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Reducing Serious Injuries and Fatalities: Identifying Those Most at Risk

January 10, 2018


There is a little secret in the world of safety that goes like this: those most likely to seriously injure themselves are least likely to know – or care. Those of us who research and coach safety from a psychological perspective understand this concept well. Let’s face it, growing up, most of us got respect for being strong, courageous, not backing down, and – of course – not afraid to take a risk. We tackled challenges, pushed the limits, acted fearlessly and were admired for doing so. All these attributes have one thing in common: comfort with a high-exposure mindset.

Last week, we discussed that serious injuries and (specifically) fatalities (SIFs) are increasing at an alarming rate. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2016, an astounding 5,190 people were killed on the job in the US. That is more than 14 workers killed every day – or a 7% increase from 2015. We also reviewed key strategies companies are using today to reduce SIFs. Yet, we came to the conclusion that many of our readers share: for a Zero-Harm safety goal to be realized, the strategy has to move beyond external safety. In other words, it's time to stop naively thinking that it is possible to make a worksite safe by simply providing PPE, safety rules, and safety training. Safety professionals know that few SIFs occur because the employee wasn’t properly trained or didn’t have access to PPE. So, what is missing?

A different perspective – an internal one. Consider how your employees impact site safety and how little control you have over what they actually do – not what you train them to do. As a researcher, I’m most interested in what workers do when no one in authority is watching. And yes – that is after they have been fully trained, provided PPE, and passed the extensive safety manual test.

Let's shift our focus from whether our workers know how to work safely to the probability they will work safely. Most safety professionals know the daily frustration of seeing those who know better exhibit unsafe behaviors. If only safety professionals had insights into what their employees were thinking, they could pre-empt unsafe behaviors - much like in the movie Minority Report.

So, read closely - here is the breaking safety news of 2018!

While psychologists cannot read workers’ minds, they can use validated tests to identify which workers are most at risk of seriously injuring themselves and use this information to help individuals reduce their likelihood of injury. This information is a powerful leading safety indicator when moving from a safety culture based on merely "knowing," to one focused on "doing"; from theory to application. I’ve yet to find a safety professional who doesn’t struggle with why certain workers exhibit unsafe behaviors and finding ways to mitigate them.

At Select International, our research teams of Industrial Psychologists have assessed tens of millions of individuals for leading companies around the world. Using this massive database, we set out to uncover which psychological traits, if any, would reliably predict an individuals risk of injury. The four Safety Factors discussed below provide a very condensed summary of two and a half decades of empirical research into the fascinating study of personal safety traits (SafetyDNA®) and their correlation to safety incidents. Let’s take a look at what traits we discovered are predictive of unsafe behavior.

Safety Factor 1: Control

Do you believe that your current actions have a direct connection with future consequences? Before you answer, think how many times you’ve blamed negative events in your life on things that were seemingly out of your control. “What could I do? She came out of nowhere!” While most take credit for their successes, those higher in Control quickly accept responsibility for their failures AND take corrective actions to ensure they are not repeated.

Safety Factor 2: Awareness

How much detail do you see and remember in your work environment? Have you ever driven to work and not remembered a single detail of the ride because your mind was preoccupied by other thoughts? Amazingly you made it to your destination without incident, although you were unaware of much of the changing exposures around you. Children running, pedestrians trying to cross roads, cars changing lanes, caution signs, construction workers, and so much more…all are pretty much missed when your Awareness is low.

Safety Factor 3: Rules

To what extent do you naturally follow Rules? Notice that I'm NOT asking if you follow rules; I want to know if you follow them naturally or instinctively versus question rules. From a researcher’s perspective, the difference between these two groups is massive: think apples and oranges (or, really, apples and asparagus). Individuals lower in Rules are masters in mental gymnastics, which allow them to justify bending most rules when there is something to gained.

Safety Factor 4: Caution

How much discomfort do you feel with risk-taking? How competitive are you? Go back to your youth: how important was it to win, or come in first place? Were you the one who wasn’t afraid to go first? Those who are higher in Caution have a heightened sensitivity to their exposures - therefore, they are wired to be more risk-adverse.

By now it should be evident that those lower in Control, Awareness, Rules, and Caution have unique traits that predispose them to injure themselves more often and severely than the general population. Hopefully by now you also understand that simply training and telling these individuals to work safely will not be enough to change their safety behavior.

Understanding your workforce’s safety from an internal or SafetyDNA® perspective is new to most safety professionals. Yet, this is where the most ground-breaking discoveries are being made in the safety industry, especially for serious injuries and fatalities. Join me next week to review the results of approaching safety from an internal perspective. See what we learned and what surprised us the most when the results came in. 


Chris Klinvex Chris Klinvex , was the EVP and Co-Founder of Select International, acquired by PSI. He led the Safety Solutions Group focused on innovative research based safety solutions that are changing how organization approach workplace safety. His team’s most recent award for the new SafetyDNA® Assessment and Development program won the prestigious 2017 Best Online Safety training award from Occupational Health and Safety.