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Explicit and implicit trust within safety culture

Burns, C. and Mearns, K. and McGeorge, P. (2006) Explicit and implicit trust within safety culture. Risk Analysis, 26 (5). pp. 1139-1150. ISSN 0272-4332

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Safety culture is an important topic for managers in high-hazard industries because a deficient safety culture has been linked to organizational accidents. Many researchers have argued that trust plays a central role in models of safety culture but trust has rarely been measured in safety culture/climate studies. This article used explicit (direct) and implicit (indirect) measures to assess trust at a UK gas plant. Explicit measures assessed trust by asking workers to consider and state their attitude to attitude objects. Implicit measures assessed trust in a more subtle way by using a priming task that relies on automatic attitude activation. The results show that workers expressed explicit trust for their workmates, supervisors, and senior managers, but only expressed implicit trust for their workmates. The article proposes a model that conceptualizes explicit trust as part of the surface levels of safety culture and implicit trust as part of the deeper levels of safety culture. An unintended finding was the positive relationship between implicit measures of trust and distrust, which suggests that trust and distrust are separate constructs. The article concludes by considering the implications for safety culture and trust and distrust in high-hazard industries.