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If you can’t make it fool proof – don’t hire a fool

Research consistently indicates that human factors such as risky behaviour and poor decision making account for the greatest proportion of occupational accidents and critical incidents. Consequently, many safety models include some form of human factor analysis and safety professionals spend a considerable amount of time assessing and addressing human factors. For example, those responsible for reducing risk and promoting safety often introduce training packages intended to foster a safety conscious organisational culture. The success of these interventions varies widely however and some human factors are extremely resistant to change.

In particular, a wealth of research literature demonstrates that personality is associated with risky behaviour, accident related fatalities, attitudes towards safety, risk perception and involvement in accidents (Iversen & Rundmo, 2002; Lajunen, 2001; Ulleberg, 2002). Within the workplace, personality is related to risk taking, involvement in accidents and incidents leading to personal injury in a range of occupational contexts such as the oil and gas industry and forestry workers (Salminen, Klen, & Ojanen, 1999; Sutherland & Cooper, 1991). Hence, employee personality forms a substantial barrier to the development of a safe workplace environment. It is however unlikely that the interventions introduced by health and safety professionals will influence an employee’s personality, which is stable both across time and contexts.

In order to reduce the number of human factor based incidents, employers should focus on the recruitment of those with a safety conscious personality in a similar style to the numeracy and literacy tests often favoured by recruiters. Indeed it is possible to predict employee safety knowledge and motivation, safety behaviour, compliance and attitudes towards reporting (Probst, Graso, Estrada, & Greer, 2013). Monies spent screening potential employees for such traits would be more effective than costly interventions that attempt to change selected employee attitudes towards safety. Further screening could consider the extent to which individuals are accident prone (Visser, Pijl, Stolk, Neeleman, & Rosmalen, 2007) in order to reduce the number of accidents and injuries. The introduction of these measures during the selection process would highlight the importance of occupational safety to all members of the organisation and reduce the need for additional interventions.



Iversen, H., & Rundmo, T. (2002). Personality, risky driving and accident involvement among Norwegian drivers. Personality and Individual Differences, 33, 1251-1263.

Lajunen, T. (2001). Personality and accident liability: Are extraversion, neuroticism and psychoticism related to traffic and occupational fatalities. Personality and Individual Differences, 31, 1365-1373.

Probst, T.M., Graso, M., Estrada, A.X., & Greer, S. (2013). Consideration of future safety consequences: A new predictor of employee safety. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 55, 124-134.

Salminen, S., Klen, T., Ojanen, K. (1999). Risk taking and accident frequency among Finnish forestry workers. Safety Science, 33, 143-153.

Sutherland, V.J., & Cooper, C.L. (1991). Personality, stress and accident involvement in the offshore oil and gas industry. Personality and Individual Differences, 12, 195-204.

Ulleberg, P. (2002). Personality subtypes of young drivers. Relationship to risk-taking preferences, accident involvement, and response to a traffic safety campaign. Transportation Research, 4, 279-297.

Visser, E., Pijl, Y.J., Stolk, R.P., Neeleman, J., & Rosmalen, J.G.M. (2007).  Accident proneness, does it exist? A review and meta-analysis. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 39, 556-564.


Featured in Insight (May 2015)