Industrial Psychologists and Workplace Injury

Bob Rose and Robyn Porterfield

Workplace injury is a serious problem with many costs including the cost of well-being and even loss or life. The causes and prevention of injury is a complex issue with many factors including adequately functioning machines safety equipment and so on.

Interestingly many of the factors relating to workplace injury can be addressed by Industrial Psychologists (also called IO psychologists). IO psychologists are trained to address the human factors at work. Examples will be useful.

OSHA’s presentation Injury and illness prevention programs lists six core elements of safety: management leadership, worker participation, hazard identification, hazard prevention, education and training and program evaluation. Leadership, participation and education are all clearly related to human behavior.

Sophisticated personality inventories (called Five-factor inventories in psychometric jargon) measure five major factors and numerous subdivisions. The major personality factor of conscientiousness has been shown to be related to safety especially in conjunction with a certain level of intelligence (see Shaffer and Postlethwaite, (2013); J. Wallace (2003); and others).

Falls are one the major causes of injury at work. Grainger Company (2015) discusses guidelines to prevent falls in the workplace and notes that one of the guidelines involves staying alert and paying attention. Alertness and attention are influenced by psychological variables.

Personality, intelligence, memory, attention and the effect that these factors have on behavior at work including communication and leadership are the province of IO psychologists.

IO psychologists can complement the experts who look at factors such as shop condition, lighting etc. IO Psychologists should take a proactive approach to help clients avoid injury at work. For example, at some at some manufacturing plants, the prevailing wisdom is “Safety matters – production matters more.” CEOs should be encouraged to emphasize that no one would be fired for missing production due to safety; anyone would be fired for missing safety due to production.

Whether proactive or after the fact, when workplace injuries occur, consult an IO Psychologist to see if they can help determine causes.

Rose Porterfield Group June 2016