Can Competency Management Reduce Safety Risks?

By Roy Maurer Apr 27, 2015
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According to a new survey, 94 percent of U.S. executives and HR professionals surveyed say that a competency management system applied to safety risks would help prevent accidents and compliance violations, but less than half are actually using such a system.

The research was conducted among 100 U.S. executives and HR professionals at companies with more than 2,500 employees in early 2015 by Reputation Leaders, an independent research firm, and commissioned by HR software company Hula Partners.

Competency management is a multidimensional, comprehensive practice meant to ensure that companies have the right talent to meet business goals. Hula defines competency management as “the entirety of assigning, assessing, and tracking the knowledge, skills and experience required to perform specific activities,” according to managing partner Jai Shah. “Our point of view is that competency management should be the business process that creates the demand that all other talent management processes should supply.”

Forty-eight percent of respondents said they use a competency management system and were able to reduce their safety incidents and compliance violations by more than 50 percent, from an average of 108 to 51 per year.

Seven in 10 employers are doing competency management on other types of systems, such as performance management systems (46 percent) and learning management systems (33 percent).

Seventy percent of respondents at firms engaging in competency management said they are hampered by insufficient tools, inconsistent usage and weak staff buy-in.

The companies that do assess competencies use the data collected primarily for learning development (59 percent), career development (49 percent) and HR performance (47 percent). Only 5 percent of respondents said their companies use competency management to manage safety risks.

“That can have devastating consequences for employees, their companies and the environment,” said Shah. “It has been widely reported that human factors have played an enormous role in incidents such as the Deepwater Horizon Macondo well spill in the Gulf of Mexico. It is also widely reported that specific verticals such as oil and gas safety incidents decline in correlation with adoption of competency management.”

Shah explained that competency management should produce an objective fit/gap analysis relative to job requirements. “When aggregated, this data can be applied to shift balancing, compliance tracking, identification of safety critical gaps at an asset level, and other factors that, when managed proactively, mitigate risk.”

Knowledge Is Power

Among the top 20 percent of responding companies exhibiting competency management best practices, 70 percent of respondents knew how many workdays were lost due to health, safety and operational incidents in the last year and 60 percent were aware of how many compliance and safety-related incidents were reported.

Overall, however, 59 percent of respondents didn’t know how many compliance and safety-related incidents were reported at their company in the last year and 49 percent didn’t know how many workdays were lost.

“Many executives and HR professionals don’t know important details that lead to risk,” the study concluded.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

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