Work safety interventions and threat complexity – A formative investigation into why farmers do not act safely
More details
Hide details
Department of Work Science, Business Economics & Environmental Psychology, Alnarp, Sweden
Catharina Elisabeth Alwall Svennefelt   

Departement of Work Science, Business Economics & Environmental Psychology
Fear appeals are a common tactic used in work safety interventions to motivate farmers to adopt safer behaviours. They begin by introducing a threat, followed by information on how to remove the threat. However, fear appeals tend to be ineffective when developed without a firm grasp of the cognitive processes underlying behavioural change. Although previous research on farm safety interventions have investigated fear appeals, they have focused on very narrow threats and behaviours, such as tractor or cow safety, while others have studied the threats but not the cognitive processing. Consequently, not enough is known about the range of threats that evoke fear, how farmers behave when under threat, or their general cognitive beliefs regarding self-efficacy, response cost and response efficacy. In In this study, 23 Swedish Farmers were interviewed and participated in a work safety intervention to identify the range of threats farmers perceive, and actions taken to remove those threats.

Material and methods:
The extended parallel processing model was used to gain insights into how farmers cognitively processed threats and their subsequent behaviour. Interestingly, it was found that farmers were more fearful of work safety threats related to family members and employees—yet the actions they took to reduce threats were mostly personal in nature. To help explain this finding, a typology of threat complexity was developed by the authors.

It was found that simple, common, and direct threats to safety tended to lead to adaptive, threat-reducing behaviours, whereas complex, general, or indirect threats promoted more maladaptive behaviours that reduced fear, but not the threats.

We thank the Scania farmers for their willingness to participate in this study and The Royal Swedish Academy of Agriculture and Forestry (KSLA) that made this work possible through the research project (H142-0024-SLO).
Donham M, Thelin A. Agricultural Medicine: Rural Occupational and Environmental Health, Safety and Prevention. 2nd ed. John Wiley & Sons; 2016; ISBN: 978-1-118-64720-2.
Jadhav R, Achutan C, Haynatzki G, Rajaram S, Rautiainen R. Review and meta-analysis of emerging risk factors for agricultural injury. J Agromed. 2016; 21(3): 284–297.
Eurostat. Agriculture, forestry, and fishery statistics. Luxembourg: European Statistical Office. 2017. Retrieved from
Pinzke S, Alwall Svennefelt C, Lundqvist P. Occupational injuries in Swedish agriculture–development and Preventive actions. 2018.
Holte KA, Follo G. Making occupational health and safety training relevant for farmers: evaluation of an introductory course in occupational health and safety in Norway. Safety Sci. 2018; 109: 368–376.
Witte K. Putting the fear back into fear appeals: the extended parallel process model. Communications Monographs. 1992; 59(4): 329–349. doi:10.1080/03637759209376276.
Rautiainen R, Lehtola MM, Day LM, Schonstein E, Suutarinen J, Salminen S, Verbeek JH. Interventions for preventing injuries in the agricultural industry. The Cochrane Library; 2008.
Marlenga B, Berg RL, Pickett W. National public health data systems in the United States: applications to child agricultural injury surveillance. J Rural Health; 2018.
Sorensen JA, May JJ, Paap K, Purschwitz MA, Emmelin M. Encouraging farmers to retrofit tractors: a qualitative analysis of risk pe, rceptions among a group of high-risk farmers in New York. J Agric Safety Health 2008; 14(1): 105–117.
Stave C, Törner M, Eklöf M. An intervention method for occupational safety in farming—evaluation of the effect and process. Appl Ergon. 2007; 38(3): 357–368.
Caffaro F, Lundqvist P, Cremasco MM, Göransson E, Pinzke S, Nilsson K, Cavallo E. Falls from Tractors in Older Age: Risky Behaviours in a Group of Swedish and Italian Farmers Over 65. In Congress of the International Ergonomics Association, 2018; (pp. 78–86). Springer, Cham.
Alwall Svennefelt C, Hunter E, Lundqvist P. Evaluating the Swedish approach to motivating improved work safety conditions on farms: insights from fear appeals and the extended parallel processing model. J Agromed. 2018; 23(4): 355–373.
Tan-Wilhelm D, Witte K, Liu WY, et al. Impact of a worker notification program: assessment of attitudinal and behavioural outcomes. View Issue TOC. 2000; 37: 205–213.
Smith SW, Rosenman KD, Kotowski MR, et al. Using the EPPM to create and evaluate the effectiveness of brochures to increase the use of hearing protection in farmers and landscape workers. J Appl Commun Res. 2008; 36(2):200–218. doi:10.1080/00909880801922862.
Tebeaux E. Safety warnings in tractor operation Manuals, 1920–1980: manuals and warnings don’t always work. J Technical Writing Communication. 2010; 40(1):3–28. doi:10.2190/TW.40.1.b.
Witte Kim, Allen M. A meta-analysis of fear appeals: implications for effective public health campaigns. Health Education Behaviour 2000; 27(5): 591–615.
