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Create a Better Safety Culture Throughout the Employee Life Cycle

September 13, 2019


Many companies have safety programs in place, but as organizations continue to set higher safety goals, safety professionals can expand on the systems they have in place to develop an even stronger safety culture and continuously safer workplace. The key to a good safety culture is the people. Focus on three phases of the employee life-cycle: hiring, development, and leadership. At each of these stages, there are steps you can take to increase overall safety. Below, I'll outline some specific steps organizations can take to optimize the results of their safety program.

Measure Safety During Recruitment and Selection

Certain individuals are much more likely than others to be involved in safety incidents, even after accounting for job experience, industry, and job type. Why? Because their unique tendencies predispose them to either engage in more at-risk behaviors or commit certain types of errors more frequently. Identifying job candidates' safety tendencies during the screening process is a critical first line of action.

During the interview process, safety can be measured just like any other competency, so this can be a good first tactic. Structured, past behavior questions focused on safety can give employers an idea of what safety incidents or near-misses candidates have been involved with in the past. Asking questions around the candidate’s own personal safety standards can be a good gauge on how they will implement safety standards in your organization. 

Additionally, as use of psychometric assessments for selecting and developing employees becomes an increasingly common practice, individuals and organizations alike are becoming aware of the benefits these tools offer. Yet some HR or HSE professionals may not realize how well these types of assessments can measure individual safety. Safety-based assessments can be an even more effective tool for hiring safe employees than structured interviews (check out our recent research on how assessments can improve workplace safety).

Helping Employees Understand their Personal Safety (their SafetyDNA) through Development

Just hiring safe employees is not enough. Investing in employee training and development on the job is also critical. While extensive safety training does not always result in safe behavior, helping employees to see their own personal safety tendencies is an effective and meaningful way to make safety personal to each employee, which helps build a stronger safety culture.

SafetyDNA, an assessment and development process created by PSI, facilitates the personal approach to safety by evaluating the individual traits of front line workers and leaders. It assesses how certain personal psychological factors affect their likelihood to be injured in high risk situations. The program then suggests individual, targeted safety plans that are based on the unique tasks, work environment, and hazards that the individual faces each day. In this way, the process takes into account both the person and the environment, as both components must be considered.

In fact, one of our recent studies provided strong evidence that once individuals understand and personalize their own safety strengths and blind spots, safety incident rates decrease. So in addition to taking meaningful steps toward accomplishing a zero-harm goal, these positive results mean that organizations can save significant costs by implementing a strategic safety solution aimed at making safety personal.

The assessment and development program identifies individuals’ tendencies in the following areas:

  • Control: The extent you believe you control future consequences through present actions and your ability to maintain control over your emotions
  • Awareness: How much you see and remember in your surroundings, especially when doing multiple tasks
  • Rules: The degree to which you follow vs. bend rules, especially ones you don’t like
  • Caution: The level of discomfort you feel with risk-taking

Read more: Building A Safe Workplace Culture with SafetyDNA

Once an employee's personal safety profile has been uncovered through the SafetyDNA assessment, a learning plan including workshops, coaching, and action plans can be put into place to improve safety habits and behaviors.

Highlighting Safety Leadership Qualities

As in many initiatives essential to organizational success, leadership plays essential role in safety. Safety leadership is different from safety management: leaders establish values, develop procedures, and enforce accountability for their safety management systems. They set the standards of safe behavior within their companies. 

We would expect a safety leader to be someone who role models safety, but leadership is more than just managing one’s own safety behaviors. A true safety leader also motivates his or her coworkers to strive for minimal risk exposure and interacts with others in a manner that positively promotes safety. Some of the critical behaviors performed by successful safety leaders include: 

  • Lays out a vision, communicating it in a clear and motivating way
  • Not only embraces change, but drives change by involving others
  • Acts as a coach by actively listening and providing feedback
  • Demonstrates credibility and accountability
  • Avoids and discourages unnecessary risk-taking

People and their internal safety tendencies are at the core of organizations with a strong safety culture and safety performance. By taking steps at each of these three phases in the employee life cycle, you can improve the safety of not only your employees, but your processes and organization as a whole. 

SafetyDNA The Science Behind Personal Safety

Esteban Tristan, Ph.D. Esteban Tristan, Ph.D. is the Director of Safety Solutions at PSI. He manages the development and implementation of all safety solutions and services, which address some of the critical challenges faced by organizations today in workplace safety.