Although workplace health and safety programs will look different across industries and organizations alike, the most effective EHS programs all have one thing common: their frontline workforces are engaged and actively participating in safety activities.
In this post, we’re going to discuss why safety participation is so vital to the success of your EHS program and what you can do to improve worker participation.
Defining Safety Participation
OSHA defines worker participation as “involvement in establishing, operating, evaluating, and improving the health and safety program.” Going a step further, OSHA provides the following criteria for what worker participation in an EHS program should look like.
- Be encouraged to participate and feel comfortable reporting health and safety issues
- Have access to all information needed to effectively participate in the EHS program
- Have the opportunity to participate in all stages of program design and implementation
- Not experience retaliation if/when they report health and safety concerns
Why Safety Participation is Critical
Findings from Gallup’s 2017 State of the American Workplace report show that companies with more engaged workers had 70% fewer safety incidents compared to companies with low levels of participation, which shows an undeniable correlation: as participation rises, safety improves and incidents decrease. Our own customer research shows a 1% decrease in injuries per 1.5% increase in worker participation.
As safety leaders, how do we better engage our workers and encourage participation so we can achieve this level of performance in our own EHS programs?
3 Steps to Improve Safety Participation
Step One: Use Positive Reinforcement at the Frontlines
Frontline employees often aren’t participating at the level we’d like them to be because the truth is, they just aren’t engaged enough to want to participate more. Or when they’ve participated in the past, they’ve been met with negative criticism from colleagues for reporting hazards. Behavior-based safety has taught us we can always improve the conditions in which positive reinforcements and behaviors can thrive.
Getting employees more engaged and encouraging them to participate more requires EHS leaders to double down on the positive reinforcement. Next time you’re out in the field and you see a worker practicing safe behavior, acknowledge and recognize it. Better yet, create a peer acknowledgement program so colleagues can instantly recognize each other with photos of safe behavior. The more positive reinforcement we give to our employees, the more they’ll feel valued and the more they’ll want to contribute and participate in our EHS programs.
Step Two: Facilitate Two-Way Communication
When you’re running a health and safety program across dispersed job sites or frequent shift work, communication can be tough. Exacerbating this challenge is the dependence many EHS departments still have upon paper-based or “Microsoft heavy” (Excel, PowerPoint, Word) processes.
A big problem with paper is that it can’t provide immediate feedback to employees, and results in a delayed one-way flow of information making the front-line workforce feel unheard and worse, makes safety tasks feel “administrative”.
To effectively increase participation in your safety program, make it as easy as possible for your employees to participate. Consider simplifying your inspection process by using technology to take paper out of the equation entirely. Not only will moving your forms online make it easier for employees to complete them, you can ensure you’re getting more accurate EHS data and can follow-up and provide feedback to a worker as soon as the data enters your system. What better way to drive participation across your workforce than with the single greatest engagement tool of the last 30 years, a purpose-built mobile app?
Step Three: Prove the Value to Executives
The reality for many EHS professionals is that we still struggle to secure buy-in for new safety initiatives at the executive level. Unfortunately, this has been the case because safety performance hasn’t been regularly measured and shared with management, or if it has, it hasn’t been framed with the company’s larger goals in a way that resonates at the C-level.
To bolster participation on the frontlines, EHS leaders must first demonstrate to executives that increasing participation will not only improve safety performance – they must go a step further and show how high levels of participation will benefit the business as a whole from a company mission and productivity standpoint.