If safety isn’t your organization’s No. 1 priority, your business is at higher risk. Workplace injuries have far-reaching ramifications beyond the injured employee. Consider the effects on the employee’s family, other employees, the HR and legal departments and the organization’s reputation.
Every employee must be kept safe at work, and after their workday, they all should go home to their families as healthy as they came to work. Imagine if one of your employees didn’t go home to his or her family at the end of their workday. But you don’t have to have an accident or injury to see the risks when safety is not a priority. A series of near misses can have serious implications for workplace morale, organizational productivity and brand reputation.
Safety should be a way of doing business, not a short-term initiative that gets pushed down to employees until the concern recedes. Just as with other aspects of the business, leaders have a major role in the success of safety efforts.
A few basic ideas and practices can help any organization begin to address safety issues and move toward a safety culture that will help ensure the safety of employees, visitors, and perhaps even others in your community.
Involve everyone. Appoint a safety champion or manager and give that person the authority, tools, and resources to make changes that will last. Regular safety meetings, training, and reporting are key ways to engage employees so that they feel a part of the solution and will know their contributions are appreciated. Ultimately, you want all employees to become safety champions who promote safe practices in everything they do. Start with a few and grow their numbers and their effectiveness as you go on the journey to build and maintain a culture of safety.
Create safety training. Everyone can benefit from training that teaches how to adopt a safety mindset, one that helps people be safer in everything they do, not just the specific tasks they do at work. Use in-person and online training to reinforce safety practices and a continuous improvement mindset.
Make it easy to report safety concerns and submit suggestions. Encourage adoption of the mantra, “If you see something, say something.” Make this idea a natural part of your culture. Establish a hotline, launch an intranet site, educate managers on how to receive and report feedback, hold round table discussions, or develop your own creative ways to talk openly about safety concerns, especially near misses that might go unnoticed except by those who witness them. Of course, there should be no retaliation for reporting a safety concern—but there likely will be a need to counsel and educate those who might be putting themselves or others at risk, or who violate policies or procedures.
Communicate safety continually. Don’t stop with presentations and posters. Make safety part of everyone’s daily conversations and put the safety message on all your available channels often. Incorporate safety concepts into a variety of message types. Leaders should talk about safety at least as often as they talk about business priorities and other measures of business success.
Show leadership. While every employee throughout the organization has a role, leaders have a particularly important additional role to lead by example and promote safety in everything they do. Their enthusiasm and focus will help employees to see the value and benefits of adopting a safety culture. Their actions—and inaction—will be noticed. Leaders must show their determination by having genuine conversations that help engage and motivate employees. Give employees the facts, explain the rationale and make a call to action. Leaders should get out to see what’s happening. Talking with employees and listening to their concerns can reap many rewards. Employees will see that leaders value them and their safety, and the leaders will hear concerns that might otherwise go unsaid. Make sure leaders address employee concerns and respond in an appropriate time frame.
Create an integrated system. Safety change efforts can use any of a variety of platforms and tools. A formal safety management system is ideal for industries with high safety risks, but any organization can create an integrated system that aligns safety efforts with quality, security, process improvement and sustainability efforts. Whatever system you build over time, consider adopting industry standards, and if necessary, adapt them to your specific business or unique situations.
Set your metrics and report them openly. Transparency makes the reasons for change more visible. Discover your baseline and choose your goals then create policies and a process to move the needle toward a safety culture. Focus on how you monitor and report progress. A continuous improvement program makes it easier to evaluate the various efforts and measure improvements. A visual management board—physical and electronic—can improve transparency, understanding and acceptance. Town hall meetings and presentations to groups of employees at all levels will help communicate the message and, hopefully, the positive results.
Recognize and reward successes. Highlight successes and the employees who achieve them often to ensure people know leadership supports and appreciates the progress. Consider creating a safety incentive program with meaningful rewards. The goal is to identify and address risks (a risk assessment process helps) then enable employees to make improvements. This can only be achieved with enthusiastic participation from employees.
Keep the organization aligned. If safety is not part of your organizational vision, objectives, priorities, strategies, budgeting or values, bring your leaders together for strategic planning and budgeting with a goal to incorporate safety into every decision and business effort.
Adopt a 24-hour safety stance. The safety practices adopted at work should transfer easily and purposefully to your employees’ personal lives. It makes no sense to train an employee to use a ladder safely at work if he’s going to use it improperly and injure himself on the weekend at home.
Model safe behaviors. Something as simple as starting each large group meeting by providing safety information—emergency exit procedures, bathrooms, AED locations—sends the message that safety comes first every day. Employees will have many other ideas on how to model safe behaviors in your unique business environment. Capture and evaluate those ideas and implement the best over time.
Go to your community. Engaged employees who are acutely safety aware and focused on continuous improvement add value to their community. They share their enthusiasm for safety and improvement with others and help make their own homes, neighborhoods and community safer. I’m sure you can imagine scenarios where the safety practices your employees learn at work can contribute to keeping people safer in your community.
Organizations that make safety a priority, adopt safety management systems and engage employees in efforts to reduce safety risks tend to have improved safety performance and lower accident rates or injuries. Every organization has safety risks. The smart ones make safety their No. 1 priority because they value their employees and want them to be safe.
If you want to make your organization safer and improve your safety communications, contact me to learn how I can help engage your employees and start building a stronger safety culture.