Safe practices start with the hiring process

KITCHENER, Ont. – If the object is to climb a tree, is it best to train a rabbit or to use a squirrel?

That’s Dr. Chet Robie’s tongue-in-cheek way of saying that although there is value in training people towards company expectations, it’s much easier when you start with the right people. Wilfrid Laurier University’s Dr. Robie was one of the speakers at the Fleet Safety Council’s 22nd Annual Educational Conference, which continues tomorrow.

Dr. Robie focused on what motor carriers should consider in their hiring processes to make sure, from a safety perspective, they are placing the right people behind the wheel of their expensive equipment.

Simply checking up on the applicant’s prior driving record doesn’t cut it, according to Dr. Robie. Although important to look at, it falls short of identifying many at-risk individuals. That’s because you can’t predict the occurrence of specific future accidents based on prior accidents. From a statistical perspective, serious accidents are relatively rare.

“We can only predict the possibility that people who engage in certain behaviors which, if they persist, will make accidents likely,” Dr. Robie explained. Think improper lane changes, poor speed management, hard braking, being quick to anger under stress, etc.

But Dr. Robie cautioned that before you start analyzing the behavior of job candidates it’s important to look inward first. The first step in any selection program starts with a proper job analysis, explaining that job analysis should include a thorough outline of the tasks, duties, and responsibilities of the job. He recommended the website as a good source to help companies get started on this task.

Dr. Robie also recommended using cognitive testing, such as the standard IQ tests, in prescreening drivers, making the argument that research shows smarter people learn more quickly and get up to  company performance standards faster. The disadvantage to including such tests in your hiring process,  however, is that drivers don’t like them and in an industry such as trucking where there is a shortage of qualified drivers that can be a roadblock.

The interview process itself is very important in gauging a candidate’s potential  and structured interviews are two to three times more effective than non-structured interviews. Asking all candidates the same questions makes it easier to compare the results. Skinner spoke in favor of “behavioral interviewing”. In the context of safety, such interviewing uses questions specifically designed to elicit responses about past behaviors. The basic premise behind behavioral interviewing is that the most accurate predictor of future performance is past performance in a similar situation.

The interviewing focuses on experiences, behaviors, knowledge, skills and abilities that are job related. Whereas traditional interviewing questions ask job candidates general questions such as “tell me about yourself”, the process of behavioral interviewing is much more probing.  For example, you would ask a candidate:

What were some of the most important safety rules at your prior job? In what ways did you follow them?  This would help determine the candidate’s awareness of safety rules and how he has used them.


Tell me about a time when you saw an employee working in an unsafe manner. What did you do? This would determine whether the candidate would speak up and demonstrate concern for fellow employees.

Nor should you ignore the reference check process – even if you want to.

“Everybody thinks that reference checking is BS and it’s a pain in the ass and that people don’t get back to you. But if the candidate spent time working for five or six companies and they don’t want to say anything about him, that should be telling you something,” Dr. Robie said.

He also recommended the option of using standardized, Web-based reference checking systems as a way to make reference checking both easier and more effective.

Transportation Media is the media sponsor of the Fleet Safety Council’s 22nd Annual Educational Conference. The event, which started Thursday with a discussion on transportation careers,  concludes Saturday with a panel discussion on the future of behavior analysis, moderated by Lou Smyrlis, publisher and editorial director of the Trucking Group,Transportation Media

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  • i do agree with the analogy full haeartedly , it is easy said than done though , as the proper selection process is faced with the challenge of limited choices and the need to fill positions as rapidly as possible to meet demands .
    simply put , when we cant find rabbits or squirrls to climb the tree we tend to claim ” unfortunatley ” that our only other choice is to hire and train a fish to accomplish the task , compete and win .