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ANDRÉ DURIVAGE ON USING A DIFFERENT APPROACH REGARDING HEALTH AND SAFETY IN THE WORKPLACE

Dispensing expert HR advice from EPSI's President, the highly respected author André Durivage, Ph.D.

Q: I recently read the article you wrote in the Winter 2011 Newsletter entitled “Personality and Workplace Safety.” I work for Widget Inc*, and we have recently had a wave of workplace incidents directly related to health and safety in our production unit, far superior to what the norm is in our sector* (mining and extraction industry). While we have invested a lot of time and financial resources in training our employees, our efforts have not provided the results we expected. I enjoyed reading your article as it tackles workplace safety from a different angle, that of personality; although I have not come across a solution or a proven strategy to help me implement this novel approach. Any recommendations?

Bill Jamieson*
Toronto, ON

A: Thanks for the question Bill and I’m glad to hear that our articles are prompting organizations to look at long-standing problems from new and fresh perspectives. It is the raison d’être of why we publish this newsletter!

The new global economic landscape has reinvigorated the mining, as well as the oil and gas extraction industry, and new projects have started to surge in what are considered non-traditional markets. While the industry is evolving into a high tech and innovative player in the world economy, old perceptions of how this sector operates linger.

The mining and extraction industry has continually placed a strong emphasis on safety for numerous reasons. Great organizations care about its people, as they know that good employees have a positive effect on all components of an organization. Also, a good safety record makes great business sense, as it reduces costs and enhances productivity. Lastly, in an industry in which recruiting top talent and qualified personnel is extremely difficult (mostly due to an antiquated perception of the industry) a strong safety rating makes an organization an employer of choice. So now that we have established some of the different reasons explaining why health and safety is important, how can organizations ensure a solid safety record?

Unfortunately Bill, there is no magic recipe or a “one size fits all” approach to improving your safety record. Each sector is different, equipment is different, each work site is different and most importantly, every organization’s workforce has a specific profile. In a previous Newsletter article, we touched upon the aspects of safe attitudes, safety outlook, personal characteristics and motivation which scientific research shows play a great role in reducing workplace accidents.

What is important at this stage of your contemplation is to gain an understanding of the profile of your workforce so that you can focus and invest effort and resources in the right places. Using different assessment tools, such as Compmetrica’s SAFE-T, will allow you to gain further insight on the elements that are at the core of the issue. For example, knowing the safety attitudes of your workforce can be a great advantage. If this is an issue in your organization, implementing an Employer-Employee Health and Safety Committee, which is used to address concerns, issues and opportunities for continuous improvement on work sites would be an excellent investment as they are used by senior management to demonstrate the importance they place on the safety of their personnel. If an employee believes that safety practices are important and values workplace safety, then he or she is more likely to perform the job in a safe manner. Not surprisingly, research shows that positive attitudes towards workplace safety are a good predictor of accident outcomes.

Again, if an employee’s safety outlook is that he/she perceives that safety is an important value espoused by management, his/her supervisor, and coworkers, he or she will begin to adopt that culture of safety. This can be demonstrated by creating a tailored training program that provides workers with the skills and knowledge to work in a safe way, but also weaves in employee feedback and recommendations in the program. This is important as it contributes to the perception that employees are not only linked to the “culture of safety” within an organization but also contribute to shaping that culture.

Knowing what motivates your employees to act in a safe manner will allow you to invest in the proper program or resources. Knowing whether an extrinsic factor, such as compensation, or an intrinsic factor, such as the meeting expectations, will be crucial in helping you develop an effective safety program that produces the desired outcome. Lastly, having an understanding of the personality profile of your workforce, based on four personality traits that are linked to safe behaviours in the workplace, will allow you to understand why your existing safety program or guidelines have not produced the desired results. At times, it is simply a question of the not having the right person in the right position rather than an issue with the machinery or the guidelines.

To conclude, knowing your workforce is the best manner in which to improve your safety record. Instead of injecting money into a variety of safety programs, expensive equipment, rewriting guidelines and creating new learning modules, take the time to understand your employees. A tool such as our Compmetrica test, the SAFE-T, allows you to measure the factors associated with safe behaviours of employees in organizations. The information contained in this report will allow you take the appropriate decisions in order to improve safety in your workplace.

Of course, as I always mention in my articles, psychometric assessments are not the only part of a successful initiative, in this case, safety. But knowing your employees, current or future, is crucial in ensuring that the solution you will implement reflects the needs of your workforce.

To submit a question to be answered by EPSI's president André Durivage, Ph.D., please send an email to info@epsi-inc.com with 'Question for the Doctor' clearly marked in the subject line.



* Please note: the name of the person, the organization and the sector in which they work in has been changed in order to help preserve anonymity at the behest of the author of the question.