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The Australian Financial Review - Friday, 9th January 1998 < Back to News Index

Financial Review

Written by Christopher Jay

A third of employees in Australian industry account for a disproportionate number of industrial accidents, and an even larger percentage of serious injuries and workers compensation costs.

While it is obvious that safety-conscious employees will have fewer accidents than careless ones, research highlights just how huge the difference is.

In addition, it suggests that more safety-conscious employees also have a much better track record in areas such as quality assurance, alcohol and substance abuse and productivity. They even have lower fuel consumption on company vehicles.

The primary problem for the high risk third is not lack of training, systems failure or equipment defects, but attitude problems, summed up as unwillingness to take responsibility for the management of their lives.

In one research study, partly funded by Lumley General Insurance, the personnel being assessed were divided into three equal sized groups, labeled as higher risk, moderate risk and lower risk.

The worst third accounted for 72 per cent of hours lost through injuries, the middle third accounted for 28 per cent of lost time and the lower risk third accounted for just 0.45 per cent of the lost time injuries.

In other words, if the higher risk and moderate risk employees were able to match the safety performance of the lower risk category, injury time lost would plummet to 1.35 per cent of the previous level.

Behavioral modification approaches based on this research are being promoted by a husband and wife psychology consulting firm, People and Quality Solutions Pty Ltd.

Trading as PaQS it operates through a network of affiliates around Australia and in several overseas countries such as New Zealand and America.

US-born psychologists Carl and Donna Reams, who settled in Australia in 1980, operate from premises at Silverdale, southwest of Sydney.

PaQS markets an accident risk management approach, the ARM system, which can be used either to screen out high risk job applicants - mainly used in the US - or to guide training programs to improve the performance of existing employees - the Australian preference.

Carl and Donna Reams first encountered the system at a psychology conference in 1992, during a return visit to America.

A form with 117 questions is used to profile employee attitudes on five individual scales to measure the way individuals think about safety.

The scales look at willingness to accept personal responsibility for one's own safety, propensity to avoid dangerous risks, stress tolerance, professional driving attitudes and quality orientation.

While results are generally similar around the world, there is one difference on distortion measurements inserted in psychological questionnaires to check internal consistency of answers.

"Australians have less of a failure rate on the distortion scale than Americans," Mr. Reams said.

More than 300 companies in Australia are using the ARM profiles.

Some are using to guide attribute modification programs designed to build up self-esteem and encourage individuals to recognize the advantages of taking more personal responsibility.

After a decision a few years ago to rely on networking, PaQS markets its training services through various training and occupational health and safety organizations.

PaQS provides a comprehensive 12-day course in two parts to train trainers, with material customized to each industry, and provides questionnaire assessment and monitoring of implementation.

Training results to date suggest an average improvement of about 25 per cent in safety awareness.

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