De Hoog N, Stroebe W, De Wit J. The impact of vulnerability to and severity of a health risk on processing and acceptance of fear-arousing communications: A meta-analysis. Rev General Psychol. 2007; 11(3): 258.
Tannenbaum MB, Hepler J, Zimmerman RS, Saul L, Jacobs S, Wilson K, Albarracín D. Appealing to fear: A meta-analysis of fear appeal effectiveness and theories. Psychol Bulletin 2015; 141(6): 1178 20.
Rogers RW. A protection motivation theory of fear appeals and attitude change1. J Psychol. 1975; 91(1): 93–114.
Rogers RW. Cognitive and psychological processes in fear appeals and attitude change: A revised theory of protection motivation. Social psychophysiology: A sourcebook, 1983; 153–176.
Berkowitz L, Cottingham, DR. The interest value and relevance of fear arousing communications. J Abnormal Social Psychol. 1960; 60(1): 37.
Brehm JW. A theory of psychological reactance. 1966.
Witte K, Peterson, TR, Vallabhan S, Stephenson MT, Plugge CD, Givens VK, Jarrett R. Preventing tractor-related injuries and deaths in rural populations: Using a persuasive health message framework in formative evaluation research. Int Q Community Health Educ. 1992; 13(3): 219–251.
Lindahl C, Lundqvist P, Hagevoort GR, et al. Safety aspects of animal handling in dairy production. J Agromedicine. 2013; 18:274–283. doi:10.1080/ 1059924X.2013.796906.
Baksh K, Ganpat W, Narine, L. Farmers knowledge, attitudes and perceptions of occupational health and safety hazards in Trinidad, West Indies and implications for the Agriculture sector. J Agric Extension Rural Dev. 2015; 7(7): 221–228.
Biener L, Harris JE, Hamilton W. Impact of the Massachusetts tobacco control programme: population based trend analysis. BMJ 2000; 321(7257): 351–354.
Donovan RJ, Jalleh G, Henley N. Executing effective road safety advertising: are big production budgets necessary? Accident Analysis Prevention 1999; 31(3): 243–252.
Grey M, Boland EA, Davidson M, Li J, Tamborlane WV. Coping skills training for youth with diabetes mellitus has long-lasting effects on metabolic control and quality of life. J Pediatrics, 2000; 137(1): 107–113.
Hagel LM, Pickett W, Pahwa P, Day L, Brison RJ, Marlenga B, Dosman JA. Prevention of agricultural injuries: an evaluation of an education-based intervention. Inj Prev. 2008; 14(5): 290–295.
Laberge M, MacEachen E, Calvet B. Why are occupational health and safety training approaches not effective? Understanding young worker learning processes using an ergonomic lens. Safety Sci. 2014; 68: 250–257.
DeRoo LA, Rautiainen RH. A systematic review of farm safety interventions. Am J Prev Med. 2000; 18(4): 51–62. doi:10.1016/S0749-3797(00)00141-0.
Frick CM RTW, Reigeluth CM. Formative research: A methodology for creating and improving design theories. Instructional-design theories and models, 1999; 2.
Whitman SD, Field WE. Assessing senior farmers’ perceptions of tractor and machinery-related hazards. 1995.
Dillard JP. Rethinking the study of fear appeals: An emotional perspective. Communication Theory, 1994; 4(4): 295–323.
Hovland CI, Janis IL, Kelly HH. Communication and persuasion; psychological studies of opinion change. 1953.
Maddux JE, Rogers RW. Protection motivation and self-efficacy: a revised theory of fear appeals and attitude change. J Exp Soc Psychol. 1982; 19:469–479. doi:10.1016/0022-1031(83)90023-9.
Leventhal H. Findings and theory in the study of fear communications. Adv Exp Soc Psychol. 1970; 5, pp. 119–186.
Popova L. The extended parallel process model illuminating the gaps in research. Health Education Behaviour. Sage J. 2012; 39(4):455–473.
Bandura A. Self-efficacy: toward a unifying theory of behavioural change. Psychol Rev. 1977; 84(2): 191.
Leventhal H. Fear appeals and persuasion: the differentiation of a motivational construct. Am J Public Health. 1971; 61: 6, pp. 1208–1224.
Maloney Erin K, Lapinski MK, Witte K. Fear appeals and persuasion: A review and update of the extended parallel process model. Soc Personality Psychol Com., 2011; 5(4): 206–219.
Witte, K. Preventing teen pregnancy through persuasive communica-tions: realities, myths, and the hard-fact truths. J Com Health. 1997; 22(2): 137–154.
Rimal RN. Perceived risk and self-efficacy as motivators: Understanding individuals’ long-term use of health information. J Commun. 2001; 51(4): 633–654.
Witte K. A theory of cognition and negative affect: extending Gudykunst and Hammer’s theory of uncertainty and anxiety reduction. Int J Intercultural Relations. 1993; 17: 197–215. doi:10.1016/0147-1767(93) 90025-410.1016/0147-1767(93)90025-4.
