Improving workplace safety should not be limited to top-down procedures and programs. Many employers I have interviewed said involving employees in the safety process greatly helped reduce workplace incidents.
It works for many reasons. Some of it is psychological. Giving employees some ownership makes them feel like they are more like partners than merely employees. It shows their employers care and are open to input.
Such involvement also allows employees to help each other in a more meaningful way, which can build trust between management and the workforce.
Since employee involvement can be a test of the relationship between employees and management, it can also be a double-edged sword. That means employers must be willing to invest in appropriate safety improvements that employees suggest. Otherwise, employees could view this as a ploy, which can erode trust.
As with any workers’ compensation effort, getting executive management’s support will improve your chances of a successful safety program.
Before starting, employers need to get real about how employees feel about management. Employee surveys are one approach, but again, employers must show willingness to be responsive to the results.
…employers need to get real about how employees feel about management.
One way to encourage employee involvement is creating a labor/management safety team. This is a natural when unions are involved. If your company lacks a union, find employee team members by asking supervisors whom they would recommend. You can also ask employees to anonymously nominate co-workers. You are looking for thoughtful employees known for having ideas, not eternally discontented complainers. They should also have good street cred with other workers.
You also need to decide the functions of the safety team and communicate the boundaries of responsibility and authority clearly. Depending on how much safety ownership you want the team to have, you can ask them to handle anything from developing and implementing safety programs to monitoring safe work practices. The team can also:
- review employee incidents by combing through first reports of injury;
- collect employee safety suggestions;
- work with your communications staff or consultant to develop promotional campaigns;
- partner with human resources to reward safe behavior. (Safety rewards will be covered in a future blog.)
The employee/management team could also put a survey together, asking for the workforce’s perceptions on everything from whether they feel their supervisors and/or company cares about them to what workers expect from workers’ comp or if their past experience with work comp were satisfying. (One of my most popular blogs suggests how to create a workers’ compensation survey. You will find it here.)
With or without employee/management teams, here are some other actions you can take.
Consider encouraging workers to observe work practices. They can then make suggestions to improve safety or submit an anonymous report to the appropriate personnel to ensure the employee is properly trained.
Besides faulty behavior, these forms could include: date, time, location, shift or equipment. I would also leave a comments space so observers can also note any other considerations such as failure to use personal protective equipment, employee fatigue or anything else going on in the work environment.
Allow employees to mark unsafe areas. After receiving the proper training, observant employees who notice an unsafe condition can submit a safety work order and hang a tag calling for maintenance. The numbered tag should include the date and time.
After maintenance personnel fix the situation, they would remove half the tag and turn it in. Then, the observant employee would remove the other half of ticket so employees know the area is now safe.
Create signage with a phone number where workers can text or call the appropriate department to report safety related issues can also encourage employee involvement.
Regardless of what you try, make sure the new safety procedures are clearly communicated to all employees. The best safety ideas cannot flourish without effective and credible employee communication. (For more on effectively communicating to employees about workers’ comp, please click here.)
There are many other ways to encourage employee involvement? Please share your ideas.
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