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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.

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SABizonline is Africa's largest independent online Business Magazine, hosting over 1 000 articles and news items since 2009. SABizonline.net is owned by the Cygma Group, a global provider of business management and compliance solutions and is a registered digital publication.

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  • Elsewhere there is a post where the SHE practitioners indicate they do not want to be part of HR. Yet when I read this article and the high level of interaction between human resources and health and safety, I can see why the international community groups them together. Interesting ideas Nico, thank you. And very true to the reality, because if HR fails in this, H&S fails in total.

  • Good article i couldn’t agree more, Indeed health and safety and ergonomics needs to be incorporated in HR planning and recruitment and selection

  • Mabila Mathebula

    4 June 2014 at 09:23

    A very good article. It is time that people understood that sheq and HR are interwoven. The future of organisations would not be judged by silos, but by holistic thinking. Holism is the answer. The old beacon lights are growing dimmer, and the torch of new ideas has to be kindred for our guidance.The major challenge is for organisations to enforce holism on daily basis.

    • I need to contact Mabila Mathebula to speak at an event on Women in rail Operations in Africa.

      Former editor responds; His email is currently offline, however your own email and telephone details are in error. Mabila is on 012 848 3063 or 081 031 3619.

  • Thanks for the very good article.
    Regarding recruitment in SA and the rest of the world it is different. In some country’s race is important. In others it is not. I agree with 99% of your article except for

    “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”.

    This is just not enough for a skilled HSE Practitioner, the lower levels I agree, but at the top level I ask a lot more of them such as:
    Financial planning, conceptualisation, the ability to produce change, expediting of purchasing, strategic planning abilities, ability to read plans and deduct hazards from them, I expect a portfolio of evidence etc. In the middle east some person earn between $18000 – 35000 per month – non executive level. At executive level it is much more.
    So in short, it depend on what level is needed, and at these rates the expectation at interview is “proof that it can be done, by structured, detailed questioning, by that particular multi-disciplinary group in many instances.
    I was once interviewed by an International Oil Company, Non-executive role, which consisted of 13 people, operations, HR, Finance, commissioning, process safety etc, and I had to explain my POE plus was given a task to solve prior to interview, that had to be presented to the panel (It was the TEXAS explosion, what happened, how it went wrong, process safety failures, ROI if it was prevented etc.

    So , yes HR is definitely there, but just like many service providers to the line management, one must hire according to the Role definition.

    Great article, perhaps we can get one from the point of view of Finance, Purchasing, Operations, engineering etc.

    Regards
    Shane

    • Hi Shane
      “This is just not enough for a skilled HSE Practitioner…”
      I do not think this article is about HSE practitioners. I think you missed the point.

  • Koos Duvenhage

    9 June 2014 at 12:02

    No, no, no and NO. The Health & Safety function must be independant…..it must report directly into the executive team and must have the ability to audit all other business functions including, in best practice boardroom audits. Again, this is all nonsense written by an expert better suited to commenting on payroll management than H&S. The HR people have a role in making sure the business employs competent people, that means the right knowledge skills, experience, health, strength, mental ability and physical stature suitable for the work. The H&S guys must be able to advise all departments – if they are intergrated into HR, they could be used as a pawn. We don’t want to be HR.

    • Huh? What are you on about? Is your tirade not exactly what this post is about?
      “The HR people have a role in making sure the business employs competent people, that means the right knowledge skills, experience, health, strength, mental ability and physical stature suitable for the work”. I think the heading of the post is How to manage HR in H&S performance. It is thus aimed at the HR departments and how they impact on H&S Performance. Is it just me or is there a lack of understanding of basic English from the H&S people?

  • Hi Koos
    To some extent I can relate to your problem. However, I personally have found that an integrated, or as Mabila pointed out, an holistic approach is far more effective. I do believe the age of the H&S practitioner feeding information to other line management functions are gone, and that the reverse has now become the new focus. H&S no longer need to spoon-feed the HR, Procurement and Engineering departments. If that is the case in your organisation things are yet to change.
    In modern businesses with a holistic view on compliance, service departments are feeders of information to the H&S department, reporting to the H&S manager on a variety of aspects that have major impacts on H&S culture. We have seen in more advanced compliance programs the distinctive shift of the H&S practitioner from “policeman” to manager. We have also seen less stress and greater self-worth among H&S practitioners working in companies where the H&S drive is run by all the support departments, with the SHEQ departments as the recipient of management information.
    Integration of a SHEQ system into all departments within an organisation should be every H&S practitioner’s dream. It would then not matter whether reporting to the board of directors or the HR manager, as everything just happen normally.
    Practitioners in today’s world who still fight for their position within an organisation, has already lost the war, let alone the battle.
    I am in no way suggesting that the H&S practitioner no longer need to fulfill a leading and advisory role, but only where needed. And contrary to popular belief, the interaction between HR and H&S can only be removed by automation. No people – no HR needed. But when the production manager starts arranging daily toolbox talks, and send monthly injury stats to the H&S manager from his/her department, you can bet your mobile home their system is working as it should. And that is a properly defined H&S culture – in fact – the ultimate culture of H&S compliance every person here should strive for.
    After-all – its not about the practitioner and his/her role – it’s about everyone within the company and their roles.

  • kigumo environmental upgrading and health promotion
    would like to promote health and safety in kenya environment by 2014

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