Safety initiatives: are employees buying into your policies?

Safety initiatives: are employees buying into your policies?

“Safety is everyone’s responsibility in the workplace, right? It shouldn’t be that hard to get personnel to buy into it, really”, you think to yourself, as the manager in charge of health and safety. 

Getting employee buy-in on safety is a challenge many employers have to contend with, so you can take some comfort in the knowledge that you are not alone in this. Often times implementation of safety policies turns into an “us versus them” scenario, pitting management against employees, with the latter seeing their bosses as out to implement unworkable ideas, while management, for its part, appears to be going through the motions of following government regulations.

It doesn’t have to be this way, though. The motto “safety is everyone’s business” will always remain true, it’s all a question of making employees not only to see but actually believe that implementing a safety culture is in their best interests. At the end of the day, a safe work environment goes a long way in determining how motivated, loyal and productive an employee is within the organisation they work.

If safety initiatives are not working, what are you doing wrong?

There are a number of pitfalls that organisations fall into as far as effective implementation of safety policies is concerned.

This include:

Double speak culture

“Just get the job done” turns into a common refrain among supervisors and managers in the workplace when the pressure to perform is high. Such talk is the sign of a double speak culture, where management commits to safety on paper, but whenever pressure to meet production targets is high, falls into the default by-any-means-necessary modus operandi.

How many organisations state in their policy statements that “we are committed to creating a safe working environment” and yet maintain work schedules exceeding 50 hours a week for their employees? It could very well be that excessively “ results driven” approach is leading to employees working longer hours, resulting in constant exhaustion and therefore exposure to safety risks.

Employees are disengaged from decision-making

Does this sound familiar? The company engages a health and safety expert who comes and does a “needs assessment” for safety, takes personnel through training and prepares a report. Things are great for the first couple of weeks, but one month down the line, workers are back doing things the same way as before, with little apparent improvement in their attitudes towards safety.

It may very well be that management is unaware of some production realities on the factory floor, which make it difficult to comply with rules and procedures that are in place. When new incidents take place, management responds by implementing, even more, rules and regulations. Eventually, these become discredited, and employees spend more time devising methods to “beat the system” rather than helping implement safety in the workplace.

Safety is merely a policy, not a culture

The safety policy statement is written in bold letters and pinned up in various parts of the company premises, yet it barely gets a second glance from employees- why? Check the wording; what does the statement say about employee involvement? Does it acknowledge the role employees have to play in promoting a safety culture or does it merely emphasise employee duties in meeting safety standards?

When policies focus on the “dos and do not’s” of safety, or concentrate on the risks and mitigation rather than applying a holistic approach, they are less likely to resonate with employees.

Training and more training

Many organisations respond to safety challenges by training their employees more and more. Chris Cancialosi, a management consultant, calls it “throwing training at the problem”. Of course, training per se is not wrong, the question is what the motivation behind it is. Does management believe safety is an employee problem, or an issue facing the organisation as a whole?

Cancialosi goes on to state that “safety cultures” do not exist as entities separate from any other culture; rather behaviour that promotes safe operational practices is part and parcel of a high performing culture.

From buzz words to safety work ethic

Positive safety culture, safety consciousness, worker engagement, stakeholder involvement – there is no shortage of nice sounding phrases doing the rounds in the workplace related to safety initiatives. We have seen the reasons good safety intentions fail in the first place; but what can be done to transition from merely saying words, to practising and advocating safety as part of our day to day activities?

Lawrence Bamber, a health and safety expert, gives useful insights on this which are summarised below:

  • Strong leadership

Organisations with a strong safety culture have a top manager who champions safety initiatives and effectively sets the tone for employee behaviour.

  • A high business profile for health and safety

Health and safety features prominently in vision and mission statements and clearly recognise safety not merely as a frontline issue, but as a matter affecting all employees and the organisation leadership alike

  • Joint consultation and participation, both formal and informal

Companies employ various tools to help them understand what employee perceptions are towards safety policies and procedures, key among them being informal discussions

  • Promotion of ownership at all levels within the organisation

Staff who are nominated to help realise safety initiatives in the organisation are not only held accountable but also empowered to actualise safety initiatives. Other stakeholders like trade unions are also roped in to support safety drives.

  • Setting and meeting of positive targets for all managers and supervisors.

Safety driven organisations go beyond merely consulting employees on management proposals on safety. Instead, management engages them in setting targets and reviewing performance in the workplace. A high-performance culture is therefore reinforced by ensuring that business avoids placing employees and equipment at risk to meet production targets.

At the end of the day, organisations which integrate employees fully when making decisions safety policies and procedures end up reporting benefits not only when reporting safety numbers in their annual results, but also in their general business performance. And the best part is these benefits far outweigh the costs incurred implementing safety conscious work ethic.

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