Cerdanyola del Vallès (Spain). Phone: +34–935811623. Fax: + 34–935812001. E-mail:
Hide All
Alexopoulos, E. C., Kavadi, Z., Bakoyannis, G., & Papantonopoulos, S. (2009). Subjective risk assessment and perception in the Greek and English bakery industries. Journal of Environmental and Public Health, 2009, Article ID 891754, 8 pp.
Aragonés, J. I., Moyano, E., & Talayero, F. (2008). Categorizing sources of risk and the estimated magnitude of risk. The Spanish Journal of Psychology, 11, 8593.
Benthin, A., Slovic, P., & Severson, H. (1993). A psychometric study of adolescent risk perception. Journal of Adolescence, 16, 153168.
Bergman, D., Arnetz, B., Wahlstrom, R., & Sandahl, C. (2007). Effects of dialogue groups on physicians' work environment. Journal of Health Organization and Management, 21, 2738.
Brewer, N. T., Chapman, G. B., Gibbons, F. X., Gerrard, M., McCaul, K. D., & Weinstein, N. D. (2007). Meta-analysis of the relationship between risk perception and health behavior: The example of vaccination. Health Psychology, 26, 136145.
Bronfman, N. C., & Cifuentes, L. A. (2003). Risk perception in a developing country: the case of Chile. Risk Analysis, 23, 12711285.
Caponecchia, C., & Sheils, I. (2011). Perceptions of personal vulnerability to workplace hazards in the Australian construction industry. Journal of Safety Research, 42, 253258.
Carmines, E. G., & Zeller, R. A. (1982). Reliability and validity assessment. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications.
CDC - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (1998). US HIV and AIDS cases reported through December 1998. HIV/AIDS Surveillance Report 1998, 10, 26.
Coles, R., & Hodgkinson, G. P. (2008). A psychometric study of information technology risks in the workplace. Risk Analysis, 28, 8193.
Conchie, S., M. & Burns, C. (2008). Trust and risk communication in high-risk organization: A test of principles from social risk research. Risk analysis, 28, 141149.
European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (2007). E-facts 18: Risk assessment in health care. Bilbao, Spain: Author. Retrieved from
Fischhoff, B., Bostrom, A., & Quadrel, M. J. (2002). Risk perception and communication. In Detels, R., Mc Ewen, J., & Ommen, G. (Eds.), Oxford textbook of public health (pp.11051123). London, UK: Oxford University Press.
Fischhoff, B., Slovic, P., Lichtenstein, S., Read, S., & Combs, B. (1978). How safe is safe enough? A psychometric study of attitudes towards technological risks and benefits. Policy Sciences, 9, 127152.
Gabriel, J. (2009). Reducing needlestick and sharps injuries among healthcare workers. Nursing Standard. 23, 4144.
Gardner, G. T., & Gould, L. C. (1989). Public perception of the risks and benefits of technology. Risk Analysis, 9, 225242.
Gershon, R. R. M., Pearson, J. M., Sherman, M. F., Samar, S. M., Canton, A. N., & Stone, P. W. (2009). The prevalence and risk factors for percutaneous injuries in registered nurses in the home health care sector. American Journal of Infection Control, 37, 525533.
Goldstein, B. D. (2005). Advances in risk assessment and communication. Annual Review of Public Health, 26, 141163.
Harding, C. M., & Eiser, J. R. (1984). Characterising the perceived risks and benefits of some health issues. Risk Analysis, 4, 131141.
Hogarth, R. M., Portell, M., Cuxart, A., & Kolev, G. I. (2011). Emotion and reason in everyday risk perception. Journal of Behavioral Decision, 24, 202222.
Holmes, N., Lingard, H., Yesilyurt, Z., & De Munk, F. (1999). An exploratory study of meanings of risk control for long term and acute effect occupational health and safety risks in small business construction firms. Journal of Safety Research, 30, 251261.
Hopcia, K., Dennerlein, J. T., Hashimoto, D., Orechia, T., & Sorensen, G. (2012). Occupational injuries for consecutive and cumulative shifts among hospital registered nurses and patient care associates: A case-control study. Workplace Health & Safety, 60, 437444.
Jovic-Vranes, A., Jankovic, S., Vukovic, S., Vranes, B., & Miljus, D. (2006). Risk perception and attitudes towards HIV in Serbian health care workers. Occupational Medicine, 56, 275278.
Kobbeltvedt, T., Brun, W., & Laberg, J. C. (2004). Measuring and modeling risk in a naturalistic setting. Journal of Risk Research, 7, 789810.
Kraus, N., Malmfors, T., & Slovic, P. (1992). Intuitive toxicology: Expert and lay judgments of chemical risks. Risk Analysis, 12, 215232.
