Personality plays a role in developing and maintaining a safe workplace environment. It can predict safe behavior and even save lives. But how?
Recently on The Science of Personality, cohosts Ryne Sherman, PhD, and Blake Loepp spoke with Zsolt Feher, managing director of Hogan’s International Distributors Network, about personality and safety.
Every time there is a specific repetitive task for an employee to follow, safety can become an issue.
Let’s dive right into this conversation about how personality assessment impacts safety culture.
Why Safety Matters
Safety should be a concern for all organizations. In some industries, safety can be a matter of life and death. Oil and gas, mining, utilities, transportation, shipping, manufacturing, healthcare, and even the film industry are susceptible to safety-related accidents.
Zsolt referenced a large metropolitan transportation company that had better safety statistics and fewer compensation claims for traffic violations after using Hogan’s assessments. The company saw fewer accidents and fewer customer complaints. Customer satisfaction can be a positive side effect of a strong safety culture.
Often, organizations seek Hogan’s help with safety after accidents have happened. “When a company says that they tried basically everything, this is when we suggest a focus on personality assessment,” Zsolt said. In addition to training, equipment, and rules and regulations, assessment should become another pillar of the safety culture of an organization.
Accidents cost money, and—more importantly—can cost lives. Hogan helps to identify individuals who are safety prone versus accident prone. “At the end of the day, we’re talking about life,” Zsolt said. “It’s a serious and important contribution what we can do for organizations.”
Six Safety Competencies
Safety isn’t only about getting safety-conscious people into the right positions. It’s also about identifying potential safety risks in individual contributors so they can be aware of areas where they need to be careful.
The Hogan Safety report measures six components of safety-related behavior.
The Compliant scale concerns conforming to organizational guidelines. Too often, accidents result from human error when humans don’t attend to details or follow rules. Zsolt referenced human error in the Chernobyl disaster as an example of why compliance is so essential.
The Strong scale concerns resilience under pressure and confidence in one’s work. Someone who manages stress and adapts to changing work will be a safer worker than someone who panics under pressure. Composure and stress management matter when making split-second decisions that can affect lives.
The Poised scale concerns emotional stability and seeming relaxed, calm, and phlegmatic. Mood management affects working relationships. This speaks to the ability to keep control of one’s anger or irritability in high-pressure environments.
The Vigilant scale concerns staying focused and not being easily distracted. Those who have a high tolerance for repetitive tasks can remain attentive and accurate. Distractibility can be dangerous during times of monotony.
The Cautious scale contrasts risk taking with risk aversion. Zsolt said, “Most of the time, it’s human errors, human risk, so everybody has to be cautious.” He mentioned a disaster in which a ship captain chose to disregard warning alerts because of supposed familiarity with the area.
The Trainable scale concerns a willingness to accept training. Listening to feedback and being open to implement changes or take action to improve safety is key. This also includes being sensitive to warning signs that safety may be compromised. People with high trainability also tend to be willing to educate others.
These six behaviors in this safety model apply to so many industries where physical safety can be jeopardized. Beyond preventing injury or fatality, these safety competencies can contribute to a safety culture through their residual effects, such as risk aversion, training others, and emotional awareness. They also, of course, save money by avoiding costly accidents that can have serious safety outcomes.
A Case Study in Safety
“The number-one priority is that we are saving lives here. Let me underline that several times,” said Zsolt. The ROI for investing in personality assessment for safety can be more than 5,000%. The direct and indirect savings and the lasting positive side effects are also important benefits—not to mention the lives saved.
Zsolt shared a story about a German utility company. Over a decade ago, the company sought help from Hogan after experiencing 11 deadly accidents on an annual basis. Engineers and repair personnel worked on a high-voltage grid, and mistakes were often fatal. After bringing in industry experts, rewriting the training booklet, investing in training activities, purchasing state-of-the-art equipment, and updating the rules and regulations, they continued to experience accidental deaths year after year.
Hogan entered the project with the standpoint of saving people. “Let’s develop people in this organization. Let’s make them understand why they are potentially in danger,” Zsolt said. Hogan administered assessments and provided individual feedback for those whose overall safety scores were at the low end. Many of the individuals had never had a one-on-one feedback session with someone who listened to their concerns and cared about improving their safety.
Giving personal feedback was important in this situation. The participants were often astonished at the accuracy of the assessments. Hogan helped to identify issues with rule compliance (people using personal equipment instead of official equipment) and openness to feedback (people who skipped training or didn’t apply any learning).
The organization used a system of grouping either two or four individuals in a pair or cohort. Distributing safety competencies within the group was very important, especially the Trainable competency. The organization also placed high priority on the Strong competency and tailored its educational programs to emphasize techniques for stress management.
“The year after we finished the project, there were zero deadly accidents happening. We went down from 11 to zero in this company,” Zsolt said. He added that the company still uses the Hogan Safety report today to minimize risk and ensure safety.
Listen to this conversation in full on episode 69 of The Science of Personality. Never miss an episode by following us anywhere you get podcasts. Cheers, everybody!