Building a safe and healthy work environment is challenging. Maintaining and growing your safety culture over the long term can be even more demanding. One tactic you can employ is the engagement of your workers.
In a previous blog we presented 4 tips for a positive safety culture. One of those tips was worker involvement. We’d like to explore this subject further as employee engagement in combination with powerful leadership are at the basis of a good safety culture. A culture that not only minimizes risks for your company, but also increases well-being for your employees.
The employees on your worksite know the most about the hazards of the job and have their own ideas on how best to increase safety. They know what tools and equipment can help keep them safe, and what hinders them in doing their job.
Employee engagement means more than just bringing in some workers to help shape the company’s safety policy. Involving employees means trusting them to do the right thing and making them owners of the company’s safety procedures. Just like a safety culture, worker engagement is an ongoing process that is never truly done.
Employee engagement is a blessing
Employees that really connect with their workplace and feel listened to are more satisfied with their job and are less likely to search for another job. Engaged employees also have a higher level of performance than their non-engaged counterparts. Meaning that a business benefits from higher productivity if they have a fully engaged workforce.
Not to mention that employees engaged in the safety efforts of a company are five times less likely to get hurt than non-engaged workers. On top of that they are seven times less likely to have a lost-time injury.* We can conclude that safety and worker engagement really pay off. After all an engaged workforce has less incidents, thus saving money, e.g. insurance premiums, fines, lawsuits etc.
* “Employee engagement and commitment,” Effective Practice Guidelines, Robert Vance, Society of Human Resource Management, 2006
Don’t play the blame game
Good safety leaders try to understand the reasons why an employee does what he/she does. People interpret things differently. So what you think may be a clear policy, can be open to interpretation by others. Therefore you should review your safety procedures together with frontline workers.
Employees that follow safety procedures should be awarded recognition and praise by their leaders. But good leaders should also avoid placing blame on employees when an incident occurs. Instead try to understand why they acted the way they did. Listening and understanding helps form a better safety culture where employees feel comfortable in reporting hazards and do not feel rushed to finish tasks, resulting in less workplace accidents.
How to create active involvement?
Ensure that leaders are seen supporting worker involvement
Seeing directors and senior managers who support employee engagement in safety takes away a barrier for employees. Workers will follow a good shepherd.
Communicate clearly and be approachable
Explain why engagement is important and what is expected of employees. Make clear that nobody will be punished for bringing up safety hazards. The goal is improving worker safety and this can only be done with the help of those working in the field. Establish that people can always address safety issues with you or other leaders.
Ensure all employees are heard
Shiftworkers or part-timers are also employees that can have valuable input as well. Office-based workers can also have great insights about safety, just as workers on a construction site have. Let every voice in your company be heard.
Run a survey
To start the trajectory you can run an employee survey. Make sure that you let employees know that they will not be reprimanded for voicing their opinions and concerns. Take quick action when shortcomings are addressed and suggestions are made. This shows your employees that you are serious about safety and worker involvement and that you willing to listen to them.
No matter how you receive suggestions, always give feedback. Preferably publicly so you can explain why something can’t be done or how you are going to implement the feedback. Responding to feedback shows you are serious about listening to that employee’s views.
When someone gets injured or has a scare due to a near miss first ask how they are doing and what you can do for them. Do not immediately talk about corrective measures and definitely do not blame a worker.
Give credits/ reinforce positive behavior
Reward employees for positive behavior. We aren’t talking about physical gifts, but an employee that reports a near-miss, that contributes an idea that gets implemented or an employee that always looks out for the safety of others, they all deserve recognition.
Provide the right tools
Talk to frontline employees about the tools and equipment they use. Are they the right tools to work the job safely or do they hinder the work. See what can be improved so that you can provide the right tools.
At the start of your engagement efforts using an anonymous system for reporting complaints or problems may be helpful. But later on you could lose the anonymous nature of reporting hazards, as it is no longer seen as damaging, but a clear sign of engagement.
Hold interactive safety meetings
Focus on safety in a stand down, safety drill or safety talk. Ask employees for input when organizing these meetings so you can address situations that arise at work and ask for ideas to minimize safety hazards.
Offer training and education
Make sure all employees can recognize potential hazardous situations and behaviors. Give employees the means to take ownership of the safety process by training them.
Treat employees with respect
Make sure your employees know that you regard them as equals and talk to them as such.
Showing the positive results of your safety program will help get employees on board. So even those skeptical at first can turn around when the results of eliminating hazards have been experienced.
Get employees involved
The above tips can help you create a more engaged workforce dedicated to a safe workplace. However, people cannot be forced into engaging about safety. Give employees time to change and get accustomed to providing feedback and opinions. The more involved you allow your employees to become the more hazardous situations can be avoided.
In order to help remind you and other managers on how to get everyone involved we’ve put these tips in a handy poster format. Download it here and share within your organization.