Establishing a strong health and safety conscious work environment is a major challenge for most organizations.
It requires effective participation of employees and management, as well as an acute understanding of all the risks and hazards in the workplace.
Despite the many challenges, numerous companies worldwide have gone on to develop safety cultures that have resulted in them achieving great, and ultimately, more efficient and productive work units.
It's an even bigger challenge for organizations to consistently maintain a high level of safety performance, with many organizations struggling to maintain a positive record. Perhaps even more challenging, has been the ability to consistently maintain those safety performances. Many companies struggle with how to best keep their employees safe over the long term.
With so many varied guidelines, statistics and opinions out there, it can often be hard to determine the right solutions for any given work environment, since in most cases there is no one-size-fits-all answer.
Research has shown one tactic that works in developing culture is active employee engagement. Engaged employees are individuals that have a “safety is everyone’s responsibility” approach to work issues and are fully invested in both their work and the company’s success.
They will put in more effort across the board and show genuine care about the safety of others within their workplace. They will also go out of their way to ensure things are done in the right way. They offer their opinions on safety matters and provide suggestions and feedback to their colleagues where needed.
This of course, does not describe every employee. Workers can often become disengaged as a result of a lack of appreciation or when their suggestions are not taken seriously. This is a situation which is detrimental to any long-term progress and often results in safety concerns becoming more prevalent in the workplace.
This begs the question: how can we improve the process of engaging our workforce when it comes to health and safety matters? The following seven points should be the basic considerations for any organization:
1. Leadership Commitment
The concept of safety leadership is something that people talk about frequently in organizations. It is a term we often hear after a major workplace accident takes place. Fingers are pointed and one of the root causes of the event is often mentioned as “Lack of Safety Leadership”.
Companies can best improve this by committing to a duty of care to all their employees, particularly, from the individuals at the very top of the organization. Executives and managers must display this through their participation in safety meetings, being involved in periodical safety walk-throughs, taking part in workplace safety observations and ensuring they always place health and safety as their top priority.
Commitment by leadership is an important way of "leading by example", and it shows management is serious about health and safety. This causes employees to adopt a similar approach as well, and instills in them a sense of ownership about health and safety matters in the workplace.
2. Set Up Health and Safety Committees Within the Business
A health and safety committee serves an important role in any workplace. It provides an outlet for employees to voice their concerns about potential hazards, as well as providing management with feedback on how they can reduce risks in the workplace.
Additionally, by having representatives from different departments come together to discuss issues related to workplace safety, you can foster collaboration between teams which will ultimately lead to better communication within the organization.
Finally, having a dedicated team that is solely focused on promoting a culture of safety in the workplace can help ensure that your organization is compliant with all applicable laws and regulations. Not only will employee buy-in increase but a committee will help shape the health and safety culture in a workplace to make it more relevant to staff and their needs.
As well as being a strong way to promote health and safety engagement within an organization, ever since the recent transition of OHSAS 18001 to the new international standard ISO 45001, health and safety committees have now become a basic requirement within any organization wishing to work to the latest standard.
The committee, normally recommended to be set up with minimal input from health and safety practitioners, allows workers to identify some of the safety concerns within their workplaces and allow them to make decisions concerning these matters and communicate solutions officially to top management.
As well as instilling a sense of ownership and ensuring their voices are heard, the forum will also allow them to suggest the best safety initiatives that will benefit their workplace. This will help ensure health and safety budgets are better spent on more pressing areas concerning health and safety.
3. Make Safety Personal
Some of the more successful companies in terms of health and safety performance, develop internal health and safety training programs that are integrated with their safety behavioral initiatives.
In addition to providing the employee with the basic safety competencies to safely perform their work, these programs go beyond that to stress how accidents can affect the employee, their family as well as their fellow workers.
This helps instill a stronger sense of necessity with regards to following safety rules within the company and better support their fellow workers manage workplace hazards.
These programs, which often begin in the form of classroom workshops shortly after joining the organization, continue throughout the employees’ career within the company. This can be in the form of involvement in behavioral observation programs, coaching and mentoring younger or other recently joined employees, and in many occasions getting involved with training their own work groups.
Safety training programs make it easy for organizations to bring all employees up to speed with the latest safety protocols, and help them address any concerns or queries that employees may have.
4. Reward Positive Behaviors
It is always important to have a safety recognition program within an organization. These can be in any formal, informal or on-the-spot gestures that can help show the company’s appreciation for the employee going above and beyond their work responsibilities.
The recognition, in which ever form it may be, will act as a strong recognition of their hard work and would instill those values in both themselves as well as their colleagues. It will also help ensure good behavior throughout the organization is continued and improved upon.
5. Monitor Programs and Track Results
Organizations must always have systems in place to track what is working and what is not. Once they have set the type of initiatives or behavior they wish to enhance, they must strive to ensure performances are systematically tracked and improvements measured.
Key leading health and safety indicators such as number of near miss observations, number of behavioral observations, completion of incident actions or of health and safety mandatory trainings should be set to monitor their increase or decrease, as well as quality of output.
6. Offer Incentives
Offering incentives can be an effective way to improve safety performance in the workplace. When employees feel recognized and appreciated for their safe behavior, they are more likely to prioritize safety in their work.
Incentives can also help establish a safety culture in the workplace by reinforcing safe behavior and encouraging employees to adopt safe practices as part of their daily routine. By providing rewards for reporting hazards and near-misses, employees may be more willing to speak up and bring attention to potential safety risks that could otherwise go unnoticed.
Incentives can also increase employee participation in safety programs, such as safety training or safety committees, which can ultimately lead to a safer work environment. Overall, offering incentives can motivate employees, reinforce safe behavior, and encourage participation in safety initiatives, resulting in improved safety performance and a more safety-focused workplace culture.
7. Establish Channels for Safety Communication
Effective communication is key to ensuring all employees are aware of potential hazards, understand how to prevent accidents and injuries, and can report safety concerns or incidents quickly and accurately.
Without open channels of communication, important safety information may not be shared or could be misinterpreted, leading to increased risk of accidents or injuries. By establishing clear and open lines of communication, employees are better equipped to raise concerns or report incidents in a timely manner. Management can then take appropriate action to address these issues.
There should be defined protocols about how safety messages are communicated and conveyed, such as through the use of third-party safety software or through an internal communications system.
Once fully implemented, the above guidelines have the potential to present a turning point in any company to build a stronger overall safety culture and a more engaged workforce. One must always remember these actions cannot be forced on a team. Managers and safety practitioners must always give such initiatives time to naturally take hold and invite employees to offer feedback and their opinions on its progress.