Do these sentiments sound familiar?
“I thought I was invincible, and I didn’t want to be ‘that guy’—the one that harps on safety stuff.”
“For a while I thought about doing something about it. I even said something to my supervisor, but it went nowhere and I let it go.”
If this sounds like something your workers would say or—even worse—what you would say, your organization might be experiencing a safety culture crisis.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 4,600 people in the U. S. were killed in the workplace in 2014. No manager wants or expects to receive news of an employee fatality, but safety and health risk are an inherent part of most businesses.
A large portion of these accidents are preventable, with the appropriate planning, equipment and training, and a culture that truly focuses on sending its employees home safely after work.
Although instilling safety culture is not necessarily easy, it can be relatively simple. Here are a few practical ways that you can positively impact the safety culture in your business:
1. Empower a safety champion or team: No safety program will flourish if it doesn’t have a champion or a team invested in its success. Give this role prominence and esteem, and give it appropriate authority and budget.
2. Solicit employee input: To choose safety solutions that enhance rather than hinder productivity, it’s critical to understand work tasks and worker behavior. When you understand how workers would use different abatement options, you can select the most functional solution, rather than dictating one and forcing workers to adjust. When employee input helps determine solutions, organizations benefit from more buy-in and increased morale for the overall safety program.
3. Establish set feedback channels: Employees need to know how to submit information about safety hazards, issues with equipment or systems, and general safety concerns. If it’s not clear how to communicate and to whom, workers are less likely to report concerns. Despite the inherent need for safety, people are often uncomfortable being considered a whistleblower. Make people feel valued for bringing attention to safety issues. Consider awards or incentives to illustrate how important employee feedback is for the safety program.
4. Provide effective training (effective being the operative word): You have to equip your people with the knowledge and skills to work safely. A true test of effective training is if workers can explain and apply what they’ve learned—and if they choose to do so. Unfortunately, many organizations simply want to check a box to prove compliance, but they aren’t really investing in changing worker behavior. To truly impact a safety program, training needs to include more than just instruction on regulations and equipment use; it needs to relate to workers’ tasks, give them new skills and inspire them to change for the better.
If you aren’t doing these things today, make a change. Lives are lost every day, and the impacts are far-reaching. Even though we can’t predict when or where the next accident will occur, building a strong safety culture is a critical line of defense in reducing risk.
Kimberly Messer is the Corporate Marketing Manager for LJB Inc., a consulting firm that provides civil and structural engineering, as well as safety and environmental services. She recently published the fiction book Falling for Work: A Story of Death and Determination to share best practices on fall prevention and protection. She can be reached at KMesser@LJBinc.com.
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