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3 Ways to Lose Employee Buy-in on Your New Safety Program

Did you know that 98% of EHS leaders believe that employee participation drives safety? It’s hard to imagine 98% of any group agreeing on anything. Being the safety nerds that we are, we were curious to dig deeper.

We studied 40 companies and empirically defined participation in our latest whitepaper. The top 10 companies with the highest participation reduced lost time incidents 3.5x more than the bottom 10 companies.

What did these top 10 companies share in common? They empowered their front-line workers to mitigate safety risks, every day.

But how did they do it? We interviewed all 40 companies and discovered that the top performers all take 5 intentional steps:

1. CEO Commitment: The CEO makes a sincere and public commitment to safety
2. The Rise of the Safety Leader: The CEO selects and publicly backs a safety leader
3. Employee Buy-in: The safety leader gets front-line employees to believe in safety
4. Safety Reflex: Employees carry out safety activities and managers react (quickly)
5. Safety Velocity: The organization scales and expands their safety activities

That third step is particularly tricky. Earning employee buy-in is difficult and it’s easy to sabotage your initiative by committing any of these 3 common mistakes:

1. Safety Bosses Instead of Safety Leaders

I started my career in a management rotation program at a construction materials company. I became friends with a few other fresh grads, as we navigated an industry known to change slowly. After less than a year, my friend was pulled from the program and put in charge of a big concrete plant.

When he arrived at the plant, the workers were coming to him with every problem. “Boss, feeder is jammed. What should we do?”

He had no idea, and rather than pretend, he said, “You’ve been here 30 years. I just got here, so what do you think we should do?” The workers were stunned, no one had ever asked them before.

Sure enough, they knew exactly what to do. They also had good ideas on how to make the plant more efficient. In a short time, my friend earned the trust of his team, morale improved, and productivity went up.

Everyone wanted to know how this young grad walked into a concrete plant and cranked up performance. He said, “Before me, the boss told subordinates what to do. My crew likes knowing their ideas make the plant better, and they take a lot of pride in their work.”

He described a typical interaction where a worker would say, “Based on my expertise, I suggest we do it like this.” My friend would affirm the input, saying, “Your expertise helped us eliminate a hazard and make the plant more efficient.”

2. All Talk and No Results

Asking employees what they think is not enough. Managers need to show they are listening and taking it seriously. The only way to do this is to react quickly and measure performance.

Employees notice if their hazards aren’t being fixed and are quick to share their disillusionment if they are ignored. If their actions aren’t leading to anything, they will go back to, “I have a problem boss. What should we do?”

Consider the following at a pre-job huddle, “We identified 4 hazards this month through one near-miss, one field level risk assessment, and two proactive observations. All hazards were corrected in under x days.”

Are x days acceptable? That all depends on context and the target set. The sharing of results, however, is key to the message that input is important and output is tracked.

3. Good Results, But No Accomplishment

Most of us like to do a good job and feel proud of our work. We like to feel a sense of accomplishment that our efforts are worthwhile and important. Safety is no different.

If safety does not lead us to an important goal, then it is just one more thing to do. Many workers have been doing tough and dangerous jobs for 30 years and have been just fine. Good results alone are not meaningful since they are not perceived to make a difference.

Your front-line needs to hear that their work is valued by the people that they’re working with. Workers are proud of where they work, and a small suggestion can be a big morale boost when it makes the workplace better.

Connect company success with safety and celebrate with your workers, “Thanks to our safety record, we secured the Commissioner project, a key milestone that allows us to invest in new equipment and provide job security.”

Consider the metrics that measure success. Focusing on productivity, tons shipped or even zero-incidents can be a downer if safety gets in the way of ‘good’ results.

It’s a matter of shifting perceptions. Reporting a near-miss is an accomplishment, even if a zero-incident culture sees it as a poor result.

As we continue our research, we are studying how these changes impact other areas of your operation. We are testing the hypothesis that improvements in 2-way communication also improves efficiency and productivity. As the front-lines see their impact, morale and retention improves.

And of course, everyone goes home safely every day.

At eCompliance, we are elated to have Calvin Benchimol take part in NXT 2018 as a speaker. His session will be titled, “The Impact of a High Participation Safety Culture

Only a few tickets remain, so don’t delay! Click here to reserve your seat.

Rethinking Safety

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