Weed out unsafe workers before they work for you

Weed out unsafe workers before they work for you
By James Harkness on 23 September 2014 It is possible for employers to predict — with a significant degree of accuracy — whether a job candidate will flout or support their work health and safety (WHS) rules, an organisational psychology consulting firm has found.

Andrew Marty, managing director of SACS Consulting, spoke to WorkplaceOHS recently about the study his firm conducted into the WHS behaviours of employees in Australia, and what the findings mean for employers.

Personality, values, age and gender were all significant factors in whether workers were likely to embrace WHS behaviours.

Safety behaviours can be predicted


More than 1400 professionals across all industries participated in the study. Each completed an anonymous questionnaire about their attitudes and behaviour in relation to WHS, and the responses were then correlated with the outcomes of individual personality and values assessments.

Based on their findings — detailed in the report, Dangerous Personalities Making Work Unsafe — the researchers, led by Marty, concluded that it was possible to predict potentially unsafe employees, before they are hired, with 37 per cent accuracy, using a combination of personality and values testing.

In other words, employers that incorporate this new approach into their recruitment processes will be in a position to screen out riskier employees and reduce their WHS risk by 37 per cent, which Marty described as a “phenomenal advantage” for employers. To put that figure in perspective, he said the average accuracy of a job interview is only 10 to 20 per cent.

“Clearly, employers want to hire people with safety-conscious attitudes because you can have the best workplace safety system in the world, but it won’t make a difference if your employees don’t intend to adhere to your policies and procedures.”

“By hiring employees who are by nature more safety conscious, employers can potentially reduce risks and improve their organisation’s overall safety environment.”

Of course, Marty admitted, what personality and values testing can’t predict are factors such as the quality of the supervision, leadership and policies in your organisation, and the impact this will have on the safety behaviours of job candidates.

“You’ll never be able to predict safety behaviours 100% but with personality and values testing but you’ll give yourself a 37% head start,” he said.

Safety messages aren’t resonating with women


A key finding from the study, for Marty, was that men tend to be more diligent and committed than women to being safe at work. Specifically, women are not only less likely to participate in WHS practices than men but more likely to disobey their organisation’s rules.

(Interestingly, a previous SACS study into counterproductive work behaviours found that men were more likely to bully or harass people at work; whereas, women are more likely to help others in personal difficulty and be nicer to colleagues. The takeaway message, Marty noted, is that men are more likely to do “bad things” to their colleagues and women are more likely to do “bad things” to their organisation.)

Marty suggested that a possible explanation for the disparity between men and women when it comes to safety behaviours is that employers are taking one-size-fits-all approach to communicating WHS messages to the workforce that doesn’t differentiate between the sexes. A concern for Marty is that a majority of the safety messages being communicated don’t resonate with women because they are written for a male audience.

He explained that men tend to have an “I will obey the rules” mentality when it comes to WHS; whereas, women are more likely to exhibit safety consciousness if it is out of concern for the wellbeing of their colleagues. Personal safety messages that appeal to a woman’s nurturing and caring instincts are more likely to resonate with this demographic (eg “By being actively involved in the safety efforts of your organisation, you will personally ensure higher levels of safety and wellbeing for your colleagues.”).

Other findings from the SACS study included that workers aged 45 years and over tended be more safety-conscious and that prudence, patience, fairness, diligence, social boldness, and a tendency to value security were individual traits associated with better safety.

Positive psychology and empowerment


In addition to screening for safety behaviours in job candidates, Marty said it is important for employers to maintain and foster safety behaviours in their employees.

To ensure employees exhibit safety-conscious attitudes, he recommended employing “positive psychology” to instil employees with optimism, instead of driving safety efforts with messages about harm avoidance. For example, instead of dwelling on harm avoidance, a more positive approach would be for the employer to work with its employees to determine what optimum wellbeing looks like and then plan towards this.

Marty also recommended employers promote ownership of WHS among employees. He said the latest research suggests that empowering employees, by allowing them to play an active rather than passive role in WHS, will have more of a positive impact than the traditional approach of sitting employees down and lecturing them.

“The best safety efforts involve employees being enabled to collaborate as a team to define what higher levels of wellbeing mean for them and to then come up with local initiatives,” he said.

“What you’ll find is that along the way, they will make sure all the machines have guards, that all the policies are up to date and that they’ve read them.”

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