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Some leading Australian insurers are using a psychological technique to identify policyholders who are more likely to be involved in accidents, incidents and workers' compensation claims.

The accident risk management questionnaire, developed by safety professionals and psychologists, is being used to assess employees' beliefs and attitudes towards safety.

Most safety research specialists, insurers and organisations believe that mote than 90 per cent of accidents and injuries and injury claims can be directly or significantly attributed to human error.

David Morley, the Director, Training and Client Services for Sydney consultancy PaQS (People and Quality Solutions), said leading insurers are using the questionnaire to help customers build better risk profiles.

His report:
Over the past 30 years organisations have spent considerable time and resources on safety management and quality systems, improved skills training and team reporting programs, usually with excellent results.

This has been reflected in the approach insurance companies are taking to industries such as heavy vehicle transport. Leading heavy vehicle insurers have developed and implemented risk management programs and employed risk managers with many years of expertise gained from working in the transport industry.

But while these initiatives have been a great contributor to healthy safety statistics, more organisations report their accident and injury reduction or quality management programs to eventually slow down, plateau or drop.

This is also when insurance companies tend to see claims ranging from machinery and equipment damage to personal injury begin to rise.

The success of an organisation's safety and quality systems depends on attitudes and commitment.

No matter how well resourced or skillfully and professionally implemented, good safety and quality systems often fail. The noncompliance of some personnel is usually the reason an organisation's good safety and quality systems fail.

Many human-error accidents and injuries are due to "attitudinal noncompliance factors" rather than deficiencies in skills, systems or knowledge.

Attitude drives behaviour, and unsafe behaviour ultimately results in accidents, injuries and equipment damage.

Why do skilled and knowledgeable people often not comply with safety systems, procedures and training? It's usually the result of undeveloped attitudes to safety awareness.

Psychologists who specialise in workplace safety behaviour have identified and can measure the core factors - safety attitudes that will determine who is at greater risk for unsafe behaviour. The also can identify why.

Most people who are at greater risk for this behaviour have what is called under-developed attitudinal safety awareness (ASA).

Like other types of knowledge, skills or beliefs, ASA is acquired through observation, direct learning and life experience. Everyone will have a different level of awareness based on the exposure they have had to people and environments.

Some people have lower ASA. Many highly skilled and experienced people do, regardless of their level of education, training, industrial or workplace experience. But it has to be dealt with, because numerous studies have demonstrated that people with lower ASA have had many more accidents and injuries than people with higher ASA.

In one research study, 100 heavy vehicle drivers (91 full time/9 casual) were assessed for their "driver attitude" (professionalism). The 50 drivers who scored highest risk (in other words, lowest professional attitudes) were responsible for 72 per cent of accidents and 97 per cent of lost-time injuries.

The accident risk management questionnaire (ARM-Q) was developed by safety professionals and psychologists. It's a powerful and innovative approach to accident prevention that involves the assessment of people's beliefs and attitudes towards safety.

It is a user-friendly self-report questionnaire probing the safety attitudes that comprise our individual attitudinal safety awareness, consisting of common beliefs shown to measure awareness, knowledge, conceptual orientation and perception of safety and risk.

PaQS is a firm of organisational and industrial psychologists which brought the ARM-Q system to Australia in 1992 from the United States.

The local version of the questionnaire combines the latest research, developments and innovations in workplace performance and assessment from the US with a sound knowledge and experience of Australian workforce culture.

Benchmarking studies using the ARM-Q have shown:

* 50 per cent of personnel at a tile and brick manufacturing company who scored at higher-risk/lower safety awareness in the questionnaire test accounted for 92 per cent of the workgroup's injuries. Their workmates who had 50 per cent higher safety awareness accounted for only 8 per cent of the total injuries for the group.

* At a manufacturing company, 83 per cent of the accidents injured by the 70 personnel were predicted. The 50 per cent who scored at higher-risk/lower safety awareness under the questionnaire accounted for most of the accidents incurred by the workgroup.

* In an underground gold mine, 100 per cent of the 912 hours lost were predicted. In this study, 100 per cent of hours lost were attributed to those personnel who scored below average.

These studies and more than 30 others conducted in Australia and New Zealand since 1992, have consistently shown that the ARM-Q is an effective selection instrument. It provides organisations with the ability to recruit people with a higher overall safety orientation.

More than 50,000 ARM-Q profiles have been completed in Australia since 1992, covering most industries.

The ARM-Q is a fully validated, fair and legally approved instrument that can be used in selecting new personnel.

It only measures safety awareness and risk for accidents and injuries; it does not measure specific skills or replace the need for traditional employment screening like interviews and reference-checking, as well as industry ability and experience evaluations.

Currently Allianz, National Transport Insurance, Stirling Risk Services and Lumley New Zealand recommend the questionnaire to their heavy motor customers as a preferred recruitment tool.

Insurance companies fall into a unique category, as they only require the results of the questionnaire to make a decision as to whether to take the client on, and under what circumstances. The insurers have been taking the professional path themselves and encouraging policyholders to train existing employees, rather than just profiling them.

Clearly the best utilisation of the ARM-Q is in training existing personnel. Mining, manufactured minerals, energy and transport have been the biggest users of this approach.

Where "at risk" personnel are identified, federal and state legislation requires employers to provide appropriate training. In other words, assessing existing employees is a commitment to train any who don't meet the company or insurance standard required. Under no circumstances can existing personnel be dismissed solely on the basis of the ARM-Q.

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