Safe workplaces with reduced levels of health and safety incidents are becoming possible thanks to the SMARTminds 2.0 employee assessment tool developed by Associate Professor Rebecca Loudoun and colleagues from the Department of Employment Relations and Human Resources and the Centre for Work Organisation and Wellbeing at Griffith University for Programmed, Australia’s largest staffing and maintenance services company with over 20,000 employees, working at 10,000 sites.
The assessment process is simple for staff in Programmed’s recruitment and induction programs, they take a 10-minute survey that measures their safety values and attitudes. Then participants are considered against different categories of risk predictability, leading to future education and training needs for people in high-risk groups, and resulting in better safety outcome in workplaces.
Preventing injury from working activities is a central workplace health and safety concern and one that is usually actively monitored by companies and governments to reduce the associated costs, i.e., loss of productivity, injury claims and litigation.
According to Chris Sutherland the managing director at Programmed, safety results have been challenging in FY2017, but better than industry averages. And to reduce the number of injuries, incidents and near misses further, Programmed are continuing to focus on leadership, behaviour and personal responsibility.
“We need to have every employee come home uninjured every night as a basic tenet of our operations. This also means our productivity improves and our costs are lower. Customers will hire Programmed because we work safely and can help them improve the safety of their own operations,” said Mr Sutherland in a 2017 report.
“Chris Sutherland has recently become an Adjunct Associate Professor with Griffith, and he was chosen for his leadership in innovative approaches to HRM and people development. Together we are looking at a 5-10 year relationship on a whole range of levels, that has grown from the SMARTminds project,” said Associate Professor Loudoun.
The focus on safety, employee assessment and education is critical for Programmed, a national labour hire and services company employing permanent, casual and contracted employees, who track their own safety incidents through an annual Lost Time Injury Frequency Rate, plus incidents from employees of subcontractors and labour hires.
“The SMARTminds initiative was designed to develop a tool to measure all relevant personal characteristics, attitudes, and personal values as they relate to safety mindedness, and future plans are to have anyone who wants a job at Programmed or in their subcontract network to complete it,” said Associate Professor Loudoun.
“Health and Safety is my field and labour-hire is well known for being a problem area. It’s not necessarily high risk, but it’s unfamiliar. And you are in an environment where it’s work you don’t always know, with people you don’t know, and there might be policies and procedures you don’t know.”
“The SMARTminds assessment tool helps to overcome the safety reduction risk and provides a level of assurance to Programmed, other recruitment organisations and participating corporations. And Programmed often use external recruiters, so that was another reason why they were interested in an assessment tool.”
This commercial research project evolved from Programmed searching for a partner to develop their employee safety assessment tool, and finding Griffith University’s Department of Employment Relations and Human Resources and Griffith Enterprise, the university’s office for research consultancy engagements.
After presenting credentials and convincing Programmed Griffith was the best research solution to develop their assessment tool, Associate Professor Loudoun gathered a project team that included four people; Associate Professor Ashlea Troth, Dr Amanda Biggs, Professor Paula Brough and herself, drawing on their collective expertise in the field of psychological testing and work health and safety.
“SMARTminds Phase One started in 2016, when Programmed came to the university through Griffith Enterprise who had a look at the scope of work, they contacted me and I started talking to Programmed about what they wanted, and initially they had some reservations about partnering with a university,” said Associate Professor Loudoun.
“They wanted someone to design a tool around safety values, measuring safety values, they had reviewed the websites of universities in Australia. There was some concern that universities in general could be bureaucratic and slow to meet their needs.”
“Griffith Enterprise and I managed to convince them that we could deliver, and they wanted this assessment tool delivered within 5 months. Then I went to work to put a team together of people across the University with expertise across the range of areas required.”
SMARTminds 2.0 commenced in May 2018, and is the next phase of the project with the purpose of rounding out the tool to offer further safety predictive validity in wider ranging industries, and to additionally test and re-test the tool for armoured reliability over 12 months. As Programmed deliver staffing, maintenance and management services across many sectors of the economy, expanding the industry applications is a natural progression for the tool.
“We are developing the SMARTminds 2.0 constructs to predict additional safety behaviour, job attitudes, and customer satisfaction, and we want to ensure employee scores on the tool constructs remain stable overtime,” said Associate Professor Loudoun.
