Recognizing and Controlling Human Factors

Humans by omission or commission cause or contribute to incidents that result in losses to property, people, and resources. By eliminating or controlling this human factor, one can eliminate or control the potential for accidents.

Safety, Health, and Environment programs play an important role in preventing the injuries and illnesses experienced by employees. Accidents can be reduced by leveraging human resources management principles to control human factors. These principles consist of hiring the right person, ensuring potential employees are technically competent and physically capable, bringing new employees on board correctly, and managing aspects of the new employee’s career with the organization.

The supervisor plays a central role in the hiring process. Supervisors must make an up-front investment by taking the time to critically consider and then effectively communicate to the Human Resources Office the critical knowledge, skills, and abilities required by a job as identified by a job analysis. This begins with a thoughtful conversation in which the supervisor furnishes information that will enable a human resources specialist to more effectively design a job, market the vacancy, and assess applicants. The supervisor again plays a key role when conducting structured interviews as the last step in the assessment process. The supervisor then makes the hiring decision. Later the supervisor must ensure the new employee is brought into the new job properly to ensure he or she knows about required policies and procedures, use of equipment, reporting hazards and accidents, and how to identify training and growth needs.

The human resources specialist plays a supporting role in the hiring process. They participate with supervisors in the up-front investment by taking the time to critically consider and then ensure they understand the critical knowledge, skills, and abilities required by a job. It is at this point that the human resources specialist takes the furnished supervisor information and designs the job, markets the vacancy, and assesses applicants.

The SHE Specialist also plays a supporting role in the hiring process. They provide information about hazards associated with a job, extreme weather exposure, Ergonomic issues, and any special safety skills that the employee may need. The SHE specialist then works with the human resource specialist to develop a job hazard analysis.

Job analysis is the foundation of recruiting human resources and is vital to selecting the proper employee. Identifying the best person for the job requires that the supervisor fully understands essential duties of the job and the environment in which the job will be performed. By conducting a job analysis, the supervisor systematically identifies the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary for success on the job. Then the supervisor, with the help of a human resources specialist, develops valid and effective selection tools.

The supervisor need not conduct a job analysis every time he or she wants to fill a job vacancy; however, it is essential the first time a job is created and filled. If job openings within the same occupation occur frequently, the supervisor may rely on selection tools developed from recent job analyses of that occupation. These selection tools include structured interviews, written tests, use of an assessment center, and work samples.

Whether a job analysis should be conducted for a particular job depends on whether the job is new and if not new how current the existing job analysis is. Periodic review of job analyses is important. If the requirements of the job frequently change the supervisor should review the job analysis prior to each job being filled to ensure the selection tools are still valid. Contrasting that with the requirements of a job that changes very little and the job analysis may need to be reviewed less frequently; perhaps annually regardless of how many times a job is filled during that time.

A job hazard analysis is conducted by a SHE professional. The job hazard analysis focuses on job tasks as a way to identify hazards before they occur. In contrast a job analysis has a much broader scope of looking at what the job entails. Like the job analysis the job hazard analysis includes the relationships that exist among the worker, task, tool, and the work environment, but does not focus on it. The job analysis must precede the job hazard analysis because it facilitates the identification and control of hazards associated with the job that and allow hazards to be identified in the job description for consideration.

It is important to identify the physical requirements of the job up front.  These include walking, standing, climbing stairs and ladders, and lifting. Noise and visual effort is also important. Another piece of information that is important is how frequent the requirements are experienced. This should be noted as sustained, intermittent, or seldom. The results of this information will determine the requirements for a pre-employment physical. This is an important part of any hiring process. Without a proper pre-employment physical the employer accepts responsibility for the employee as is. This could result in significant costs if an employee’s previous condition is exacerbated by the current job.

This involves noting the environment the job will be performed in. This includes heat, cold, height, underground, in the dark, in inclement weather, etc. This information will allow the supervisor to also identify protective equipment and clothing to reduce the risk to the employee from the specific environmental requirements. This information will also support the pre-employment physical in such areas as cold and hot weather injuries where a previous injury may leave an employee susceptible to future injuries.

In the public sector the next step after the Job Analysis is to have the job classified. This is called Position Classification and describes a process through which jobs are assigned to a pay system, series, title, and pay grade, based on a consistent application of position classification standards. Positions are classified to achieve uniformity and equity using a common reference across organizations, locations, and agencies. Classification standards cover one or more occupations, usually including a description of the work performed; official titles; and criteria for determining grades. Most human resources offices have developed grading guidance, broad standards that serve as functional guides, and provide criteria for determining the pay level of work. These can normally be obtained from the human resources office serving the supervisors organization. Position classification standards and guidance also distinguish between white collar and blue collar (trades, craft, and labor) jobs. It is easy to confuse classification with qualifications; however, each has its own distinct purpose.

Classification pertains to a specific job and the evaluation process that determines the appropriate pay system, occupational series, title, and grade. While qualifications pertain to a person who is applying for or encumbers a job and describes the knowledge, skills, and abilities a person must have to be successful. Normally there are three kinds of competencies.

  • Required Competencies-required by the position.
  • Enabling Competencies-not required by the position, but are instrumental in assisting the incumbent employee to perform the job successfully. An incumbent should work to develop these competencies.
  • Developmental Competencies-not required by the position, but necessary for the incumbent to move up to the next pay grade.

A job description is a statement of the major duties, responsibilities, and supervisory relationships of a position. Simply put a job description indicates the work to be performed by the employee incumbent to the position. The purpose of a job description is to document the major duties and responsibilities of a position. The job description cannot spell out in detail every possible activity during the work day. Human resources offices often maintain a library of job descriptions.

With Safety, Health, and Environment playing such an important role in the work life of Americans it is important to use all the tools available to identify hazards before they cause an accident.  One tool is to use the processes in place to focus on human factors that are often involved in accidents.

About Fred Fanning Author

Fred Fanning currently writes biweekly on his blog His published works include the peer-reviewed book Basic Safety Administration-A Handbook for the New Safety Specialist. Fred also authored two editions of the peer-reviewed chapter Safety Training and Documentation Principles that was published in the bestselling Safety Professional Handbook and the Safety Professional Handbook Management Applications. He coauthored the peer-reviewed chapter Safety Training with Christine Fiori, Ph.D., PE, published in the bestselling Construction Safety Management and Engineering, second edition edited by Darryl C. Hill, Ph.D., CSP. Fred also has several self-published books. He has a series called Fred’s Safety Shorts. This is a collection of twelve books on topics related to safety published with Kindle Direct Publishing. Fred self-published another six books using both CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform and Kindle Direct Publishing. He has authored fifty-eight articles in various publications on the topics of safety and health and project management. Fred has earned several writing awards for his non-fiction work. Fred has two novels A Walk Among the Dead and Mystery at Devil’s Elbow.
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