Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

Human Resource Safety Practices and Employee Injuries

Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

Human Resource Safety Practices and Employee Injuries

Article excerpt

Workplace safety continues to be a high operational priority facing many organizations across all types of industries. And, as Ruth (2004) notes, injuries oftentimes result from managerial issues, rather than more notable safety issues. Thus, identifying potential steps employers can take in their managerial practices is critical to managing organizational costs, improving effectiveness of public policy and, most important, protecting employees. A recent trend in human resources (HR) research may provide some clarity to the safety research. A number of studies have established the effectiveness of HR practices (Huselid, 1995; McEvoy and Cascio, 1985), establishing an overall consensus that certain "good" HR practices lead to positive organizational outcomes (Delaney and Huselid, 1996; Becker and Gerhart, 1996). Organizational involvement has also been linked to improved safety outcomes (Oliver et al., 2002), but these have not been broken down into specific practices. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to explore the connection between organizational-level HR practices and employee injuries.

Background/Proposed Associations

Since this study is taking an exploratory look at how HR practices will impact employee injuries at the organizational-level, the study focuses on the more easily measurable aspects of the four most basic HR practices-selection, training, employee evaluations, and compensation. These are the practices that have been studied most frequently and have consistently been tied by research to other positive organizational outcomes.

Selection. Past research has indicated organizations may improve their safety outcomes through two primary selection processes: (1) identifying and eliminating individuals unsuited to certain types of work and (2) by hiring for positions that require a very high degree of skill where the cost of accidents as well as the ratio of applicants to positions open is high. Beyond these processes, selection has not been found to be as useful as once hoped in the safety literature (Hale and Hale, 1972). However, empirical evidence continues to indicate that well-designed selection procedures improve overall organizational performance (Terpstra and Rozell, 1993). Thus, selecting applicants for safety (e.g., hiring employees with increased knowledge of safety, based on their past safety performance; asking questions specifically regarding safety in the interview) should have a positive association with organizational performance tied to safety, such as wearing safety equipment and following safety behaviors. These behaviors, in turn, should reduce the number of employee injuries incurred at the organization. Socialization may also occur in the selection process (Anderson and Ostroff, 1997) by emphasizing the organization's safety values to new employees, in turn reducing employee injuries.

Hypothesis 1a: Selecting for safety has a positive association with reduced injuries.

Since selecting specifically for safety (e.g., asking direct questions and discussing safety in the interview process) is not highly practiced in organizations, an exploratory look at how other selection practices (e.g., pre-employment testing, screening for past work experience) may be associated with safety is also undertaken. Although numerous pre-employment tests/selection criteria exist, only criteria that tied with past safety research were explored in this study.

Prior work experience has been one of the longest used screening tools in the selection process. When screening for work experience, organizations typically seek experience in the industry as well as for a specific type of work. In Hansen's (1989) causal model of accidents, he found job experience was one of only two variables that were significant parameters of accident risk. Experience provides employees with knowledge of both general industrial hazards, as well as familiarity with individual machines and components (Hale and Hale, 1972), providing an expectation that increased work experience should be associated with reduced employee injuries. …

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