“We are Improving the generalizability to a wider range of industries, occupations, and sub-groups by establishing population norms to enable more fine-grained interpretation of employee scores on the tool, in terms of their industry and occupation cohorts.”
An important consideration for the project was to ensure that survey questions were broadly applicable for employees, and managers, and the tool’s application was predominantly for educational purposes around Zero Harm workplaces, and not used as a screening mechanism to prevent employment.
”Programmed is an inclusive, innovative company focussed on developing people to their full potential. So this tool is intended to help identify needs and areas for growth. With this educational purpose in mind, new methods to integrate the tool and participant survey results with learning modules are being discussed,” said Associate Professor Loudoun.
“SMARTminds mental safety assessment tool complements Programmed’s existing physical safety assessment tool, called SMARTmoves and we are investigating what further integrations might be possible.”
Associate Professor Loudoun advised being a publically listed company, Programmed was recently purchased by Persol, which is one of Japan’s biggest staffing companies, with 32,000 employees and a $5.7 billion market capitalisation. SMARTminds employee assessment tool was considered a central element of this expansion, and Persol plans to expand Programmed’s services to become the largest human resources services group in the Asia‐Pacific region.
One aim of the SMARTminds project was to maximise the commercial opportunities it provides, and to assist other organisations in their Zero Harm journey. It has been advised that work has commenced on this commercialisation and discussions on agreements for outsourced safety surveying are underway.
“One of the key objectives of developing the SMARTminds tool was to maximise the commercial opportunities it provides to assist other organisations in their Zero Harm journey,” said Associate Professor Loudoun.
“Right from the get-go, Programmed always wanted to commercialise the tool, that is something we had to think about when we were planning, as we don’t own the intellectual property.”
According to the Australian, nearly $10 billion in taxpayer funds were spent last year on outsourcing, including labour hire, external contractors, rent and legal advice, as federal government departments tried to fill holes left by staffing cuts and circumvent hiring caps.
In addition outsourcing is a worldwide trend that is growing and value is being achieved through the impact of innovation, ease of relationship management and improved strategic flexibility, according to Deloitte’s Global 2016 Outsourcing Survey.
“As more Australian organisations look to focus on core business, relieve capacity constraints, create innovation and reduce operating costs, they invariably turn to outsourcing of some or all their functions,” said Associate Professor Loudoun.
“Among the risks of outsourcing most often quoted is the potential for a reduction in the quality of the service offered to internal stakeholders, and the deterioration of the underlying safety culture, particularly in the areas of outsourced labour arrangements.”
Associate Professor Loudoun is well experienced to lead SMARTminds project development with more than 15 years research experience into the effectiveness of WH&S interventions. She has successfully completed WH&S consultancies and research projects for the Queensland Government, for emergency services in Queensland and South Australia, and for the Queensland Construction Industry.
The project leadership team put together an extensive academic framework for Phase One SMARTminds tool development that involved, a discovery phase with literature and data reviews, qualitative interviews, a pilot study with employees and quantitative surveys.
The report explains — The tool development process incorporated three iterations. After a discovery phase, including a literature review, review of Programmed’s operational safety data, and interviews with key stakeholders at Programmed, a pilot survey was conducted with Programmed employees and managers.
Based on results from the pilot survey, seven safety constructs were identified and tested in an Alpha survey with Programmed employees and managers. An analysis of the Alpha survey data further refined and validated the safety constructs, which were again tested in a Beta survey with Programmed employees and managers.
“We broke it up into seven constructs for managers and six constructs for employees. Programmed wanted some catchy names like ‘Check your Mates’ and ‘Playing with Fire’, so that constructs were not just about looking after your own health and safety, but looking after others,” said Associate Professor Loudoun.
“The safety constructs include evidence-based factors that are known to predict safety behaviours, such as attitudes to risk taking, safety compliance and personal safety leadership. A key aspect was all factors were developed to focus on values rather than personality traits, which contrasts with most existing measures.”
“To recruit or develop around values in the area of health and safety is completely new, it’s never been thought of before. And it’s not just in labour hire where this is new, what Programmed are doing is very innovative.”
“The SMARTminds tool goes beyond traditional measures to include two additional factors. The first is taking responsibility for colleagues’ safety, which is a component of personal safety leadership and aligns with Programmed’s value of Care and Empathy,” said Associate Professor Loudoun.
