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Assessing Safety During Job Interviews

Contributed by Safety Management Group

When groundbreaking psychologist Abraham Maslow identified his hierarchy of human needs, safety rated just above the most basic physical needs such as food and water. In fact, Maslow suggested that humans innately valued safety more than love and friendship.

But the fact that safety is one of those instinctive needs doesn’t mean that all humans follow safe practices, especially when it comes to their work. Safety professionals regularly encounter workers who follow practices that put them in serious danger of injury or even death.

An individual’s attitude toward safety and safe practices offers a tremendous amount of insight into how that individual will perform as an employee. Workers who value safety and use safe work practices generally “follow the rules” when it comes to other activities that are part of their jobs. Employers know that safety-minded workers tend to be more mature, more productive, and more oriented toward quality. In addition, they’re concerned about everyone’s safety on the worksite, not just their own.

That’s why it’s important to develop a strong sense of a worker’s attitudes about safety during the interview process. Asking any of these eight questions should provide valuable information, and the more of them you ask, the better a sense you’ll have about whether the prospective employee will further or frustrate your safety objectives.

What project that you’ve been on had the best safety program and why?

Anyone who has been on a variety of jobsites has probably encountered a wide variety of safety programs. A prospective employee who can answer this question immediately is one who has actually paid attention to workplace safety.

What would you do if you had to perform a task but didn’t have the required PPE?

It’s never acceptable to perform a task without the specified personal protective equipment (PPE), although some supervisors may pressure workers to do so. A good answer to this question will tell you that the prospective employee understands the importance of proper PPE, and it will give you insight into how he or she deals with conflicts on the jobsite.

Have you ever disagreed with a supervisor about a safety matter, and how did you handle it?

While most supervisors want workers to follow orders, a worker who is willing to call an unsafe practice into question can be a valuable addition to the worksite — especially if he or she can raise those issues in a respectful and constructive manner.

Tell me about a time when you corrected another worker for being unsafe.

Nobody wants to be a “safety cop,” but it’s important that workers are willing to look out for one another, and that they’re not afraid to step up and correct an unsafe practice before an incident occurs. Again, you’ll gain insight into the worker’s approach to the inevitable conflicts that arise on worksites.

Talk about a time when you had to take an immediate action to ensure someone’s safety.

This question will let you see how the prospective employee handles crisis situations, as well as how he or she reacts when the safety of others demands action. Was the response intuitive, or did the worker have to stop and think about the right course of action?

What would you do if you discovered that our workplace lacks a key piece of safety equipment?

The answer should indicate an awareness of and a respect for the proper chain of command on the worksite, along with no hesitation about raising safety-related issues. New arrivals to jobsites often notice things that longtime workers may miss because of familiarity.

How would you handle it if you were aware that a co-worker had a substance abuse problem?

Does the prospective worker see substance abuse as a problem? Is he or she willing to take immediate and appropriate action, or is the answer somewhat vague? A worker with a substance abuse problem endangers himself, those who work around him, the integrity of the project, and the reputation of the company as a whole, so a safety-minded employee will not tolerate that kind of behavior on the job.

Give me an example of a safety practice you use at home.

Workers who are safety-conscious don’t leave those attitudes behind when they clock out. You’ll see them using PPE when working on home projects, making sure that electrical outlets aren’t overloaded, and keeping hazardous household chemicals where children can’t reach them. A prospective employee should be able to provide one or more examples without hesitation.

If the answers to any of these questions leave you less than confident about the prospective employee’s attitudes toward safety, don’t be afraid to dig deeper and to check with past employers. After all, it only takes one employee with the wrong attitudes to endanger everyone on your site.

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