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As technologies become more complex, we need people with health and safety skills and values, but our HR recruitment, training and culture investments go down the drain if labour turnover is a revolving door.

We need the right people from a safety perspective, but hiring and firing do not give us safe work teams, as I offer hard evidence of below. How do we get people with the right stuff for our business?

Do we give our HR people a summary of the required position, and leave it up to them to do the leg work, sifting through reams of applicants? Safety Recruiters have told me that they first look for anything that makes an applicant stand out from the crowd. Recruiting people is not an exact science.

It has indeed been shown that it is not. Employers look at experience versus the position available. Associated with that experience are the specifics of education and training that may be considered pre-requisite.

But look at the other side of the revolving door. How often is departure a direct result of a lack of experience? Very rarely. After all, you checked for that during recruitment. If some experience issues have slipped through a crack, you use on-the-job training.

Workers stay if behaviour and values fit in In almost all cases it has been shown that employee departures are more closely aligned with a failure at fit, when there develops some dissonance between employees and the contexts in which they are required to function.

Most departures are a result of failure at the levels of behaviour and values. Yet in recruitment these areas receive scant attention. We have seen over the last decade an increase in the use of psychological testing as a tool in recruiting.

There is some mystical belief, promulgated by the testing industry, that psychological testing adds a greater level of scrutiny and validity to the outcome, along with a greater level of confidence in the predictability and sustainability of the recruited applicant.

Sorry, the published evidence tells a different story. In an excellent review of the application of personality testing to recruitment, Morgensen et al provide a summary of the views of the leading scientific journal editors in this space.

A number of significant problems are associated with the use of self-report personality tests in selection contexts. Not the least of which is almost universal practice of faking. The degree of faking varies.

Morgensen specifically concludes that statistical corrections for faking do not appear to improve validity. Some employers test for safety There is a specific application to the health and safety space in recruitment.

Over the last several years I have seen a significant increase in the marketing of safety-specific psychological testing in recruitment. This has been very aggressively promoted in the hydrocarbon [petrochemicals] and mining industries.

I was approached by a well-known publisher some years ago to review their offering, and to consider endorsing and promoting their product in my operations.

But it does not work, or at least not in the way promoted. These organisations actively promote their testing as a scientific method of ensuring that you recruit the safest people from the pool of applicants.

Discarding the whole issue of response bias (faking), the implication is that if you use their test then your business will have safer people and shall therefore have fewer accidents. Not true.

The USA National Safety Council conducted a meta-analysis of some of the most recognised safety interventions and explored the relationship of those interventions to reductions in workplace injury.

From 19 000 subjects they concluded that personnel selection contributed to a 3.7% reduction in accident, in other words, minimal impact.

The interventions that offered the most bang for the buck had behavioural elements in them.

Ergonomic-based interventions also were of significant positive value. I am not saying that safety-specific psychological testing achieves nothing. It does do is give you a place to start.

Culture, not hiring, sustains safety.

Assume that health and safety behaviour or values recruitment tests did deliver a group of safe workers, at great cost. Assume that the applicants were not faking much. Do they remain safe?

That is a million dollar question, or even more expensive. The most powerful influencing variable in your workplace is safety culture. Employees’ behaviour is largely determined by prevailing safety culture.

You can spend a small fortune on hiring safe people, but in a sub-optimal safety culture they shall, over time, find that their behaviour is modified to become more congruent with the culture around them, led by the top.

The alternative to that conclusion is that they shall leave, because their attitudes /values, as you tested for, do not match the cultural environment in which they have found themselves having to function! Do not be seduced by slick marketing or psycho-babble.

Find a truly independent and recognised professional to guide your safe workplace behaviour programme. It is important to recruit the right people, but you recruit persons as pieces of clay, and your culture is the mould.

If you recruit correctly then you shall have the right consistency of clay for the particular needs of your workplace. If you then just throw that clay in the hole, and don’t treat it appropriately, it shall just dry up and crack.

You must mould and prepare that clay for years ahead. It must mix with all the other clays in the workplace to make a unique and sustainable health and safety environment.

Continue training When money gets tight, the training budget is often the first to go. Programs that are designed to maintain, sustain and develop your workplace are quickly seen as optional. Yet they are not.

When you cut your safety programs you are making one of the most expensive errors. The message such a decision sends to your safety culture is loud, and never good!

When times are tight, that is exactly when you need to be enhancing your training /development programs. This then adds value to the current workforce, rather than adding an extra layer of risk within an already imbalanced environment.

Take heed, train properly, train regularly and train well, and more of your people shall stay. Minimise the time you spend on the recruitment merry-go-round.

* This post is an edited extract from a TransformationalSafety.com circular.

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