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How to Really Engage Employees in Safety

Team engaged in conversation on construction site

A common pain point for most companies is employee engagement—or rather a lack thereof. And when there’s no employee engagement, companies experience decreased productivity and morale, higher employee turnover, and employees are five times more likely to have a safety incident.

From a company standpoint, employee disengagement deeply impacts numbers across the board. From an employee’s standpoint, their peers (or themselves) are getting hurt at work. Which do you think the employees care the most about? You’re right if you deduced that employees are unlikely to care too much about the company’s bottom line. This means that in order to achieve true engagement, you have to relate to the person/group you’re trying to engage on their level.

In a recent Lunch & Learn session for SafeStart employees, George Irving, the Corporate Project Safety Manager at NAES Corporation talked about Zero Harm for All (If You See Something, Say Something).

“The one thing that I have to stress to the employees is when you talk about safety to the employees and zero harm for all, don’t talk about safety stats. That does not resonate at a plant level, that does not resonate with employees and if you went home and said to your family, you know, that NAES’ got 0.47 incident rate, you know, they’re not really going to be high-fiving each other around the breakfast table over that, because that’s not the language they use.”


In the video clip, George goes on to say, “But when you talk about safety, it’s really about emotions, feeling pain, suffering, trauma, worry, and caring, because when somebody gets hurt, whether it’s somebody on the job, somebody off the job, an employee, a family member, a neighbor—I mean that caring comes in, in big time. So those are the words we try to get our plant people—especially our plant managers and our leaders—to talk about safety in that role. And not talking about safety stats—yes, for the corporate group safety stats are important—but again, when you look at safety stats, they don’t measure the suffering that people go through. They don’t mention the injuries that happen. They do not measure the stress on the families. None of that is taken into account.”

When it comes to employee engagement and safety, the human element is often overlooked. Treating employees like they matter instead of like they’re a (replaceable) cog in your organization’s machinery will garner more favorable results and better levels of engagement.

Here are a few examples of how to achieve employee engagement on this level.

  1. Provide safety training that employees can take home to their families. Express how important their safety is outside of work—a 24/7 safety approach encourages employees to think about safety at all times, not just while they’re at work. Often, employees value their families’ safety more than their own, so taking the steps to let employees know that their families are also important to the company will go a long way to establishing the trust and respect companies so badly need from their employees.
  2. Safety first—companies need to let employees know they care about their safety. Not just in a dollars and cents way, but in an emotional way, as George Irving indicated in his lunch and learn. If an employee (or their family member) has been injured or is sick, a five-minute conversation to check in and see how they’re doing can lead to lasting effects. Another great way to reach employees is to implement policies that clearly put them first (like if they have a long work day with travel, they should get a hotel room—paid for by the company—instead of making the drive while tired/late at night).
  3. Implement a (or add to an existing) wellness program. Researchers at the University of California state, “By showing concern for workers, organizations can strengthen employees’ loyalty and commitment to the company.” Wellness programs can be wide-ranging and include anything from an on-site gym or discounts at local fitness clubs to in-house vaccination clinics to an employee assistance program, remote work, flex hours and healthy snacks at work. Making it easier for employees to live a better life will go a long way in their commitment to the company.

Taking George Irving’s words to heart, and finding creative ways to embed these steps into your safety management system, are among the ways your organization can start better managing human factors in order to engage employees and reduce injuries.  To watch his full Lunch & Learn session, click here.

On-demand webinar

Improving Culture, Safety and Performance with a 24/7 Approach

80% of injuries happen off the job but most workplace safety programs only apply during work hours. In this webinar, you will learn how a 24/7 approach can increase employee engagement during safety training, improve your safety culture, and positively impact your bottom line.

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