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People, People, People . . .

By Randy Logsdon

Sometimes it pays to reflect on how well our safety systems align with the fundamentals of safety – fundamentals being those basic concepts that lead to the prevention of injuries, property damage, and unplanned interruption. The old wisdom told us to focus on Engineering, Education and Enforcement (the 3 E’s). The infusion of behavioral psychology into safety philosophy brought us three similar and interrelated concepts – Person, Behavior and Environment.

“Person” represents all that the worker brings into the equation, including physical characteristics, skills, IQ,

and even something called values.

“Behavior” represents how the employee performs and can be judged against defined expectations. Some say that behavior is the outward demonstration of attitude.

“Environment” represents physical conditions including everything from weather to the condition of tools.

Each element (person, behavior and environment) affects each of the others and is affected by each of the others. Much of our efforts to exercise control over this system have been focused on improving the work environment and to a certain extent, on influencing behavior.

Environmental applications, while often requiring some creative and financial investment, are often preferred because they generally apply a tangible solution to a set of risks – such as controlling energy. Applying the A-B-C model we find that an Antecedent directs Behavior that is reinforced by an anticipated Consequence. By controlling those antecedents and consequences we can affect behaviors. Addressing the “Person” element proves to be more challenging (even for the most experienced HR professional). You’ve touched on personal issues if you’ve successfully applied behavioral concepts. But we’ve all learned that dealing with things is often easier than dealing with people and their personalities.

Applying All Three

As an example of application of all three, suppose we install a guard (Environment) to control an energy source. We assign an employee to inspect (Behavior) that guard on a scheduled basis. If that inspection reveals a defect, we expect the employee to exercise judgment (Person) regarding how to address the situation. Will the employee act decisively or will he/she engage in rationalization? What guidance does the employee have in making that decision? Would each of your employees make the same decision?

To be sure, each employee brings a distinct personality, experience, view, interpretation, and value set to the workplace. We attempt through interviews, and sometimes using standardized tests to screen potential employees so that we hire the best available. But for what characteristics do we screen?

Select International is not the only organization engaged in helping employers sort through such things. But they did produce a white paper entitled Hiring Safe, Dependable and Productive Employees ( I found it most insightful.

If you have a vacancy to fill, you will likely be looking for a competent replacement. Traditional screening is focused on identifying the most skilled applicants – competency focus. Competency is certainly a key component in the hiring decision. But, suppose the highly competent employee turned out to be undependable, impulsive, frequently absent or a safety risk? In addition to a basic level of competency, we want that prospective employee to fit in; to contribute on a variety of levels; to help (not hinder).

The Select International piece proposes seven attributes, considered risk factors that should be screened beyond simple competency:

Safety Risk.

Quality Risk.

Impulsivity Risk.

Dependability Risk.

Attitude Risk.

Absenteeism/Tardiness Risk.

Turnover Risk.

The white paper details each of the seven risks, and describes how each can be reliably measured. Their research is well documented and their process validated.

Selecting New Employees

In selecting a new employee, you will engage in discrimination. The word “discrimination” may generate a lot of negative emotion. But discrimination is a good thing. It’s something we practice daily – Coke or Pepsi, Chevy or Ford, Sheraton or Marriott?

If there are six applicants for a single job, one must discriminate in the selection. Five will not be selected. Unfair, unjust, or illegal discrimination however are to be avoided. Selection of an employee based in part on the discriminating risk factors described above can be fair, just and legal. But caution must be exercised to avoid unjust bias.