The roles of recruitment, selection and HR in health and safety performance could be significant, easily assumed, yet difficult to measure.
The success of a company’s health and safety culture depends on the quality of its human capital, writes NIOCCSA member Nico Smit, a managerial consultant with 21 years of experience in human resources and labour relations management.
Applicants during interviews tend to tell the truth, but not the whole truth, about themselves. Employers discover aspects of non-disclosure only months after applicants are employed.
When it comes to Section 14 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, issues like the willingness to work according to rules and wearing of personal protective equipment (PPE) and the ability to work at height, are mostly overlooked.
Consistent discipline in apparently minor issues is difficult. Often employees offer seemingly valid reasons why these rules and measures cannot be met. The cost of training, counselling and disciplinary procedures is high.
As the old saying goes, prevention is better than cure. The recruitment and selection process is to some extent still subjective, yet it remains the responsibility of the employer to minimise the risk to the employee as well as the organisation.
Roles of HR in health and safety
A properly drafted job description is the first step in the process of matching the job to the employee. A job description consists of three components:
• identify key performance areas (KPAs) including health and safety duties, rules and procedures.
• Identify academic and other qualifications.
• Identify skills and abilities required for the job, including the ability to read and write reports and understand safe work instructions. Describe the responsibilities and standards for each individual KPA.
A useful and much under-utilised tool in the box of health and safety crafts is the Person Job Specification, developed from planned job observations or planned task observations and ergonomic principals.
These specifications provide for physical and psychological characteristics of the ideal candidate and will play a pivotal role in the development of a job description.
The next step is finding safe employees. Draft an advertisement based on the job description and specifications. State the general nature of the work environment, such as extreme temperatures, noise, working hours, and specific evaluation criteria during the intended career.
Detail is not requried, but name the work space, such as ‘bottling plant’ so that experienced applicants know what conditions, machinery, materials and processes to expect.
Separate the ‘fearless’ or careless from safe workers. Risk appetite is often an indicator of the applicant’s perception of what safe work is.
Although this is not a scientific basis for exclusion from interviews or appointment, it could indicate the need for additional coaching and mentoring to adapt the person to the required risk tolerance of the company.
The difference could lie between appointing an adrenaline junky or a wimp for working on a 110m high tower, or on a scaffold 30m above ground. It depends on the inherent requirements of the job. Risk aversion may have detrimental effects on a company’s health and safety culture.
Some personality traits could result in unsafe behaviour. Skydivers may not be ideal drivers, but may do well in work at height.
During interview, use the job description to pose questions. Note that the Employment Equity Act requires that no requirements, questions or rules may discriminate against race, religion or culture.
A written test is a good idea. Answers are more reliable and offer a baseline record. Match the level of difficulty of the test with the job and the required skills.
Select scientifically ‘fit for purpose’ people. Medical and psychometric screening and evaluation are additional tools in selection. It may be expensive, but is effective for senior appointments. It is also compulsory in certain industries including construction.
Build relationships on agreements. Drafting a contract with a probation period to allow the employer to test the appointee against the health and safety culture.
Using the performance appraisal system, linked again to the job description, monitor the incumbent’s progress and compliance in a scientific manner against the standard. Keep documents to serve a range of managerial functions, including discipline.
The roles of recruitment, selection and HR in health and safety could be diminished or strengthened, depending on other managerial functions such as induction, communication, training, leadership, planning, compliance, contract management, maintenance, quality management, and ultimately corporate culture.
HR alone does not make a healthy and safe workplace, but it maintains some of the building blocks of Sheq that every employer is legally and morally obliged to build.
• Nico Smit is a managerial consultant with 21 years of experience in human resources and labour relations management. He is the CEO of NJ Consult (www.njc.cygmagroup.co.za), a strategic business unit of the Cygma Group for the past eight years. He focuses on the development of SMMEs in all industries.