How to Hire Safe Workers

Pro tips on interviewing in a way that allows you to screen for safety aptitude, plus red flags to look for in both future and existing employees.

Danielle Riha
May 9, 2022

What comes first: hiring safe employees, or creating a safe workplace? And who benefits most from workplace safety regulations?

We posed these questions to business leaders and coaches in deskless industries where workplace health and safety is paramount (construction, manufacturing, industrial cleaning) and it turns out, the answer is a little of both.

Below, we’ve gathered helpful advice on ways to interview candidates that allow you to screen for safety, and red flags to look for in both future and existing employees.

What can employers do in the hiring process to gauge an employee's familiarity and experience with workplace safety protocol?

Ask behavioral-based questions.

So often we focus solely on technical skills in an interview… such as “what machines have you operated?” or “where did you train?” I often teach the concept of Behavioral Interviewing as a supplement to “traditional” skill-based questions. A “behavioral-based interview”, or BBI, focuses on past behavior as the best predictor of future behavior. Asking behavioral questions about how a candidate acted in the past, and having them describe the steps they took in that real situation, gives the interviewer a sense of how they will behave here if hired.
To gauge a candidate’s focus on safety, I would say “tell me about a time you witnessed a coworker not following procedure. What did you do?” or “Describe a time you were responsible for ensuring the safety of your team.” Skilled interviewers observe both verbal and nonverbal cues. The goal is to identify the behaviors and techniques the candidate used in the past to determine if they have the safety “know-how” to succeed in this role. Did they tell you about a near-miss that they reported or corrected? Or did they blame the employer? We learn much more from a BBI question than simply asking “do you work safe?”

Sarah Laboranti, Director of Traning, Dynamic Corporate Solutions, Inc.

Ask about safety in their personal life.

During the interview process it is important to dig into the safety protocols in place at their previous employers and whether these were adequate to address workplace hazards. Ask them to articulate what was working well and what steps could have been taken to improve these protocols. Try to be curious about what steps perspective candidates take in their personal lives to account for their own safety. Discussions around using PPE during home projects or obeying traffic laws can tell you a lot about their personal commitment to safety. Typically, the candidates that are personally committed to safety will bring that same mindset with them to the workplace.

Luke Matelan, FMI Corporation

Ask them what popular safety sayings mean to them, in their own words.

As an example, "What does 'Safety First' mean to you? Or, "What does 'three points of contact' mean to you?" Then follow up with, "Why is it important?"
Ask them what’s more important, production or safety? Ask them what makes up an effective safety talk / meeting? Show them photos of safe / unsafe situations and ask them to describe what’s bad in each situation and how to rectify the bad or how to avoid the bad from happening.

Randy Goruk, The Randall Wade Group, LLC

What red flags should employers look for that could point to an unsafe employee?

Luke says that unsafe employees generally fall into two categories.

The first includes employees that lack overall awareness of their surroundings, which can lead to mistakes such as forgetting to wear PPE or walking through a barricaded area because they weren’t paying attention. The second (more concerning) category includes employees that are actively antagonistic towards safety protocols because they do not fully grasp the value of these measures.

“Typically,” says Luke, “these employees are high dominant, high control individuals that are outspoken with their beliefs. While these individuals can be a major roadblock, by getting their input and buy-in for safety initiatives early on, you can actually turn some into your biggest advocates. “

Another red flag Luke points to for detecting these types of employees is if their previous role was "higher risk” than the position they are being considered for. He explains:

“They may see the new environment as less of a threat, cut corners and expose themselves to harm. For instance, I once had an employee that previously worked in Cell Tower Construction, where they regularly climbed 300 feet in the air. The current job had him going a maximum of 25 feet at the highest point. It was a constant battle to get him to 'tie off' because he did not perceive 25 feet to be of any significant danger to him."

Randy added a few more red flags to be on the lookout for:

  • Employees who are disengaged during safety meetings
  • Supervisors who do not walk the talk
  • Employees who “cheat” by slipping out of PPE when supervisors are not looking
  • Employees who, when tested, are not familiar with the proper operation of safety equipment, or life saving techniques

Hiring safe workers is only half the battle. In order to get those safe workers to join your company and stay, you have to cultivate a culture of safety and lead by example. In the second half of this article, get workplace safety tips from Sarah, Luke, Randy & other industry pros like them.

If you haven’t already, sign-up for our email newsletter to have that follow-up article (and other future insights) delivered directly to your inbox.

Subscribe to the Team Engine newsletter

Want our latest and greatest delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up for our newsletter and get regular deliveries in one click.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.