The burning of fossil fuels emits large quantities of air pollutants that are harmful to the environment and public health [1
]. To cope with these adverse impacts, many countries have tried to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels by developing clean and renewable energy, such as nuclear, wind, solar, and geothermal energy. Among these emerging energy sources, nuclear energy has gained much attention for its relatively low cost and stable production rate [3
]. By 2017, there were about 450 nuclear power reactors worldwide, providing over 10% of the world’s electricity [4
]. These numbers will keep increasing, as many new nuclear power plants are on order or planned [4
], notably in Asian countries such as China. China recently has restarted the construction of nuclear power plants after a two-year hiatus [5
], with about 15 under construction and more about to start construction. With the intense development, commissioning, one of the key phases prior to the start of nuclear power plants’ commercial operation, has raised much attention recently.
According to the International Atomic Energy Agency [6
], commissioning is “the process by means of which systems and components of facilities and activities, having been constructed, are made operational and verified to be in accordance with the design and to have met the required performance criteria”. Commissioning is a safety-critical phase in the nuclear power plant lifecycle because it aims at noticing and fixing all deficiencies and possible errors before the plant commences operation. Great challenges lie in commissioning phase, such as the pressure of completing work within a limited time, the need to test new features of the plants, and the possible unexpected emergencies with regard to the fuel loading stage [7
]. Incidents or accidents during commissioning can lead to consequences ranging from minor (e.g., malfunction of devices) to severe (e.g., prolonged completion time and even excessive radiation leakage). Much evidence in occupational safety literature showed that the aberrant behavior of workers, such as errors and violations, was one important cause of accidents [8
], while workers’ safety participation behavior significantly reduced accident risk [10
]. These findings indicate that the behavioral performance of the commissioning workers is of great importance to the safety and efficiency of commissioning phase and to the future safety of nuclear power plants when they are in operation.
Numerous studies have been conducted and many theories have been proposed to explain individuals’ aberrant and safety participation behavior [12
]. The investigated worker groups include construction workers [13
], aviation maintainers [12
], and oilrig workers [14
]. Workers at nuclear power plants have also attracted some research attention, but the focus has been mostly on control room operators [15
]. No research has focused on the behavior of commissioning workers. There is a great difference between commissioning workers and control room operators in terms of core tasks and ways of organization. For instance, the main tasks at control room are to monitor the status of nuclear power units and handle abnormities based on specific regulations. The main commissioning tasks, in contrast, are to start up the nuclear power units and conduct experiments to examine if the units can run normally, and such tasks are filled with uncertainties [7
]. Another significant difference is that the control room usually has stable team members, while commissioning tends to build flexible teams based on specific tasks [17
]. The complex and challenging features of commissioning may make the behavioral characteristics of commissioning workers quite different from those of control room operators. Therefore, studies focusing on commissioning workers are needed to understand the mechanisms behind behavior during commissioning.
Another research gap is that most of the available studies mentioned above emphasized only the aberrant behaviors and ignored workers’ intent and enthusiasm for proactively engaging in safety-promoting behavior. Such voluntary behavior, often referred to as safety participation, extends beyond compliance with safety regulations and is not formally rewarded by the organization but can be beneficial to the overall safety of the organization [18
]. To fill these gaps, this study aimed to propose models to predict and explain errors, violations, and safety participation behavior of commissioning workers. Related findings not only shed theoretical light on understanding antecedents of commissioning workers’ behavior, but also provide guidelines to policymakers when designing countermeasures to advocate or reduce certain types of behavior. The remainder of the introduction describes the theoretical foundation underlying this study and the model and hypotheses proposed.
1.1. Errors, Violations, and Safety Participation Behavior
Aberrant behavior, which refers to a straying from the path [20
], could be classified into two types based on whether the behavior is intentional or not. Instances of intentional aberrant behavior are traditionally referred to as violations, which involve deliberate deviation from rules or practices that are important in maintaining the safety of a particular task or job [12
]. This is opposed to errors, which refer to unintended outcomes caused by slips, lapses, and mistakes made by individuals [12
]. Both types of behavior are shaped by cognitive, psychological, and social factors. However, the effect sizes of these factors on violations and errors are different; the former are more closely associated with social and psychological factors such as attitude, while the latter are more strongly affected by deficiencies in cognitive abilities such as information processing efficiency and organization skills [21
]. They also differ in their associations with demographic variables such as age and gender [22
] and in their contributions to accidents [23
While compliance with safety rules and regulations is important in lowering the risk of accidents, organizations also need individuals’ proactive participation in safety [18
]. Safety participation refers to an employee’s voluntary participation in safety activities that is beyond the employee’s formal role but does contribute to the development of a supportive safety environment [25
]. Examples of safety participation include promoting safety programs within the workplace, helping coworkers, and raising safety concerns [26
]. Safety participation has been reported to be a significant predictor of occupational accidents [10
], the effect size of which is even greater than that of aberrant behavior [27
1.2. Theory of Planned Behavior
Many theories have been proposed and applied to explain human behavior [29
]. For instance, theory of self-efficacy posits that two types of expectancies, i.e., outcome expectancy and self-efficacy expectancy, exert powerful influence on individual behavior [30
]. Self-determination theory, by contrast, suggests that motivations are the strongest determinants in shaping who we are and how we behave. In particular, individuals are motivated to engage in certain activities when their needs for competence, connection, and autonomy are fulfilled [31
]. Another well-recognized theory that tries to explain human behavior from a social cognitive perspective is the theory of planned behavior (TPB) proposed by Ajzen [32
]. It is derived from the original theory of reasoned action (TRA) [33
]. TRA was developed based on the premise that individuals make reasoned decisions to engage in specific behavior by evaluating the information available to them. It proposes that two factors, attitude and subjective norm, directly determine an individual’s behavioral intention. Attitude refers to the degree to which a person has a favorable or unfavorable evaluation or appraisal of the behavior in question, while subjective norm refers to the perceived social pressure to perform or not to perform the behavior [33
]. The formed intention further decides whether the individual would actually do that behavior.
