Workplace accidents and injuries are costly. They drive up workers’ compensation insurance premiums and create liability exposure for Cal-OSHA citations and third-party lawsuits. Many organizations devote significant time and money on implementing employee safety programs and conducting safety training to reduce the cost and exposure. But, employers should go one step further and implement practices designed to identify safe workers during the hiring process.

Precisely which practices you should adopt and how far you go with each will depend upon balancing the benefits of hiring safer employees and the costs of achieving that goal. The balance point will be different for each employer.

The starting point for the analysis is to identify how you get your workers. The considerations and the possible options for hiring safe workers will vary if you hire them directly on the open market or use a union hall, a staffing agency or labor contractor.

The next step is to determine who within your organization will be responsible for the hiring process. The best results come from a team effort which includes a senior level human resource professional and an operations manager who knows the job inside and out, including the safety issues. The worst results will be obtained by an inexperienced recruiter with little or no knowledge of the job and safety issues.

The next step is to create a quality job description. It serves as a tool in preparing the marketing for a position and an even more valuable tool during the interview process. A good job description is also essential in analyzing medical issues during the interactive process, supporting exempt/nonexempt classifications, analyzing reductions in force and conducting performance evaluations and disciplinary actions.

Using the job description, carefully plan the text for ads and other marketing. An emphasis on safety and the employer’s safety culture can be woven into the text. While you should always accurately describe the position and duties, consider human nature.  Text that makes the job sound challenging with a high expectation on the employee for safety will likely limit the applicant pool.  But, the short-term gain of increasing the applicant pool is not likely worth the long-term detriment of unqualified, unfit employees.

The next step in hiring safer workers is getting application data that can be useful in determining a worker’s commitment to safety and work history. Carefully review your application forms to ensure that they require applicants to provide a full history of all prior employers.  This will be essential in conducting reference checks and identifying issues with an applicant’s honesty. The forms should contain proper notifications and agreements regarding background checks and drug screens. Finally, the forms should leave room for applicants to provide specific information on skills and experience related to workplace safety.

When it comes time to interview the applicants, there is an easy way to get information about safety: simply ask the applicant if he/she has had any worker’s compensation claims. Unfortunately, you cannot do that without undue exposure to a lawsuit. The prohibition against basing hiring decisions on an applicant’s workers’ compensation history does not, however, mean that all questions about safety are off the table. Carefully constructed questions can lead to valuable information about an applicant’s safety history and propensity toward working safely. For instance, you can ask “Who was in charge of safety at your last employer?” Then ask the applicant to describe what they think that prior employer would say about the applicant’s performance and safety record. Alerting the applicant to the fact that you may be contacting the identified person should lead to more honest answers. You can also use specific skills testing and task simulations which will directly show whether or not an applicant has the skill and inclination to perform the tasks of the job in a safe manner.

Employers committed to hiring safe workers often use background checks and drug screens to weed out applicants more likely to be unsafe. Just as with the interview questions, certain areas of inquiry are off limits. Properly conducted, however, the information returned can often shine a light on which applicants are most likely to perform safely. Remember that depending upon the type of background check performed, a number of applicants’ rights and employer limitations may apply.

Devoting some extra care during the hiring process, can lead to safer employees and reduced operating costs.