By Zia Atlee & Michelle Hopkins The majority of occupational accidents occur due to human error, and even though the number of occupational deaths and injuries has dropped over the course of the 20th century, it is still an area of concern especially in the industrialised and developing countries (Barling & Frone, 2004). When lookingat safety in organisations, one needs to look at the safety climate of the organisation as well as the safety standards of the employees. It is therefore important to consider various factors such as the organisation’s safety climate, the individual’s personality, and training when striving for “zero incidents”with regards to occupational accidents. Occupational health and safety includes the social, mental and physical well-being of workers that is the “whole person”. Therefore, safety at work aims at:

  • The promotion and maintenance of highest degree of physical, mental & social well-being of workersin all occupations;
  • The prevention among workers of adverse effects on health caused by their working conditions;
  • The protection of workers in their employment from risks resulting from factors adverse to health;
  • The placing and maintenance of workers in an occupational environment adapted to physical & mental needs;
  • the adaptation of work to humans (ergonomics). (www. actrav.itcilo.org)

What does safety assessment entail? There are two popular types of assessments to use when assessing for safety: ability assessments and personality assessments. Ability assessments normally assess the individual’s ability to perform certain tasks in their working environment. Research has verified that personality assessments too, are valuablein explaining and predicting behaviour, performance and attitudes in the workplace (Ones, Dilchert,Viswesvaran, & Judge, 2007). It would thus be ideal to have an assessment battery that includes apersonality assessment as well as an ability assessment, among others, when assessing for safety occupations. Why is it needed? Safety assessments are needed to ensure that occupational accidents do not happen. A safe working environment could save the organisation and employees unnecessary expenditures, because accidentsat work could often lead to a loss of income or excessive medical expenses. South African legislation also enforces safety regulations at work. According to Section 8 of the Occupational Health and Safety Amendment Act, the general duties ofemployers to their employees include:

(1) Every employer shall provide and maintain, as far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risk to the health of his employees. (2) Without derogating from the generality of an employer’s duties under subsection (1), the matters to which those duties refer include the particular – (a) the provision and maintenance of systems of work, plant and machinery that, as far as is reasonably practicable, are safe and without risks to health; (b) taking such steps as may be reasonably practicable to eliminate or mitigate any hazardor potential hazard to the safety or health of employees, before restoring to personal protective equipment; (c) making arrangements for ensuring, as far as is reasonably practicable, the safety and absence of risks to health in connection with the production, processing, use, handling, storage or transport of articles or substances; (d) establishing, as far as is reasonably practicable, what hazards to the health or safety of persons are attached to any work which is performed, any article or substance which is produced, processed, used, handled, stored or transported and any plant or machinery which is used in his business, and he shall, as far as is reasonably practicable, further substance, plant or machinery in order to protect the health and safety of persons, and he shall provide the necessary means to apply such precautionary measures; (e) providing such information, instructions, training and supervision as may be necessaryto ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety at work of his employees (f) as far as is reasonably practicable, not permitting any employee to do any work orto produce, process, use, handle, store or transport any article or substance or tooperate any plant or machinery, unless the precautionary measures contemplated inparagraphs (b) and (d) or any other precautionary measures which may be prescribed, have been taken

(The South African Department of Labour, 2004, p8) It is thus clear that the employer has a tremendous responsibility in trying to make the workplace as safe as possible for its employees as well as the public. Using psychological assessments in recruitment and selection reduces the possibility of employing an individual that might be at risk of causing a workplace accident. Appropriate use of it in SA context According to legislation only psychological assessments that have proven reliability and validity and are not biased against any group of people are allowed to be used. Psychologists and psychometrists using assessments in the South African context need be critical when selecting appropriate assessment batteries. Impact of culture Taking in consideration the multicultural context of South Africa, it is important to be considerate offactors such as language, socio-economic status, race, education and gender (Bedell, Van Eeden, & VanStaden, 1999). Cultural context should especially be considered when it comes to administering and interpreting personality assessments because constructs may be interpreted differently in different cultures (Paterson & Uys, 2005). Conclusion Safety assessments can certainly be seen as beneficial in the workplace especially where it is theemployer’s prerogative to ensure that their employees as well as the public are safe from any possible accidents. The use and validity of safety assessments would depend on the assessment itself, the requirements of the job, the way in which the assessments are conducted as well as cultural factors. As a culturally diverse country, South Africa would benefit from more locally developed safety assessments, as well as more research being done on the use of safety assessments in various settings. JvR has a range of assessments that can assist in determining safety behaviours at work. For more information on Safety and Risk assessments; and how it can improve the safety in your organisation, please contact the Psychometric Advisory Department on (011) 781-3705 or info@jvrafrica.co.za. References The South African Department of Labour. (2004) Republic of South Africa No. 85 of 1993: Occupational Health and Safety Act as amended by Occupational Health and Safety Amendment Act, No. 181 Of 1993.