Hire, train, rinse, repeat. 

Is this what your safety program feels like? Something like this might help you check all the regulatory boxes and ace a safety manager evaluation, but what if you want to go a step further to prevent workplace illness and injury? Spencer Stang, PHD, owner of HR consulting firm Stang Decisions Systems, and Tom Anthos, Vice President of TriMedia, say the answer could lie in employee self-reporting. 

Stang, an industrial and organizational expert and psychology PHD, and Anthos, a Certified Industrial Hygienist, have worked together on employee selection for decades. But recent conversations posed an intriguing question, “What employee performance characteristics correlate with safe behaviors?”

The team took on the challenge of answering this question and put their heads together to create an employee assessment called the Workstyle Inventory. Assessment results are proving to be extremely predictive of safety behavior and, used with other tools, increasing the efficacy of TriMedia’s internal health and safety program. 

Workstyle Inventory

The Workstyle Inventory is a survey that facilitates self-reporting for employees. Answers help business owners and leadership to identify workers with risky behaviors and personality traits, making the Workstyle Inventory a perfect addition to a safety program.

So what does this survey look like? Questions include everything from run-of-the-mill biographical questions to situational awareness assessments you’d see on a hiring test. But Stang explains the unique survey required him to design several different, yet still correlating, measures to ensure the results are accurate. 

“Whenever you’re trying to measure something, especially psychological variables, any measurement tool tends to have quite a bit of error,” Stang says. “So if all the measures are saying the same thing, you can have a higher degree of confidence that the overall measurement is accurate.” 

Measure #1: Biodata 

The first measure is biodata. In this section of the Workstyle Inventory, there are questions like: 

  • How many auto accidents have you been in? 
  • How many times have you been to the ER due to an accident in the past 10 years? 
  • Do you use tobacco? 
  • On a scale from 1-5, how healthy is your lifestyle? 

These questions are easy enough to lie about, but Stang says it’s not common. “People are generally honest…there’s no big incentive to be dishonest, other than maybe avoiding embarrassment that you’ve been to the hospital nine times.”

Measure #2: Big Five Inventory (BVI)

This section measures the five major dimensions of personality — extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness to experience. 

Stang explains how these results relate to safety. “Most of those traits aren’t going to have any significant relationship to safety,” he says. “But when it comes to traits in the conscientiousness dimension — and even a bit in the neuroticism dimension — they definitely will have behavioral implications.” 

So if someone scores high for conscientiousness, they’re more inclined to consider the consequences of their actions. For example, they might have a thought process like, “If I leave this shovel laying like this, someone could trip over it.”  

When Stang measured the results from this behavioral measure against safety data, they were extremely predictive of safety behavior. But that’s not all the results predicted. “The results from the BVI measure are predictive of work performance in many cases,” Stang elaborates. “If employees think something like, ‘I’m going to miss this deadline,’ they might consider the consequences, for example, ‘If I don’t tell the client, that’s going to have bad implications.’ People who are more conscientious worry about that stuff more.”

Measure #3: Outlook Inventory 

Questions in the outlook Inventory section are forced choice — and harder to fake. Stang says, “this is the only place where we’re kind of pulling out our psychological bag of tricks.” He goes on to say the question design can make this part of the survey a bit frustrating. “It’s hard for the candidate to know what you’re really getting at. The Outlook Inventory will ask you questions like, ‘Are you hard-working, punctual, or honest?’ And you can’t pick all three.” 

From a societal perspective, the answers in the above example are roughly the same. But from a prediction perspective, Stang explains, one of those answers is more predictive than the other two. People score better when they choose the optimal option. 

Measure #4: Situational Judgment Test

Situational judgment questions are generally recognizable to most people who have ever applied for a job. 

Stang gives an example from the Workstyle Inventory: 

“While working in a remote location, a coworker complains of chest pains. He tells you he’s pretty sure it’s just heartburn, but he looks like he’s in pain. What would you do?” 

He says the right answer is to call 911 or a project medic. However, Stang says there are plenty of people who chose the option of driving the employee to the nearest medical facility.  

Answers people give to these situational judgment questions act as a powerful conversation catalyst. So after looking at an employee’s results, a safety manager can sit down with the worker and ask, “Can you explain why you chose this answer? Let’s discuss some alternative solutions in this situation.” 

How the Workstyle Inventory spots red flags 

The results from each section are weighted based on how important they are to the job being performed and compiled into a composite score from 0 to 100. 

But leadership shouldn’t prioritize applauding high-scorers. The real value of the Workstyle Inventory scores, says Stang, is determining employees who score low. 

Determining the low-scorers provides safety management a list of employees they need to prioritize engaging about safety matters. “Ideally, that should be a small subset of your overall workforce. But when you think of it, statistically the highest risk, say 10%, of your workforce is going to probably cause 80% of your problems,” Stang elaborates. 

As for average scorers? Stang says, “there’s always room for improvement for everybody.” However, he reiterates, “leadership is more concerned about people with red flags.”

The Workstyle Inventory is not a punishment tool

Despite it being used to spot low performers and unsafe work behaviors, the Workstyle Inventory isn’t designed to be a punishment tool for leadership. Instead, Stang suggests, it should be used as part of a larger safety program. “Interventions are positive interventions that will help make that person safer, more productive, and more beneficial to their clients,” he says. 

That’s not to say discussion shouldn’t include talk of consequences. Stang offers the example of speaking with a worker who self-reported getting six speeding tickets on the job. He says,”you can tell them they can’t get any more speeding tickets…if they get another one, there could be consequences for that.” However, Stang elaborates, “Consequences are not due to the fact that they self-reported getting speeding tickets.” 

Workstyle Inventory case study

TriMedia uses — and is continuously improving for their application — the Workstyle Inventory to enhance their safety program and explore if they can modify behavior. Anthos explains that, with a validated survey strategy, the benefit is two-fold. “If we can validate the model, then we can try to change behavior or create other strategies that help our people be safe…as we move forward as a company and hire new people, we can use parts of the Workstyle Inventory to help us in our selection process.” 

And so far, things are going well. “If you take the overall results of the Workstyle Inventory and correlate them with a composite score of known health and safety measures…it correlates very significantly,” Stang says, “all the patterns make sense.” 

Anthos isn’t just using the Workstyle Inventory as a standalone tool, either. In tandem with their behavior-based safety (BBS) program, another self-reporting channel used to open lines of communication, the Workstyle Inventory is helping to predict and improve safety behavior with higher accuracy.  

Behavior-based safety questionnaires and the Workstyle Inventory: The perfect team

The idea behind BBS is simple — employees record any safety moments, positive or negative, that they observe on the job. Safety leadership uses the results to influence behaviors through communication. 

Anthos and his team use BBS to document details on these safety moments, including the “when” and “where.” The Workstyle Inventory works in perfect tandem with the BBS system. 

The combined results of each assessment help inform three things: 

  • Who safety leadership needs to focus on, sometimes down to the job type and personality trait 
  • What types of behavior need to be modified, and how the behavior can be influenced
  • If the BBS system is working to drive behavioral change

If you’re interested in implementing the Workstyle Inventory or BBS in your safety program, get in touch with our EHS experts.