If the Job Fits, You're Safer

Personality-job match reduces risk, study says

MONDAY, July 16, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- The more your personality fits the demands of your job, the less your chance of a work-related injury, a new study says.

To test that theory, a group of Minnesota researchers examined workers' compensation data on 171 firefighters in a midwestern city over a 12-year period.

"We chose firefighters because they had a much higher risk of getting injured on the job than any other occupation," says the study's lead author, Hui Liao, a doctoral candidate in human resources management and industrial relations at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management.

"We found that personality traits, including introversion, were significantly related to higher injury rates on the job," says Liao. She speculates that introverts may be less likely to seek help or to work with a team, which could be a key to safety in such a dangerous profession.

The researchers found a higher on-the-job injury rate for female firefighters. But they believe that men possibly don't report as many injuries, viewing it as a sign of weakness.

Also, married female firefighters returned to work quicker than unmarried men, unmarried women and married male firefighters. Perhaps, says Liao, fire companies may assign working mothers to less risky tasks, or a married female firefighter may just be more cautious than the rest.

The researchers also found the more conscientious a person was on the job, the less likely they were to be injured. Conversely, if firefighters disregarded safety rules and regulations, the number of injuries went up.

"Workplace injuries are very costly. It's important to identify the factors that are predictive of work injury," says Liao.

"It is possible, based on the information we have, to develop comprehensive batteries of tests to see what kind of applicants are more injury-prone," says Liao. But, she adds, using personality tests in a vacuum is not a good idea.

Any employer should combine all the information they get, including "the employee's physical ability, reading levels and other valid selection devices. It should not be a replacement for all other existing solid-selection devices."

And although employee selection on the basis of gender or age is illegal, Liao adds that "if we know certain groups of people are more likely to get injured, we can put them through more safety training if hired, or assign them to a less hazardous work area."

James A. McCubbin, chairman of the department of psychology at Clemson University, agrees: "The nature of work is changing. More women are in the workforce; their needs have to be incorporated. People are older and we have issues related to the aging of workers."

Studies such as these, McCubbin adds, "could help us design better training programs. Rather than use personality tests to screen, we should use these results to understand how individuals function in a risky work environment."

The study appears in the July issue of the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology.

What To Do

Learn more about your own personality with this introversion/extroversion test.

To learn how you can protect yourself while you work, check out Risk Factors and Prevention Strategies, a bulletin from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Related Stories

No stories found.