The Importance of Workplace Safety: Selecting for a Safe Work Environment

Jun 15, 2015

All companies should strive to maintain a safe work environment, regardless of industry, both for the sake of the health and well-being of their employees and for the well-being of the company. An employee that engages in unsafe behaviors at work not only puts them in harm’s way, but can also cause serious issues for their organization. Annual losses generated by poor hires, absenteeism, drug abuse, and theft amount to $75 billion per year (US Department of Commerce). While this alone is a staggering figure, think of the consequences of an employee that has a serious injury on the job. From a moral perspective, there is a feeling of responsibility for this employee’s physical and mental condition after sustaining an injury. From a financial perspective, there are both direct and indirect costs associated with accidents and injuries on the job. Typically, indirect costs outweigh direct costs by a ratio of four to one. Direct costs include medical bills, treatment for injury on the job, and compensation for accident or injury on the job. Indirect costs include lost time on the job, lost  productivity, missed deadlines, increased work for others, and costs associated with replacing (either temporarily or permanently) the worker.

The example of serious injury above highlights the idea that for some industries safety is of greater concern than others. Safety at work is particularly important for jobs involving manual labor. This is why, especially for these jobs, employers should focus on selecting employees that are prone to engage in safe work behaviors. However, safety is not restricted to simply accidents and injuries at work. Safety should be thought about for both what it is and what it is not. Safety is engaging in behaviors that prevent accidents, complying with company rules and policies, avoiding dangerous actions, and engaging in thoughtful, intentional conduct. Employee safety is not just behaviors but also a broad mindset, and is a factor relevant to selection for many jobs.

So, how do you ensure that your company has a safe work environment? And how do you ensure that your employees are engaging in safe work behaviors? One effective way to promote and foster a safe work environment is through employee selection. Safety assessments provide a viable and efficient way to predict the future safe behavior of employees. Safety assessments are frequently based on admission of engaging in past behaviors deemed either safe or unsafe, or an evaluation on personality characteristics relevant to safe conduct at work.

Research has shown that there are certain personality characteristics that make some people more prone to accidents and other unsafe behaviors than others (Tetrick & Peiro, 2012; Visser, Pijl, Stolk, Neeleman, & Rosmalen, 2007). For example, one major study, aggregating research findings from dozens of existing studies, found that key personality characteristics called conscientiousness and emotional stability displayed moderate relationships with accidents and injuries on the job (Christian, Bradley, Wallace, & Burke, 2009). Conscientiousness is the tendency for someone to be organized, hard-working, vigilant, and thorough. Emotional Stability is the capability to control one’s emotions, remain calm, and cope with stress. Some safety assessments measure specific facets within these personality characteristics like dependability, rule-following, and emotional control to best evaluate applicants tendencies to engage in safe behaviors. For example, in a validation study conducted here at Assessment Associates International, all three of these facets (rule-following, emotional control, and dependability) predicted absences, tardiness, accidents, and number of grievances in addition to supervisor ratings of overall performance.

At Assessment Associates International, we have developed the Work Safety Inventory (Page, 2013) to evaluate and select employees on the basis of key personality facets that have shown substantial relationships with employee safety, effectiveness, and engagement in a variety of jobs. The Work Safety Inventory (WSI) assesses eleven dimensions of work behaviors that are critically important to safety and effectiveness, allowing organizations to objectively assess applicants’  likelihood of future success and safety behaviors on the job. The WSI was devised according to relevant work styles identified on O*Net. O*Net is the Occupational Information Network, developed by the U.S. Department of Labor and identifies many work styles to capture essential interpersonal and dispositional requirements of jobs in the United States. In addition to its connection to O*Net, the WSI has an advantage over other safety assessments because it is measuring work styles as opposed to admissions of wrongdoing. Whereas it is quite easy to fake or misreport instances of previous unsafe behaviors, misrepresenting a work style is much less straightforward. If you are interested in the WSI, selecting for a safe work environment, other safety solutions, view the Work Safety Inventory page to learn more.


Ori Shewach

Assessment Associates International


Christian, M. S., Bradley, J. C., Wallace, J. C., & Burke, M. J. (2009). Workplace safety: a meta-  analysis of the roles of person and situation factors.Journal of Applied Psychology94(5), 1103.

Tetrick, L. E. & Peiro, J. M. (2012). Occupational Safety and Health. In S. W. J. Kozlowski         (Ed.). The Oxford Handbook of Organizational Psychology, Volume 1.

Visser, E., Pijl, Y. J., Stolk, R. P., Neeleman, J., & Rosmalen, J. G. (2007). Accident proneness, does it  exist? A review and meta-analysis. Accident Analysis & Prevention39(3), 556-564.

Page, R. C. (2013). Work Safety Inventory: Manual & User’s Guide. Minnetonka, MN.  Assessment Associates International.