Keeping workers safe from harm is a complicated job. A big part of it is making sure that your workplace is meeting all the compliance requirements outlined by the various OSHA standards that apply to your workplace. That includes conducting all the required training, providing all the necessary PPE, and ensuring the proper engineering solutions are in place.
Those are all essential components of a robust safety management system. But they’re unlikely to be enough to establish a truly effective safety culture—because you also need to find a way to engage employees in safety.
There are plenty of different ways to get employees to buy into your safety message. Sometimes, that buy-in will come as a natural byproduct of initiatives like human factors training. But there are also several steps that safety professionals and shift supervisors can take to boost engagement on their own.
Talk to employees about safety more frequently
Many workplaces only discuss safety issues when it’s absolutely necessary. Even jobsites that more consistently cover safety issues, such as construction crews that have regular toolbox talks, may not be talking about safety frequently enough.
If you want employees to fully believe that the company values their safety then you need to demonstrate that it’s a primary concern. And that means talking about safety all the time, and in a variety of ways.
Training should be a given, and safety meetings and tailgate talks should also be staples. You can also have informal chats about safety with individual employees or small groups of workers throughout the day. Also mention safety issues during other work-related discussions when possible.
Any way to talk about safety in a positive and proactive manner will help communicate to employees that you’re not just going through the motions because you have to. This will help them come to see that you’re engaged in their personal safety—and it makes it more likely that they will become more engaged too.
Ask workers about their families
In their book Inside Out: Rethinking Traditional Safety Management Paradigms, safety veterans Larry Wilson and Gary Higbee talk about a startling revelation they had during an especially challenging training session. They discovered that one of the quickest routes to employee buy-in is to talk about the safety of workers’ families. Wilson and Higbee learned that there’s a lot of value in explaining how workplace safety training can help workers keep their loved ones safe. As they refined their technique, they also learned that it’s worthwhile to give workers information and resources to protect their families at home and on the road.
After Wilson and Higbee began talking about family safety, they noticed a tremendous transformation in employee attitude. It can also have a big impact on the company’s balance sheet. Over a decade ago, there were reports that businesses were losing over $250 billion a year due to injuries sustained away from the jobsite. The cost has only risen since then.
As it turns out, taking a 24/7 safety approach to safety can unlock both significant financial savings as well as safety engagement. After all, when workers believe that you care about their loved ones then they’re more likely to think you have their best interest at heart when you talk about workplace safety too.
Engage employees in safety by challenging them
When people are held to high expectations, they will be more likely to achieve at a high level. And instilling those high expectations doesn’t mean that you have to be a cheerleader. Far from it.
In fact, hard conversations present an opportunity for positive growth. Consider the instances in which you might witness an employee in an unsafe act and have to intervene. These moments can often begin with difficult conversations, but challenging safety interventions also allow you to encourage employees to do better.
This can happen by offering corrections that are grounded in achievement-based language, by saying things such as “I’m reminding you of the high bar for safety because I know you have the ability to reach it,” or “I believe that you’re capable of learning from these missteps and setting a good example for others to follow. That’s one of the reasons why I’m taking extra time to talk to you about it right now.”
By positively reinforcing workers’ potential, you will not only strengthen their engagement in safety but you’ll also increase the likelihood that they’ll meet your expectations.
Powering up your personal safety engagement techniques
You can put these three methods to use right away. But there are a few additional pieces of preparation you can undertake that will make them that much more successful. The first is to plan them out—whether it’s figuring out when and where you can add additional discussions about safety into your interactions with workers, or practicing how you’ll introduce a positive challenge into your next safety intervention.
You can also do some additional reading about improving your safety soft skills. These are the personal skills and abilities that give you a better edge in your efforts to engage employees. They can help you relate better to employees, improve your workplace safety climate, and better engage people in EHS issues.
Lastly, remember that it can be a long road to engaging employees and changing a health and safety culture. It often requires a lot of learning and effort. As you try these safety engagement techniques, don’t be afraid to adjust them. Lean into what’s working and de-emphasize what isn’t. In the end, there are no silver-bullet tactics for getting people to buy into your safety program—and it can take some trial and error to discover what works best to engage your employees in safety.