The Human Factor is Vital in OHS Program Success

Nearly a century ago, Heinrich asserted that “88% of workplace accidents were caused by unsafe acts (usually by the injured person).” In the second decade of the 21st century, companies small and large are doing everything they can to reduce incident rates, and they’re doing a great job.

While companies have achieved successful results with safety training, improved investment in effective PPE, and comprehensive workplace safety programs, many are still overlooking a key factor that causes individuals to commit unsafe acts: personality.

Traditional safety doctrines make two primary assumptions:

  1. Humans are fallible, and therefore need systems that make it impossible to make a mistake
  2. All people respond to safety training and processes the same way

While the first assumption has significant validity, and the second leads to at least moderate results with the majority of workers in safety-sensitive roles, the true opportunity for positive change is in personalizing safety training and coaching to the needs and learning styles of individuals.

Linking Personality and Safety

Research has confirmed that there is a definitive link between workers’ individual personalities and the overall success of a workplace safety program. For example, high levels of Calmness lead people to act cool under pressure and focus on the safe task at hand. Alternatively, personality traits like Thrill-Seeking and Rule-Resistance can lead to defiance of safety protocols or “Cowboy Acts” that can cause serious incidents.

In addition to the research, there are some high-profile cases of serious workplace incidents that have been caused or averted because of the acts of individuals.

Extreme Speed Causes Tragedy

Earlier this year, a Spanish train crash caused the tragic loss of 79 lives. Investigators revealed that the train was travelling at nearly twice the speed accepted as “safe” by regulators. A tearful Francisco Garzon has in fact testified that he did not know why he was travelling so fast and that he even knew what he was doing was wrong. 

Captain Sully Saves the Day

On the flip side, Captain Chelsey Sullenberger, or Captain Sully as he likes to be called, saved the lives of US Airways Flight 1549 passengers and crews by remaining calm under pressure, which enabled him to make an unbelievable emergency landing after a freak accident saw a flock of Canadian Geese hit the plane and caused a loss of engine power.

How to Identify “Higher-Risk” Personalities

Personality risk assessments have been used for years to identify key personality traits of highly effective employees in addition to predicting which prospective job candidates are the best “fit” for a high-performing work team. It is only recently that personality risk assessments have been used for front-line workers in in safety-sensitive roles, and these same tools have been validated to reduce workplace incidents.

The way safety-related personality risk assessments work is a simple three step process:

  1. The front-line worker (the participant) completes a brief online assessment, made up of work-related behavioral questions
  2. The participant and his direct supervisor receive detailed reports of the specific personality traits that could contribute to unsafe behavior
  3. The participant and his supervisor then work together to improve his on-the-job behaviors and consequently reduce the risk of human error-caused incidents

This approach is used in some of the most at-risk industries, including Oil & Gas, Construction, and Mining. It is effective because every person on every job site is unique. They may have similar backgrounds, skills, and abilities, but their motivations and the way they respond to stress, danger, pressure, and safety training may vary widely. Knowing which personality traits and responses are most likely to cause an incident can be the difference between a safe workplace and disaster.

Integrating personality risk assessments into hiring, training, and development processes is straight forward. Each personality risk assessment report provides clear, concise and personalized recommendations that advise how employees, their supervisors, and corporate leadership can work together to leverage each person’s strengths and improve upon areas identified as “Higher-Risk”.

Of course, this is only one piece of the safety puzzle. Without proper hazard identification training, PPE, and a comprehensive safety coaching program, personality risk assessments can only do so much. But add all factors together and companies large and small can see significant and measurable improvements in their corporate safety program’s results.

Jeff Swan is the director of marketing at TalentClick

Posted by Jeff Swan on Dec 19, 2013

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