Chain of Thought

Don Knotts on Your Dock

OSHA calls truck loading and unloading one of the most hazardous operations at a manufacturing or storage facility. For this we have forklifts to thank—or rather bad or non-existent operator training.

“Throughout the trucking industry, Powered Industrial Trucks, 29 CFR 1910.178, is the most commonly cited standard,” OSHA states on its website. “Many fatalities occur when a worker is crushed by a forklift that has overturned or fallen from a loading dock.”

No wonder dock work is one of the more stressful jobs around. Even companies that train as OSHA recommends can’t eliminate accidents, but one thing they can do is identify job candidates who stress-out easily. That’s not always an easy assessment to make during a job interview. Not all stress-prone candidates show up as the classic Don Knotts type, if you’re old enough to understand that reference.

While doing research for an article on dock safety, I came across a company that specializes in gauging stress tolerance among job candidates. TalentClick provides a diagnostic tool that supposedly indicates someone’s personality makeup and will tell you a person’s likelihood to become anxious on the job, to disregard rules or to become irritable—none of which are good traits to have if the job calls for maneuvering several tons of forked metal under power.

This company’s assessment helps employers look at risks associated with someone’s personality or work habits. Where dock work is concerned, stress tolerance is one of the top selection criteria, according to Stephen Race, an analyst at TalentClick who is degreed in occupational psychology.

“Workers who are able to think clearly and not panic under pressure when presented with an unplanned task are more suitable for dock work,” he says. “In studies, those who were more anxious or nervous had a 20% higher incident rate at the one year mark, due to stress intolerance. At the three year mark there’s a 50% higher rate. Incidents can be anything from cuts and scrapes to recordable injuries which lead to lost time.”

Why would that number be higher over time? Wouldn’t those who caused stress-related incidents show themselves quickly on the job?

“What happens is that complacency can set in over time,” Race said. “Newer workers might be a little more careful and on their toes.”

What’s even more interesting is the fact some employers, even if they do gauge a candidate as stress-prone, will hire them for dock work anyway. In a job category where it’s hard to draw good candidates, those who exhibit several positive traits might be deemed worth coaching out of the negative ones. That entails stress management techniques and being careful about what types of tasks are assigned to such people.

“Half of our clients use our tool for coaching and development rather than screening during hiring,” Race said. “People can learn how to manage their responses, and rather than freezing up and panicking over time they can learn to calm themselves.  They’ll always have that knee-jerk reaction driven by their personality, but you can change the behaviors that come after that.”

Longhaul truck drivers represent another job category recruiters are finding hard to fill.

“Companies are more willing to work with people and build through coaching and development rather than screen out everyone with a possible risk,” Race concludes.

If you have strong safety culture, you’re more likely to be successful hiring Don Knotts types for the loading dock. That’s the kind of environment where workers correct each other. You should also consider pairing that anxious person with an experienced worker who’s calm and confident and can model the right behaviors.

You know, an Andy Griffith type.

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