Who's the Safest Bet for the Job? Find out Why the Fun Guy in the Next Cubicle May Be the Next Accident Waiting to Happen

By Haaland, Douglas E. | Security Management, February 2005 | Go to article overview

Who's the Safest Bet for the Job? Find out Why the Fun Guy in the Next Cubicle May Be the Next Accident Waiting to Happen


Haaland, Douglas E., Security Management


Before hiring a new worker, companies often do a background check. They sometimes also try to assess a candidate's honesty or propensity for the job through standard tests. They do not, however, test to see whether the candidate is accident prone.

Unfortunately, it's no joke. There are certain types of people who are simply more likely to be involved in on-the-job accidents than others, according to studies conducted by a host of researchers, including the author.

It is possible to screen job applicants based on underlying personality traits that are associated with accidents, injury frequency, and associated loss of work time. What this means is that companies can systematically hire people who are safer and spend less time off work, thus reducing accidents and associated lost time, while improving the bottom line.

Research. There has been a fair amount of research on what has been referred to as "accident proneness." A number of human traits have been hypothesized to underlie accident proneness, with some fairly strong empirical support for the proposed relationships. These traits--or the absence thereof--tend to correlate with problems in the workplace.

Conscientiousness. One personality trait, conscientiousness, is probably the most studied attribute when it comes to safety behavior and accidents. Conscientiousness is a broad personality trait that is commonly described as an individual's degree of organization, persistence, and motivation in goal-directed behavior.

People high in this trait tend to be fastidious and dependable, demonstrating a careful approach to doing things. They are driven to achieve. You know these people; they are the ones that focus on work, always arrive on time, and can be counted on to do the job right.

Conscientiousness has been consistently shown to be positively related to beneficial outcomes in most jobs, and safe work behavior is no exception. Not surprisingly, the absence of conscientiousness causes the opposite--unsafe behavior.

In a study published in the Journal of Prevention and Intervention in the Community in 2001, Dr. Douglas Cellar of DePaul University and his colleagues found that conscientiousness was significantly negatively correlated with total number of at-fault and not-at-fault accidents. Individuals who are low in this trait tend to ignore safety rules and regulations, so it makes sense that these people are involved in more on-the-job accidents and injuries.

Thrill-seekers. The related traits of impulsivity, sensation-seeking, and risktaking have also been found to be linked to increased accidents. This probably comes as no surprise, as people who are high in these traits act without much thought, make high-risk decisions, actively search for thrilling things to do to occupy their time, and repress the anticipation of negative consequences.

These are the people who like to see how fast the forklift will go. The only real surprise is that these people do not get into more accidents.

Extroverts. Another trait that has been implicated in the occurrence of accidents is extroversion. Individuals high in this trait tend to be sociable and outgoing, and prefer to be around and work with others.

"Personality Characteristics of the Accident Involved Employee," a review by C.P. Hansen in 1988 of the personality and accident literature published in the Journal of Business and Psychology, shows that extreme extroversion is associated with a greater likelihood of accidents. That's because extremely extroverted people tend to be more easily distracted and have shorter attention spans.

Extroverted people are the life of the party, tend to enjoy crowds, and are very social beings. They are also described as being "lower on the level of vigilance," which may leave them less prepared to deal with situational demands or anticipate events that can cause or lead to accidents and injuries.

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