Why have employees engage in safety?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), research has shown that increased work-related engagement results in improved employee and customer satisfaction, safety, and overall performance and profits1. Each of the predominant safety management systems – ANSI Z10, OSHA VPP, ISO 45001 – promotes employee engagement as a vital component. Employee engagement can take any number of forms, such as participating on a safety committee, serving as a member of a specialized team (e.g. emergency response team or learning team), or participating as an approved safety trainer. The issue with most employee engagement processes, however, is that they often only represent a small percentage of employees. One method of involvement that can ensure everybody has a role and a voice is an engagement in the worksite safety observation program.
According to OSHA, the system for notifying management personnel about conditions that appear hazardous serves as a major means of worksite analysis to identify hazards and mitigate risk. Such a system is, however, not sufficient to provide for effective employee involvement by itself. OSHA goes so far as to state the following: “So that employee insight and experience in safety and health protection may be utilized and employee concerns may be addressed, companies must provide a reliable system for employees, without fear of reprisal, to notify management personnel about conditions that appear hazardous and to receive timely and appropriate responses.” 2
An effective and reliable system for employees to notify management of practices or conditions that appear hazardous and to receive an appropriate and timely response serves a dual purpose. It provides management the benefit of multiple points of observations and greater insight in recognizing hazards or other discrepancies in safety and health protection systems. For employees, the process gives assurance that their involvement in safety efforts is worthwhile and valued.
To be effective overall, several necessary steps must take place:
- Develop a comprehensive observation program
- Train observers in the program, including technical (e.g. hazard recognition) and social (e.g. how to approach/coach/interact)
- Develop a consistent strategy to ensure the right people are looking at the right things in the right places at the right time
- Support of the process, which involves acting on the data
- Provide coaching and feedback
- Communicate findings and actions
How to have employees engage effectively
Most companies have an established safety observation program. However, many limit participation in the safety observation program to the safety team and/or supervisors. Adding frontline workers can bring value but requires additional steps to ensure it is beneficial both for the workers and for management. This takes more than just appointing someone to be an observer and handing them a checklist. A combination of knowledge transfer and visible demonstration of competency is necessary to ensure observations are done well. While there is a great deal more to this process than stated, this topic will be explored further in a future blog article.
Coaching and Feedback
The safety inspections and observations are only the beginning of the process. Certainly, hazards will be found and corrected on the spot. However, the value lies in the frequency and quality of the feedback. Participants in the program should have a mentor or a subject matter expert that schedules routine sessions to discuss the overall process. Coaching and feedback enhance the quality of the findings submitted, identify opportunities to improve and grow and offer observers direct insight into how their engagement matters.
Management commitment provides the motivation and resources for organizing and controlling activities within a company. In an effective safety program, management regards employees as a fundamental value of the organization sees them as part of the solution. By developing the framework of an effective feedback process, both management and workers can recognize the tangible benefits.
Within the program, there are some fundamental steps that management must follow to ensure the program is effective and sustainable. Besides developing the plan and allowing observations to occur, management must analyze the information coming in. They must periodically communicate findings and show that issues are addressed promptly. Also, management must allow for open and honest reporting, free from reprisal.
Safety professionals can only be one place at one time. The more people involved, the greater transparency and visibility into the safety efforts throughout the organization. As this continues, ownership spreads to the entire team and not to a single person or group. However, the paper process does not save people, people save people. Only through open communication and acting positively to promote continuous improvement does widespread engagement become worthwhile.
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Cary comes to the SafetyStratus team as the Vice President of Operations with almost 30 years of experience in several different industries. He began his career in the United States Navy’s nuclear power program. From there he transitioned into the public sector as an Environmental, Health & Safety Manager in the utility industry. After almost thirteen years, he transitioned into the construction sector as a Safety Director at a large, international construction company. Most recently he held the position of Manager of Professional Services at a safety software company, overseeing the customer success, implementation, and process consulting aspects of the services team.
At SafetyStratus, he is focused on helping achieve the company’s vision of “Saving lives and the environment by successfully integrating knowledgeable people, sustainable processes, and unparalleled technology”.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2018, August 20). Engaging Employees to Bring Their Best to Work. Retrieved August 05, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/workplacehealthpromotion/initiatives/resource-center/case-studies/engaging-employees.html
United States Department of Labor (1989, January 26). Safety and Health Program Management Guidelines; Issuance of Voluntary Guidelines. Retrieved August 5, 2020, from https://www.osha.gov/laws-regs/federalregister/1989-01-26