Health and safety management can sometimes feel like an uphill struggle. Although most people understand that it plays an important part in keeping us safe, when there are a million things to do and little time to do them, it can easily fall by the wayside.
This is particularly frustrating for health and safety managers, who invest their time and effort into creating comprehensive safety processes to protect workers, only for employees to ignore them or cry ‘health and safety gone mad!’
That said, sometimes health and safety management can be ineffective not because employees aren’t willing to engage with it but because it’s not designed to be engaged with. Unfortunately, too many managers are clinging to the old ways of clipboards, official notices, and hundred-page Powerpoints.
Of course, this information is usually crucial: safety managers must communicate processes to employees. But, let’s be honest, no one really benefits from hour-long lectures on proper hi-viz usage or a fly-by clipboard assault because they forgot to reverse into a parking space that morning.
Instead, if safety managers want to see real buy-in from employees, they need to step away from the paperwork and focus on people instead, with different methods of getting staff engaged with safety.
Peoplework, Not Paperwork
In my two decades as a safety consultant, I’ve consistently extolled the virtues to my clients of seeing employees not as statistics but as people.
The Human Factor is one of the most unpredictable aspects of any safety process, as there are a million reasons why a person might act in an unsafe manner beyond laziness or malice. To overcome this, safety managers must understand their employees as people to better identify triggers for unsafe behaviour. You can read more about the Human Factor here.
By understanding – and communicating with – employees as people rather than numbers, you’ll find they are more willing to engage with your safety culture.
So, what are some of the best ways to ensure employees see health and safety as a benefit rather than a hindrance?
Employee engagement measures the dedication and commitment to your organisation. This goes beyond safety management and usually requires a culture where employees feel like their work is worthwhile and appreciated.
If employees are engaged, they are more likely to respond to and engage with the safety culture. With a personal interest in creating a safe place to work, they will make an effort to listen to safety managers and follow procedures at all times, not just when they are being watched.
To get employees to listen to what you’re saying, you need to go beyond the employees themselves and encourage those at a higher level to ensure everyone feels appreciated. The benefits of an engaged workforce go beyond safety culture, creating higher productivity levels, lower staff turnover, and more, and should be a priority for all businesses.
Seek Employee Input
Employee participation in safety is a crucial but often overlooked part of safety management. Fundamentally, people care more about something if they’ve had a hand in building it.
A great way to do this is by establishing Health and Safety Committees. Employees themselves take part in safety management and have real input in putting safety processes in place.
Health and Safety Committees are a powerful way to improve your safety processes. Although you might have an in-depth understanding of your own business, employees can bring a ground-level perspective and advise on safer and more efficient ways to carry out work.
In fact, Health and Safety Committees are now considered a basic requirement for any organisation seeking to achieve the ISO 45001 international safety standard.
It’s recommended that safety managers have minimal input in these committees to ensure a sense of ownership for employees and a more independent, official representation directly to management.
Acknowledge Employee Feedback
Not every employee has the time or inclination to be a part of a safety committee, but safety managers must make sure their input is still openly valued.
I have previously talked about psychological safety in the workplace and how important it is that employees feel comfortable bringing issues and potential safety failures to the top brass without fear of punishment. The last thing you want is an employee having a potentially fatal near miss, only to fail to report it because they’re expecting a black mark.
Crucially, when employees report potential safety failings, ensure you recognise their input and then immediately act on it. By not showing willingness to act on feedback, you’ll only serve to reduce the number of employees who think reporting is worthwhile.
Safety managers can’t be everywhere at once – and shouldn’t be – so creating a culture where employees feel listened to should be a priority for everyone.
Provide Relevant Training and Opportunites For Growth
You might think you’re already doing this quite well, but too many safety managers think they can get away with mandating a few online safety lessons a month and calling it a day. Not all training is relevant to every employee, and, let’s be honest, no one wants to sit at a computer watching a slew of safety videos from the 90s.
Again, this comes down to knowing your employees as people. By understanding each person as an individual, you can tailor training to them and provide opportunities for growth that actually appeal.
Work With People, Not Statistics
Once again, all this fundamentally comes down to leaving the clipboard in the office and actually engaging with the people who work in your business.
In reality, most people know that health and safety are there for their benefit. Still, it’s up to safety managers to portray safety in a way that emphasises and personalises these benefits to them.
I’ve worked with hundreds of businesses to create bespoke and effective safety cultures, and I can do the same for you. To find out more, drop me a message via the online form.