Although intention is a strong predictor of actual behavior, there are times when individuals do not execute an action, despite having the intention to act in a certain manner, because of external factors that fall outside their control. As a result, TRA is limited to only predicting behavior of people who have complete volitional control [34
]. To extend the explanatory scope, TPB was proposed; this theory incorporates perceived behavioral control, defined as the perceived ease or difficulty of performing the behavior [32
], into the model. TPB posits that attitude, subjective norm, and perceived behavioral control together shape one’s intention to engage in certain behavior, and this intention, together with perceived behavioral control, determine the probability that an actual action will be taken. As a general rule, the more favorable the attitude and subjective norm with respect to the behavior are, the greater the perceived behavioral control is, and the stronger an individual’s intention to perform the behavior should be [32
]. Recent evidence suggested that perceived behavioral control and subjective norm could also impact behavior indirectly by influencing attitude [12
As a type of intentional or planned behavior, violations at workplace should follow the framework in TPB. This has been confirmed by some empirical studies that reported the effectiveness of TPB in explaining violations in aviation maintenance [12
], construction worksites [37
], and road transportation [38
]. For instance, Fogarty and Shaw [12
] reported that a positive attitude towards violations and the perception that other people in work commit violations (i.e., subjective norm) significantly increased workers’ intention to violate and the actual occurrence of violations. Similarly, Wang et al. [40
] found that all factors of TPB showed significant effects on violations in lane changing behavior.
The other type of aberrant behavior, errors, seem to fall outside of TPB’s explanatory scope given that they are unintentional or unplanned behavior. However, some factors of TPB have been reported as significant predictors of errors in safety literature. For instance, Victoir et al. [41
] found that perceived behavioral control was a dominant determinant that explained 33% of variance in driving errors. Lucidi et al. [42
] and Mallia et al. [43
] found that drivers possessing more a positive safety attitude reported fewer errors, suggesting that attitude towards traffic safety rules was a significant predictor of driving errors. Paletz et al. [44
] proposed taking subjective norm into consideration when analyzing errors. Based on the above studies, it was hypothesized that TPB should have some explanatory power in regard to errors.
Finally, although the motivating mechanism of safety participation has not been intensively investigated, there has been evidence suggesting that it falls under the explanatory power of TPB. Fugas et al. [39
] applied TPB as the framework to predict safety participation behavior at a transportation organization. They found that subjective norm was the most significant predictor of safety participation behavior of transportation organization workers, followed by safety attitude. However, in their study, perceived behavioral control was not identified as a significant determinant. A more recent study [45
] investigating safety participation behavior at construction sites showed that all three factors of TPB were significant predictors.
Taking all evidence together, this study applied TPB as the theoretical framework to predict errors, violations, and safety participation behavior of commissioning workers. It should be noted though, that when predicting a specific type of behavior, most TPB-related studies have measured the perception or attitude towards this specific behavior. For instance, attitudes towards violations were measured when using TPB to predict violations [12
]. However, instead of measuring the specific perception towards each type of behavior, this study used a general perception towards safety regulations to predict the three types of behavior. That is, we have measured the attitude, subjective norm, and perceived behavioral control towards safety regulations.
Based on the above evidence, it was hypothesized that:
Hypothesis 1 (H1).
Attitude would have a direct negative effect on errors and violations and a direct positive effect on safety participation.
Hypothesis 2 (H2).
Subjective norm would have a direct negative effect on errors and violations and a direct positive effect on safety participation.
Hypothesis 3 (H3).
Perceived behavioral control would have a direct negative effect on errors and violations and a direct positive effect on safety participation.
With regard to the relations among the three predictors, TPB assumes that they are correlated. However, many empirical studies have demonstrated that subjective norm and perceived behavioral control are predictors of attitude [12
]; therefore, it was further hypothesized that:
Hypothesis 4 (H4).
Subjective norm would have a direct positive effect on attitude.
Hypothesis 5 (H5).
Perceived behavioral control would have a positive effect attitude.
1.3. Executive Function
TPB offers theoretical explanations in terms of why certain behavior would be planned and whether the planned behavior would be carried out or not. However, whether a behavior can be executed the way it is planned also depends on individuals’ executive ability. For instance, there are situations where individuals intend to comply with rules but end up failing to do so due to a low level of executive function [34
]. Executive function includes many aspects relevant to successful task completion, such as organization and planning, inhibiting responses, thinking abstractly, and reallocating mental resources [47
]. In the context of commissioning, the aspect of executive function most relevant to task completion is probably organization and planning. Organization and planning refer to the ability to think ahead and to carry out organized behavior through functions like multitasking, sequencing, and holding information in mind to make decisions [49
]. As mentioned above, commissioning is characterized by collaborations within and across teams, in addition to a tight schedule, all of which require organization and planning ability to coordinate different parties and manage the projects [7
]. Some empirical studies found that organization and planning ability could reduce errors associated with ineffective communication or planning and reduce regulation violations due to inappropriate organization of tasks [46
]. Although little attention has been paid to the effect of organization and planning ability on safety participation, it was expected that better organization and planning ability could help workers improve work efficiency, therefore giving them more time and energy to engage in voluntary safety promotion programs. Based on the above evidence, it is therefore hypothesized that:
Hypothesis 6 (H6).
Organization and planning would have a positive effect on errors and violations and a negative effect on safety participation.