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Why Open Lines of Communication Create Safer Work Environments

Coworkkers having open communication

This is a guest post by Jori Hamilton.

Did you know that even though 25% of workers have been injured or seen someone hurt at work, at least 17% of your employees still won’t report a hazard? For safety leaders, those are frustrating statistics. But business leaders should be equally concerned by the increased risk and communication failure. The good news is that you can improve them within your organization.

Why don’t people talk about injuries or problems? When asked, many workers say that they don’t have time to make a report or that the hazard doesn’t affect them personally. Others don’t think it’s their responsibility, fear retribution or don’t know how to properly report an issue.

If you’re interested in creating a safer work environment, it’s essential to know about all hazards and injuries right away. By keeping lines of communication open, you can improve the safety of your workplace. Here are some steps you can take.

Make it easy to report incidents

The first questions to ask yourself are: How easy is it to report a hazard or incident? Does it require a pile of paperwork? Does your staff know who to talk to if they see something going on?

If not, communication avenues are not as open as they could be. That means that hazardous activities—and actual injuries—are likely going unreported.

Find ways to streamline the reporting process. Instead of filling out a paper form, can someone file the information online? Can some of the data be pre-filled, such as the date and the reporting employee’s name?

Also, think about how available the employee is who is supposed to receive reports. Whether it’s their supervisor or a safety officer, what reaction do your staffers get when they make a report? Is it an interruption, or is frustration expressed? Negative feedback means that employees are unlikely to share information in the future.

Make sure your workplace policies are up-to-date and everyone knows where to find the information. Also, ensure that frontline supervisors have the communication skills required to successfully encourage workers to report safety issues.

Ensure the managers are easy to talk to

It’s no secret that some managers openly discourage employees from reporting safety violations and incidents. Whether it’s to maintain an incident-free streak or simply from a lack of awareness, those leaders are putting your organization at risk.

As a leader, start with yourself. How approachable are you? Do you have time to hear from employees about concerns, complaints, or safety issues? If not, you’ll want to work on that part of your leadership skills.

From there, think about other leaders in your organization and how you can influence them. Can you encourage fellow managers to be more open to safety concerns? Or, if you’re an executive, can you lay out clear expectations for the management team under you?

When you are easy to communicate with, employees will feel comfortable sharing their needs with you, safety and otherwise. But remember that communication flows both ways. Promptly handle and effectively respond to information received. You can influence other leaders to be the same, keeping lines of communication open and everyone safer.

Avoid blame or retribution

Sometimes an employee will avoid reporting an incident because they don’t want negative consequences themselves. Perhaps they caused the problem, or they feel they’ll face retaliation from those who did.

As a leader, it’s important to build a culture free from blame or retribution. Safety is everyone’s concern, and being a safer team benefits everyone. While safety challenges and incident-free streaks can seem fun, they can often be counter-productive. If your workplace uses them, make sure they don’t get in the way of the real goal—keeping everyone healthy and avoiding injuries.

Create your safe environment from the beginning

The easiest and best time to influence someone’s behavior is right when they are hired. A new employee is more likely to adhere to guidelines and company culture, so don’t wait to communicate about safety.

When you create an environment where employees know who to report issues to, don’t have to spend a tremendous amount of time doing so, and feel comfortable making reports, your workplace will be more secure for everyone.

Jori Hamilton is an experienced writer residing in the Northwestern U.S. She covers a wide range of topics but takes a particular interest in covering topics related to workplace safety, employee training, and business productivity. To learn more about Jori, you can follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.


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Safety and the Supervisor: Developing Frontline Leadership Skills to Improve Safety

Supervisors are the bridge between organizational directives and on-the-ground operations. Their skills and knowledge are critical to a seamless flow of information in both directions and to their organization's safety success. This webinar offers EHS managers and company executives actionable advice on improving safety through leveraging the role of frontline leaders.

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