The CSST’s latest awareness campaign, on the theme “if we knew in advance who’d be the victim of a workplace safety incident, we’d do everything to prevent it from happening,” sends a clear message to employees and employers in Quebec: they must work proactively to prevent accidents. If we knew ahead of time who was going to be injured, it would be our responsibility to make every effort to minimize the risks.
How much does occupational health and safety cost?
Occupational health and safety issues disrupt companies’ business flow and market competitiveness. Workplace injuries cause great human suffering and cost businesses billions. In 2013, contributions and interest paid to the CSST by Quebec employers amounted to more than $2.6 billion.
Some corporate managers therefore view OH&S prevention activities as an important investment, not only for their employees’ health and wellbeing but also for their organization’s financial performance. Alain D’Aoust, lecturer at Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières and consultant with SPI Santé Sécurité, explains that every dollar invested in OH&S prevention yields a return of $2.20. In short, the fewer accidents an organization suffers, the less impact it sees in its CSST contributions and the more tangible and intangible benefits it enjoys.
Yet few organizations are aware of the potential offered by psychometrics and personality science for proactive detection of typical behaviours that make some employees directly prone to workplace injuries. How can psychology give managers better tools for detecting employees’ or potential candidates’ unsafe behaviours?
You don’t need a crystal ball.
Most workplace injuries are attributable to unsafe, unintentional human behaviour. Various scientific studies of behaviour show that people generally engage in unsafe work habits due to simple lack of vigilance or inadequate training, awareness or information. So the equation is simple: the more persistent high-risk behaviours are among employees, the greater the risk an accident will occur.
Since the early 1970s, the psychometrics research and studies firm Hogan Assessment Systems has focused on the issue of personal predisposition and accident risk levels. Their studies show a direct correlation between personality and risk of suffering a workplace injury. Hogan has developed an assessment process (the Safety Report) for ranking high-risk personalities in six broad categories.
1. DEFIANT | COMPLIANT
A person’s willingness (or unwillingness) to comply with safety rules, instructions and procedures. People with a low discipline score may ignore a company’s important health and safety rules and procedures, thereby exposing themselves to greater risk.
2. PANICKY | STRONG
Stress management is the ability to stay cool under pressure and to make fewer mistakes due to lack of inattention. People who score low on this aspect tend to manage stress less effectively and therefore make more mistakes when working under pressure.
3. IRRITABLE | CHEERFUL
People who score low on ability to manage their anger and aggressiveness can easily fly off the handle when personally upset. Workers who manage their emotions effectively remain calm and stay focused on the job to be done.
4. DISTRACTIBLE | VIGILANT
A person’s level of concentration is crucial in situations that require a sharp focus to avoid endangering the safety of that worker or others.
5. RECKLESS | CAUTIOUS
Some people have a greater tendency than others to take unnecessary or even reckless risks. Extreme sports enthusiasts, for example, risk their health simply to feel more alive in the moment. This same attitude at work can create high risk of injury.
6. ARROGANT | TRAINABLE
This aspect refers to a person’s interest in training, advice, learning and personal development. When willingness coincides with opportunity, winning conditions can be established in occupational safety prevention and training programs.
The Safety Report detects employees’ safety related concerns in less than 20 minutes. Identifying employees based on high-risk behaviour gives organizations an important advantage. Working ahead of the curve with candidates’ and employees’ personality, employers can create the conditions for successful OH&S prevention programs. In addition, by specifically targeting individuals’ strengths and concerns, they can implement effective mechanisms for communication, awareness, supervision, training and development.
For more than 10 years, Sébastien Boileau-Picard has been coaching Canadian SMEs and large corporations to implement effective, high-performance practices in talent recruiting, selection and management. As manager of business solutions accounts at SPB, Mr. Boileau-Picard coaches his client firms in the implementation of assessment and development solutions adapted to the market context while helping them attain their business objectives.