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How to Recruit and Evaluate Safety Personnel

Feb 15, 2018

The Singapore Accord, a call-to-action signed at a 2017 meeting in Singapore, encouragesgettyimages-866440974-med OSH organizations and groups to adopt a global framework that helps answer several important questions: Which skills should each type of OSH employee bring to the table? What are those different types of skills? How should hiring managers and supervisors evaluate OSH qualifications to ensure the right person is in the right position?

This article is part three of a three-part series designed to help OSH personnel better utilize the Singapore Accord and The Occupational Health and Safety Professional Capability Framework, identifying areas for improvement within their own organizations and professional lives.

If you missed part one introducing these important documents and why they matter, click here.

If you missed part two featuring a self-evaluation checklist for safety professionals, click here.

Want to find safety professionals who help your company reach its full potential and take care of its employees? It all starts with understanding the scope of the jobs you need to fill. Then, you need to learn which capabilities employees need to succeed in those roles. While employers and human resource professionals take great care putting together position outlines for safety positions, expectations are inconsistent across the globe. Likewise, the international safety community has recognized that it needs a common understanding of how to evaluate the performance of safety professionals once they’ve been hired.

The Singapore Accord calls for hiring managers and recruiters to use The Occupational Health and Safety Professional Capability Framework created by the International Network of Safety and Health Practitioner Organizations (INSHPO) to get on the same page about industry-wide expectations for people at different stages in their safety careers. When expectations are clear, the framework says, employees have a basis for continuing their professional development and businesses benefit from workers who are more capable, confident and appropriately placed. It’s also easier for organizations to collaborate and conduct business internationally.

“I think the most important thing for recruiters and hiring managers is to understand the experience, education and skill level they need for the person they’re hiring,” says Jim Thornton, CSP, CIH, who has spent more than 40 years working in safety and health and currently is vice president of our Council on Professional Affairs (COPA). “Are they looking for an entry-level person? Are they looking for a mid-level professional or a senior leader? The Global Capability Framework is an important tool. In addition to that, safety professionals have a duty and an obligation to educate HR about the specific attributes of the job they’re seeking to fill.”

Of course, after an employee is hired, the evaluation process begins. The framework promotes a high standard of capability among occupational safety and health specialists in hopes that companies will use it to hire competitively and assess employees accurately. When new OSH specialists sit down with senior managers for their annual review, there shouldn’t be any surprises.

“There’s a lot of discussion about what should constitute goals for safety professionals,” Thornton continues. “Some companies say, ‘Let’s look at the total injury rate or incident rate,’ but is that really a fair assessment of a safety professional’s job?”

While Thornton says it’s true that sometimes the successful performance of safety personnel correlates with a lower incident rate, the framework covers other indicators that provide greater insight. One of these is the ability to break down barriers, or “silos,” between senior management and the line by communicating effectively and making the business case for safety. This is particularly important when occupational safety and health employees are working across organizations at different levels of cultural maturity, the framework says. Other vital skills include knowledge management, problem solving, mentorship and conflict resolution.

“It’s critically important for a safety professional to be able to sell the idea of safety and get buy-in from the line,” Thornton says. “That is one of most important attributes companies should seek.”

Here are five more things the framework says employers, hiring managers and recruiters should keep in mind when hiring and evaluating safety personnel.

1. Think of OSH employees as value creators, not rule enforcers.

Gone are the days when regulatory compliance was the top priority for occupational safety employees. Now, it’s expected that OSH specialists understand work processes as part of a larger system and offer solutions to improve that system before an incident occurs.

“If you’re reducing risk, you’re increasing value,” Thornton says. “I think most contemporary safety professionals are long past this notion that it’s enough to be a rule-enforcer. Yes, we have to make sure rules and regulations are followed, but if you’re looking at risk, you’re going to have to climb a little higher in the tree, figuratively speaking.”

2. Don’t underestimate the importance of relationship building.

The framework features a “Bloom-style” taxonomy, created in 1956 and named for educational psychologist Dr. Benjamin Bloom, to illustrate the skills occupational safety and health employees need to be successful. It’s presented in three sections – personal skills, professional practice skills and professional technical skills – that are then broken down into four levels: 1) awareness, 2) routine application, 3) skilled application and 4) creative mastery. Relationship building and communication, which fall under the “personal skills” section in the framework, are among the most important for safety and health employees, Thornton says, which might surprise those who consider the profession highly technical.  

“Usually the more successful safety professionals are people who can take complex topics – technology, standards, research – and translate them into easily understood language that senior business leaders can grasp,” he continues. “They value that tremendously.”

3. Separate the professionals from the practitioners.

Occupational safety and health professionals and practitioners have different roles, according to the framework, and both are critical.

An OSH professional:

  • Reports to senior managers;
  • Is usually university-educated;
  • And is responsible for designing management strategies.

An OSH practitioner:

  • Communicates primarily with middle management;
  • Usually has vocational training;
  • And focuses on implementing strategies.

While the two positions often overlap, the framework says separating them enables organizations to find the right people, evaluate them accurately and reasonably, and improve their performance.

4. Consider collaborating with OSH specialists.

The occupational safety and health profession used to be predominantly composed of people who focused on one specific area, Thornton says, but not anymore.

“Formerly, you had safety specialists, health specialists, occupational hygienists, environmental engineers and workers’ comp professionals. There were many different disciplines,” he continues. “Now, companies are hiring generalists, those who know a fair amount about all of these areas, but aren’t necessarily specialists in any of them.”

Luckily, according to Thornton, a good generalist will know the limits of his/her expertise and is likely to have professional contacts who can help in situations that require more specialized knowledge. These situations include working in confined spaces, with a fleet of heavy-duty transportation equipment or in a facility where workers are at risk for slips, trips and falls. Bringing in a specialist temporarily, while retaining at least one full-time safety generalist, can be a big money-saver for companies.

“Many small- and medium-sized employers don’t have enough work to warrant hiring a full-time person, say in confined spaces,” Thornton adds. “The economy is probably the primary driver in this shift toward generalists, and our educational system is also moving in that direction.”

5. Get line and corporate management on the same page.

When line and corporate management aren’t clear about their individual responsibilities and the responsibilities of their employees, it could expose the organization to legal or critical risk, according to the framework. This common area of confusion highlights yet another reason to evaluate OSH personnel based on a combination of factors that includes their ability to build relationships and communicate with others. It is important for accomplishing day-to-day tasks, but also for conveying safety management concepts on a strategic level.

“It’s driven from the top,” Thornton says. “If the CEO of the company or highest-ranking person in the business or manufacturing unit thinks safety is important and develops a value statement and metrics around safety that every manager shares, no matter which organizational department they’re in, then everyone has the same goal: getting employees home in the condition in which they came.”

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