ASSE: Using Job Descriptions to Improve Safety Performance

June 24, 2003
Dr. Deborah Kearney believes job descriptions can be used to guide communication, planning and implementation of safety management programs.

Kearney told a session at the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) Professional Development Conference and Expo in Denver, "Safety management professionals are employed with three major objectives: safety assessment, relationship building and safety reduction. All three are more easily met by using job descriptions as a critical database."

Job descriptions should, said Kearney:

  • Guide communication between stakeholders of productivity, safety and quality.
  • Be part of the planning function to meet the organization's mission.
  • Guide management on risk reduction.

"Human resources is so scared of asking questions," she said. "If you've defined it in the job description, you can asked that question. Competency job-based questions are allowed [under fair employment laws]."

In other words, said Kearney, "going beyond the essential functions of the job to stated safety competencies of the job and using safety terms allows interviewers to ask questions such as "Can you safely lift and carry 45 pounds?"

She suggests including action verbs of work, of which she estimates there are 1,100, in job descriptions. Use words like "assemble," "activate," "grip," "grasp," "hold," "pull," "push," "talk," "listen," "see," "smell," "lift," "mix" and "climb." Be specific, says Kearney.

"You can ask anybody anything that is tied with essential job functions. We need to include safety questions during the interview process," she said.

In order to reduce the liability for work-related injuries, write competency-based job descriptions and use them as a safety management assessment, planning and implementation tool, said Kearney.

"Competency-based descriptions are an efficient employee management tool," she said. "They benefit the organization at all levels by providing a prompt, economical selection of the best person for the job. Job descriptions keep an organization running smoothly, encourage innovation and maintain a competitive edge. Incomplete job descriptions contribute to risk from orientation to retirement."

She suggests a team comprised of representatives from safety, human resources, occupational health, department supervisors and employees developed job descriptions that include a list of tasks (essential functions) and include competencies in knowledge, biomechanics, psychology, sensory, safety and quality.

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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