Transparency and Empathy: Engaging Employees in Health and Safety

March 22, 2022 | Blog
employee health and safety
  • In a webinar hosted by TRUCE, Fran Sehn, principal consultant at FxS Risk and Safety Consulting, outlined how to drive employee engagement with your health and safety programs through transparency and inclusion.
  • It starts with fulfilling your responsibilities toward them. Educational materials must be accessible to all and contain useful information. Employees at all levels must feel safe when reporting violations, without fear of repercussions.
  • Volunteer health and safety advisory groups in your organization should be divided equally among employees and managers from all departments. Knowing that they are represented in decisions makes employees feel more included in safety culture.
Convincing employees that health and safety are more than just a list of rules takes commitment, resilience and empathy.

Fran Sehn, principal consultant at FxS Risk and Safety Consulting, has seen both the challenges and pay-offs of getting employees to actively participate in health and safety programs.

Based on a webinar Fran guested on for TRUCE, here’s his advice on the employee-to-management ratio in internal health and safety groups, the unique perspective employees can bring to accident analysis, and potential barriers holding employees back from engaging in health and safety that leaders may not have considered.


Developing Health and Safety Protocols That Empower Employees

Employees come to work with a fundamental expectation that their company has taken reasonable steps to create health and safety practices with their best interests at heart. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has identified basic responsibilities that all organizations should include in health and safety programs.

First, every worker must be empowered to participate in the company’s health and safety program. And they must understand everyone’s roles in promoting a strong safety culture and the support that’s available to them.

Taking this from theory to reality requires both education and the removal of obstacles.

On the education front, materials need to be current, clear, accessible and engaging. So first, throw away the decades-old video.

Obstacles can take different forms. Some are caused by ignorance; others by malice. For example:

  • Are there language barriers you’ve overlooked that prevent employees whose primary language is not English from fully understanding your health and safety program?
  • Are your materials up-to-date and easy to read? Or are they overly technical?
  • Are there any clear disincentives that could prevent an employee from speaking up about a specific hazard? For example, could a worker lose work if a site has to close? Or are employees at risk of being targeted by a manager with a vendetta.

This last obstacle ties into the other key element designed to ensure employees can fully engage with the company’s health and safety program. Even if employees understand every procedure and process, the program fails if workers are too afraid to report incidents and concerns.

One of the main challenges companies face in regard to health and safety is developing a program that rewards diligence and honest hazard reporting, and protects employees from repercussions.

There’s a strong argument for involving management in the education piece, as well as employees. If managers understand the risks, they may be more likely to understand the purpose of reporting potential offenses instead of seeing them as a personal attack.


How to Engage Employees in Your Health and Safety Program and Make It Stick

Talking about educating employees on health and safety culture is only the starting point. Leaders need to implement the programs.

The keys include consistency and longevity. Safety needs to be a part of employees’ job description and practice for the duration of their employment with the company. Here are a few ways to do that:

  • Regular inspections: Instigating daily work area inspections encourages employees to make safe practices habitual rather than a response to an incident or accident. Site inspections don’t have to be done daily but should occur regularly.
  • Use risk assessments in training: Use the risk assessment model as more than just a health and safety tool: make it a standard process for how employees approach their jobs. Use it when training new recruits so, from the start, they see safety as a central tenet of the job. And apply it at monthly meetings to reinforce the importance of ongoing risk assessments.
  • Be positive: Health and safety teams sometimes get an unfair reputation as finger-waving nags. People like to hear when they’ve done something well, not just when they do something wrong. Emphasizing and acknowledging good behaviors — instead of only punishing bad ones — is a way to reward workers for engaging with these programs, rather than just tolerating them.
  • Let everyone know how you’re doing as an organization: Health and safety affect everyone in a company, but most people don’t read health and safety reports. (Sorry to be the bearer of bad news if you’re the one writing them!) Meet employees where they’re at: Play curated slideshows of your health and safety stats on conference room TVs and design posters to display in common areas. It helps spread important information, which in turn helps employees at all levels feel more engaged.

The Role of Employees in Decision-Making Groups

Obviously, you’re concerned about engaging your employees in the company’s health and safety program. So the most important thing you should do is actively involve staff members in decision-making processes.

Not everyone will want to get involved with internal voluntary committees. But just knowing that leadership cares enough to ask for employee input will make staff feel more included in the process.

Here are some basic guidelines for creating these groups:

  • Ideally, the employee-to-management ratio should be 50:50. If there are more managers than employees, it might seem like employees are only being given a token say.
  • Representatives should come from every area of the business, from workers at different job sites to delivery drivers (if you have them), and office workers. Demonstrating inclusion encourages engagement.
  • Make it organized. Have regularly scheduled monthly meetings and distribute minutes to every department.

This has to be a serious endeavor and leaders need to show everyone — not just committee members — but everyone that the decisions made in these meetings are fully transparent and have a real impact on all workers.


Involving Employees in Accident Analysis

The traditional view is that supervisors lead investigations into accidents and employee input is minimal if it exists at all.

However, this overlooks the valuable and unique insights employees can offer in these scenarios. No one knows more about company equipment and processes than the employees. They may be able to identify hazards that even a safety specialist hadn’t considered.

Fran says that one concern he hears a lot when he recommends engaging employees in investigations is that doing so could potentially infringe on laws designed to protect personal health information. However, to analyze circumstances that led to an accident, you’re not asking to look at personal records.

In many cases, employees who weren’t directly involved in an investigation still want to know the results. That’s why you need to make accident reports transparent and accessible to everyone.

The processes for engaging employees in your company’s safety culture aren’t that mysterious. When people feel like they’re being told the truth and are included in decisions, they’re more likely to listen and to act on what they’re told.

This article is based on a webinar hosted by TRUCE.

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