“The second factor, Safety Agility involves a mindset of safety proactivity and innovation and a willingness to address potential safety hazards before an injury or incident has occurred, which is an essential component of safety mindedness to achieve Zero Harm.”
“In addition, a further construct was included to measure managers’ mindsets in relation to building a safety culture in the workplace.”
After completing Phase One, the report outlined some positive and reliable results whereby; A survey tool with six constructs for employees and seven constructs for managers can determine an individual’s position on safety mindset, customer service and personal wellbeing; There is statistically significant validity and reliability between all of the constructs used to determine an individual’s SMARTminds score. And at an organisation level, a high SMARTminds score aligns with an abundance of lead and absence of lag indicators.
Associate Professor Loudoun explained Phase Two is now underway, where with the use of a longitudinal study, the researchers will be assessing psychometric properties at an individual and work group. This study will track and compare individual, supervisor and work group SMARTminds scores over time, to determine their predictive validity and reliability.
“This phase will involve a longitudinal study that partners with one of Programmed’s external corporate clients for further employee data collection and in-depth qualitative and quantitative analysis,” said Associate Professor Loudoun.
“Programmed intends to use this tool as part of their Zero Harm journey, to measure safety mindedness when selecting and developing managers and staff, and as a tool to continue to foster a strong safety culture over time.”
Associate Professor Loudoun and colleagues have positioned SMARTminds in the market as a unique comprehensive employee thought assessment tool that focuses on values rather than personality traits, to better understand safety risk predictability for workers and managers.
“To assist position SMARTminds in the market, a technical manual outlining the reliability and validity statistics for its performance will be produced. In order to establish benchmarks and normative data for this tool,” said Associate Professor Loudoun.
The proposal explains through a robust process of psychometric testing that allows casual explanation and empirical predictions, researchers plan to further contribute to a strong evidence base for the SMARTminds tool and subsequent interventions designed to progress employees along the zero harm journey.
“One of the constructs is risk taking and if someone scores high in this construct, say they are going for a high-risk job like a building abseil cleaner, then you would still want them to score high with other constructs, such as ‘Check your Mates’ and ensure they are thinking about health and safety,” said Associate Professor Loudoun.
The SMARTminds project team came up with three key objectives to underpin and advance the Zero Harm journey in workplaces, after careful consideration of Phase One findings and a literature review.
The proposal explains, SMARTminds 2.0 has three key objectives: 1. Understand the impact a supervisor and work group has on an individual’s safety mindset, customer service and personal wellbeing; 2. Understand the impact a new employee has on the existing safety mindset, customer service and personal wellbeing of a supervisor and work group; 3. Understand the learning and development work that most (positively) impacts new employee’s and an existing supervisor(s) and work group(s) safety mindset, and customer service.
It is anticipated that Programmed’s safety reputation will continue to grow and be strengthened by the development of the SMARTminds tool into more industries. This reputation for safety will then help to assist Programmed secure future contracts.
“With this type of services company it helps them with future contracts. They’ve got a reputation for not being trouble on site, for delivering and in a safe way, that helps them with the next contract,” said Associate Professor Loudoun.
“At another stage we will look at whether we can change values. People values are very well set, they start at childhood and usually by adolescence they are established. But research shows you can change some values, so whether you can change health and safety values and how to do that, is the next thing we will investigate.”
“It is recommended that Programmed continue to evaluate the final version of the SMARTminds tool regularly over a period of at least two years, by division and industry to further validate data predictability across industries.”
“Together with Programmed we’re doing the University Alumni address in Sydney on SMARTminds 2.0 in June. They’re speaking as an employer and we are speaking as a research team, and we will be joined by Griffith’s vice chancellor, Professor Ian O’Connor,” said Associate Professor Loudoun.
A part of the success of the SMARTminds project between Programmed and the Department Employment Relations and Human Resources, was due to Griffith Enterprise, and project officer Carly Rogers and colleagues who aided the initial enquiry and commercial contracts.
Griffith Enterprise connect research experts with industry and government, and they are the University’s dedicated office for business and government engagements, innovations and new ventures, according to official literature. Their vision is to see Griffith successfully working in partnerships to create meaningful solutions.
For more information on SMARTminds 2.0 employee assessment tool and workplace health and safety research, please contact Associate Professor Rebecca Loudoun.