Ambe F, Murphy DJ. Injury prevention programming for aged tractor operators. J Agric Saf Health. 1995; 1(2): 105–116. doi:10.13031/2013.19458.
McMahan S, Witte K, Meyer JA. The perception of risk messages regarding electromagnetic fields: extending the extended parallel process model to an unknown risk. Health Commun, 1998; 10(3): 247–259.
Rimal R. Perceived risk and self-efficacy as motivators: understanding individuals’ long-term use of health information. J Commun. 2001; 51(4): 633–654. doi:10.1111/j.1460-2466.2001.tb02900.x.
Lewis I, Watson B, White KM. Extending the explanatory utility of the EPPM beyond fear-based persuasion. Health Commun. 2013; 28(1): 84–98.
Ralston RA. Motivation activation and the EPPM: Exploring real-time fear appeal processing (Doctoral dissertation, The Ohio State University). 2016.
Maloney EK, Lapinski MK, Witte K. Fear appeals and persuasion: a review and update of the extended parallel process model. Soc Personal Psychol Compass. 2011; 5(4):206–219. doi:10.1111/spco.2011.5.issue-4.
Hine DW, Phillips WJ, Reser JP, Cooksey RW, Marks ADG, Nunn PD, Ellul M. Enhancing climate change communication: strategies for profiling and targeting Australian interpretive communities. Gold Coast, Australia: National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility. 2013; p. 95.
Hine DW, Phillips WJ, Cooksey R, Reser JP, Nunn P, Marks AD,Watt SE. Preaching to different choirs: How to motivate dismissive, uncommitted, and alarmed audiences to adapt to climate change? Global Environ Change. 2016; 36: 1–11.
Turnbull N, Algie J. A qualitative analysis of young drivers’ perceptions of driver distraction social marketing interventions. 2015.
Cismaru M, Nimegeers K. Keep your eyes up, don’t text and drive: a review of anti-texting while driving Campaigns’ recommendations. Inter Rev Public Nonprofit Marketing. 2017; 14(1): 113–135.
Kvale S, Brinkmann S. Interview: introduktion til et håndværk. Hans Reitzel. 2009.
Bryman, A. Social research methods. Oxford university press. 2016.
Braun V, Clarke V. Using thematic analysis in psychology. Q Res Psychol. 2006; 3(2): 77–101.
Guest G, Namey EE, Mitchell ML. Collecting qualitative data: A field manual for applied research. 2012; Sage.
Morgan SE, Cole HP, Struttmann T, Piercy L. Stories or statistics? Farmers’ attitudes toward messages in an agricultural safety campaign. J Agric Safety Health, 2002; 8(2): 225.
Danielson (Ed.). Säkert Bondförnuft. Slutrapport för projektet 2009–2013. (Safe farmers common sense. A final 515 report for the project 2009–2013) (In Swedish). Swedish Farmers Federation (LRF). Stockholm. 2013.
Lee B, Marlenga B. Professional resource manual: North American guidelines for children’s agricultural tasks. Marshfield, WI: Marshfield Clinic. 1999.
Klassen TP, MacKay JM, Moher D, Walker A, Jones AL. Community-based injury prevention interventions. Future Child. 2000; 83–110.
Gadomski A, Ackerman S, Burdick P, Jenkins P. Efficacy of the North American guidelines for children’s agricultural tasks in reducing childhood agricultural injuries. Am J Public Health 2006; 96(4): 722–727.
Nilsson K. Parents’ attitudes to risk and injury to children and young people on farms. PLoS one, 2016; 11(6): e0158368.
Witte K. Fear as motivator, fear as inhibitor: Using the extended parallel process model to explain fear appeal successes and failures. In: Handbook of communication and emotion. 1996; p. 423–450.
Beck KH, Frankel A. A conceptualization of threat communications and protective health behaviour. Soc Psychol Q. 1981; 204–217.
Weinstein ND. Unrealistic optimism about susceptibility to health problems. J Behav Med. 1982; 5(4): 441–460.
Weinstein ND. Unrealistic optimism about future life events. J Personal Soc Psychol. 1980; 39(5): 806.
Lunner Kolstrup C, Kallioniemi M, Lundqvist P, Kymäläinen, HR, Stallones L, Brumby S. International perspectives on psychosocial working conditions, mental health, and stress of dairy farm operators. J Agromed. 2013; 18(3): 244–255.
Nilsson K, Pinzke S, Lundqvist P. Occupational injuries to senior farmers in Sweden. J Agric Safety Health. 2010; 16(1): 19–29.
Wrosch C, Scheier, MF, Carver CS, Schulz R. The importance of goal disengagement in adaptive self-regulation: When giving up is beneficial. Self Identity 2013; 2(1): 1–20.
Bandura, A. Vicarious processes: A case of no-trial learning. Adv Exp Soc Psychol. 1965; 2: 1–55). Academic Press.
Arrington EG, Wilson MN. A re-examination of risk and resilience during adolescence: Incorporating culture and diversity. J Child Family Stud. 2000; 9(2): 221–230.