These traits predict safety at work – a year-long research project delves into the psychology of safe behaviour


Conscientiousness, impulsivity, and verbal intelligence are all related to safe work behaviour. But what kind of relationship is it? This was uncovered in a year-long research project by Psycon, Metsä Group, and Tampere Tramway.

The starting point for the study, funded by the Finnish Work Environment Fund, was to determine whether psychological tests could predict safe work behaviour and, if so, which traits best predict it. The study examined the behaviour of new Metsä Group and Tampere Tramway employees and how well Psycon’s psychological personnel assessments could predict their occupational safety.

The study followed Metsä Group’s production workers and Tampere Tramway’s tram drivers, comparing the results of the personnel assessments conducted before the hiring decision and follow-up data from the organizations.

Surprising link to verbal intelligence

The study identified traits that increase and decrease safe work behaviour. Conscientiousness was one of the traits that increased occupational safety. On the other hand, narcissistic traits, impulsivity, and the need for creativity decreased a person’s occupational safety. The more of these traits the person had, the more mistakes they made and the less safely they behaved.

The most surprising finding was related to verbal intelligence. However, the connection was not direct, meaning that verbal intelligence did not increase a person’s safe or unsafe behaviour but emphasized the impact of other traits.

The most conscientious and verbally intelligent individuals behaved most safely. On the other hand, the most impulsive and verbally intelligent individuals acted the least safely. Verbal intelligence seemed to strengthen the connections between personality and safe behaviour.

Mikael Nederström, Research Director at Psycon and the leader of the research project, says that the results are an important step in understanding occupational safety.

“According to studies, up to 60–80% of accidents are due to human errors. We can improve tools, systems, and equipment, but we mustn’t forget the role of humans in occupational safety. Therefore, when hiring for safety-critical positions in fields like industry, construction, healthcare, or cybersecurity, people with the strongest prerequisites for working safely should be hired first.”