Kraus, N. N., & Slovic, P. (1988). Taxonomic analysis of perceived risk: Modeling individual and group perceptions within homogeneous hazard domains. Risk Analysis, 8, 435455.
Langford, I. H., Marris, C., McDonald, A. L., Goldstein, H., Rasbash, J., & O'Riordan, T. (1999). Simultaneous analysis of individual and aggregate responses in psychometric data using multilevel modeling. Risk Analysis, 19, 675683.
Lee, D. H., Mehta, M. D., & James, P. D. (2003). Differences in the perception of blood transfusion risk between laypeople and physicians. Transfusion, 43, 772778.
Loewenstein, G. F., Weber, E. U., Hsee, C. K., & Welch, N. (2001). Risk as feelings. Psychological Bulletin, 127, 267286.
Marris, C., Langford, I. H., Saunderson, T., & O’Riordan, T. (1997). Exploring the “Psychometric paradigm”: Comparisons between aggregate and individual analyses. Risk Analysis, 17, 303312.
McGonagle, A. K., & Kath, L. M. (2010). Work-safety tension, perceived risk, and worker injuries: A meso-mediational model. Journal of Safety Research, 41, 475479.
Mereu, A., Sardu, C., Minerba, L., Sotgiu, A., & Contu, P. (2007). Participative risk communication in an industrial village in Sardinia. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 61, 122127.
Monk, T. H. (1998). Hours of work. In Stellman, J. M. (Ed.), Encyclopaedia of Occupational Health and Safety (4 th Ed., pp. 1819). Geneva, Switzerland: International Labor Office.
Ngan, K., Drebit, S., Siow, S., Yu, S., Keen, D., & Alamgir, H. (2010). Risks and causes of musculoskeletal injuries among health care workers. Occupational Medicine, 60, 389394.
Portell, M., & Solé, M. D. (2001). Riesgo percibido: Un procedimiento de evaluación [The perception of risk: an evaluation procedure]. (NTP 578). Madrid, Spain: Instituto Nacional de Seguridad e Higiene en el Trabajo.
Puy, A. (1995). Percepción social de los riesgos [Social perception of risks]. Madrid, Spain: Editorial MAPFRE.
Real, K. (2008). Information seeking and workplace safety: A field application of the risk perception attitude framework. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 36, 339359.
Rohrmann, B. (1999). Risk perception research - Review and documentation. (Studies in Risk Communication No. 68). Juelich, Germany: Research Center Juelich-MUT. Retrieved from
Rundmo, T. (1995). Perceived risk, safety status and job stress among injured and non-injured employees on offshore petroleum installations. Journal of Safety Research, 26, 8797.
Sadhra, S., Petts, J., McAlpine, S., Pattison, H., & MacRae, S. (2002). Workers' understanding of chemical risks: Electroplating case study. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 59, 689695.
Savadori, L., Savio, S., Nicotra, E., Rumiati, R., Finucane, M., & Slovic, P. (2004). Expert and public perception of risk from biotechnology. Risk Analysis, 24, 12891299.
Siegrist, M., Keller, C., & Kiers, H. A. L. (2005). A new look at the psychometric paradigm of perception of hazards. Risk Analysis, 25, 211222.
Sjöberg, L. (1999). Risk perception by the public and by experts: A dilemma in risk management. Human Ecology Review, 6, 19.
Sjöberg, L. (2000). Factors in risk perception. Risk Analysis, 20, 112.
Slovic, P. (2000). The perception of risk. London, UK: Earthscan.
Slovic, P. (2010). The feeling of risk. London, UK: Earthscan.
Slovic, P., Finucane, M., Peters, E., & MacGregor, D. (2002). The affect heuristic. In Gilovich, T., Griffin, D., & Kahneman, D. (Eds.), Intuitive Judgment: Heuristics and Biases (pp. 397420). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Slovic, P., Fischhoff, B., & Lichtenstein, S. (1980). Facts and fears: Understanding perceived risk. In Schwing, R. & Albers, W. A. Jr. (Eds.), Societal risk assessment: How safe is safe enough? (pp. 181214). New York, NY: Plenum.
Västfjäll, D., Peters, E., & Slovic, P. (2008). Affect, risk perception and future optimism after the tsunami disaster. Judgment and Decision Making, 3, 6472.
Wilburn, S. Q., & Eijkemans, G. (2004). Preventing needlestick injuries among healthcare workers: A WHO–ICN collaboration. International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health, 10, 451456.
Wirth, O., & Sigurdsson, S. O. (2008). When workplace safety depends on behavior change: Topics for behavioral safety research. Journal of Safety Research, 39, 589598.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The Spanish Journal of Psychology
  • ISSN: 1138-7416
  • EISSN: 1988-2904
  • URL: /core/journals/spanish-journal-of-psychology
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed