Table of Contents
- The Problem of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses
- Why Employees Take Risks
- The Importance of a Strong Safety Culture in the Workplace
- Eight Tips for Building a Positive Safety Culture
- Choose the Best Training Courses
- Identify Safety Hazards
Safety should be a top priority for any business, but many organizations run into problems when they try to figure out how to get employees on board with safety. Resistance to positive safety practices indicates you have a problem with the safety culture in your organization. We’re going to explain in more depth what a workplace safety culture looks like and talk about why it’s so crucial for your business. Then, we’ll share eight tips to building a positive safety culture at your workplace.
The Problem of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses
In 2017, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded 2.8 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses in the private industry. That means nearly three out of every 100 full-time or equivalent workers experienced a work-related injury or sickness that year. Of these incidents, 882,730 resulted in employees staying home from work to recover. Keep in mind these numbers don’t even include fatal injuries and are limited to the private sector.
It’s clear workplace injuries and illnesses are a reality and a severe problem, especially in higher-risk industries, such as manufacturing, warehousing and storage or construction. The problem isn’t just the pain and suffering injured or sick workers have to deal with. This problem also costs businesses financially. Direct workers’ compensation costs alone cost employers around $1 billion per week collectively. This figure doesn’t factor in medical or legal expenses, nor does it factor in the indirect costs of lost productivity or lower employee morale.
The good news is, you can do something to improve safety at your workplace. Research demonstrates organizations that successfully foster a culture of safety at their workplace manage to reduce the costs of workplace injuries and illnesses by up to 40%. We’re going to discuss ways to create a better safety culture, but first, let’s take a moment to identify some of the barriers to safety you should be aware of.
Why Employees Take Risks
If you want employees to make real changes, you need to connect with their current perspective and understand why they take risks on the job. Understanding the current problems that keep workers from being as safe as they could be lets you know the underlying values and assumptions you need to reshape to effectively change the culture. Here are just a few of the common reasons why your employees may be risking their safety:
- They don’t believe safety measures are important to their superiors.
- They feel invincible after having done a task so many times without incident.
- They assume cutting a safety corner here or there won’t be enough to get them hurt.
- They are in a hurry and believe speed is more important than safety.
- They are unaware of hazards because they lack proper training.
Starting with employees’ motivations for taking risks or their lack of motivation for committing to safe work practices is critical if you want to make lasting changes. Underlying beliefs and values are what make up a culture, so to change the culture, you must shift these beliefs and values.
The Importance of a Strong Safety Culture in the Workplace
The term “safety culture” first appeared in the literature about workplace safety in the 1980s, when companies became more aware that it takes more than lectures and policies to keep workers safe if they don’t believe safety practices are vital. Multiple studies have supported this reality and shown that an occupational safety and health management system can only work if it goes along with a positive safety culture.
A 2016 paper in Safety and Health at Work pointed out many of the occupational health and safety management strategies workplaces have introduced have proven ineffective because of the organization’s culture regarding safety.
If you want your employees to embrace better safety practices, you need to start with the culture. Changing a culture is no easy task, but it’s achievable. When your whole organization adopts a positive safety culture and sees safety training and regulations as helpful tools instead of annoying obstacles, you should be well on your way to reducing the number of safety incidents at your workplace. Keeping your workers safer and healthier will also help save your company a lot of money.
You have every reason to prioritize elevating the safety culture at your workplace, so let’s turn our focus now to how you can do that.
Eight Tips for Building a Positive Safety Culture
Now that we’ve taken the time to understand the concept of a positive safety culture and why it’s so crucial, let’s get practical with eight tips for motivating employees to work safely. These tips aren’t about strong-arming employees. They are all ways to get employees engaged with the safety culture, so they’re eager to embrace positive change.
1. Identify Safety Hazards
Before you dive into the work of raising your organization’s standards for safety, take some time to establish what hazards present the most significant risks to your company. Safety hazards differ from industry to industry, from company to company and facility to facility, so make sure you look beyond the common hazards to see what may present a risk at your business.
OSHA provides six actionable steps to help you successfully identify and assess problem areas present at your business. If you feel overwhelmed or don’t know where to start, these steps can help direct you as you note all safety and health hazards. If you encounter safety issues you can remedy right away, be proactive in fixing them. However, most problems you discover will likely be unavoidable risks that come with the work you do. Take careful note of the trouble spots you identify, and ask employees to contribute their observations about workplace hazards.
2. Emphasize the Big Picture
When you start to work with your employees to change the workplace culture, make sure you don’t limit your focus to specific hazards or to rules and regulations. These specifics are undoubtedly critical, but you want to make sure you frame them within a broader picture of your company’s overall goals for improving safety.
Share your vision for an improved safety culture with your employees and let them know this is why you plan to emphasize new safety strategies. If employees don’t understand the why behind training or other objectives, they’re less likely to be supportive and engage. If you have a specific goal in mind for how many work-related injuries or illnesses you want to eliminate, for instance, share this goal with employees so they can rally around it.
3. Share Real-Life Examples
One of the best tips to motivating employees to work safely is to provide real-life examples. It’s OK to share stories of fatal or severe injuries or illnesses that resulted from unsafe practices. However, your overall strategy shouldn’t be to scare your employees into submission or to deride them for their current shortcomings. Rather than focus on negative examples, try highlighting success stories.
You may need to pull these success stories from other companies, and that’s completely fine. Try to find concrete examples that show demonstrable results from a concentrated effort to improve safety. How many accidents was the company able to eliminate on average? Real-life examples and success stories, in particular, can help inspire your employees and remind them positive change is always within reach.
4. Involve Employees and Reward Their Efforts
A great way to get buy-in from your employees is to involve them in your efforts to improve your company’s safety culture. Ask them for ideas as you plan. You can also create focus groups of employees at various levels and areas of your organization to get more in-depth perspectives on why they take risks and what’s lacking in your current safety culture.
Another way to engage employees is with positive reinforcement. When you see employees taking positive steps to adopt better safety practices, or when you overhear an authentic conversation about safety, find ways to reward their efforts. The simplest and perhaps most effective way is through verbal praise. Let them know how much you appreciate them doing their part to elevate the safety culture across your organization.
5. Lead by Example
To change the culture among your employees, you and the rest of senior and mid-level management must demonstrate the values and beliefs you want your employees to adopt. If you don’t have buy-in from management, you can’t expect your company’s safety culture to improve. It starts at the top and should trickle down from there. You want positive safety practices to become contagious and catch on across all areas and levels of your organization.
As we saw earlier, one of the reasons employees cut corners when it comes to safety is because they don’t believe it’s a priority for their superiors. They may feel getting the job done quickly is more important, for example. Make sure your employees know safety takes precedence over speed or anything else. You can put your money where your mouth is by investing in things like safety training programs, better personal protective equipment or more eye-catching signage.
6. Investigate Safety Incidents More Thoroughly
If a safety incident occurs, you should investigate it thoroughly to get to the bottom of what caused the problem. Examining issues in-depth may reveal underlying problems you can remedy. For example, you may find workers should have more protection when working in a specific area, or you may discover you need to fix a tripping hazard on the floor. In addition to committing to more detailed investigations of safety incidents, you should also commit to taking employee feedback about safety more seriously.
Ask employees to submit reports of any safety hazards they encounter and to be forthcoming about accidents that occur. When you receive reports of possible risks, even if you don’t agree, take time to investigate them and see if you can do anything to remedy them. Remember, employees who are working on the factory floor, in the lab or at the construction site may know more about the dangers they face daily than you do, so trust their input.
7. Choose the Best Training Courses
The first question for many organizations aiming to improve workplace safety is, “What training program should I use?” Before you devote all your focus to answering this question, remember even the best training course may fall on deaf ears if your employees don’t prioritize safety or don’t see the need for training. That’s why working to elevate the whole safety culture is so critical. That said, one concern you’ll likely have when it comes to a training course is the logistics of it all.
The idea of gathering all your employees into a room and hiring someone to conduct training may seem like a daunting task — especially if your employees are across multiple locations or work different schedules. Online training solves this problem, as each worker can do it at a time and place that’s convenient for them. Giving employees more autonomy over their required training may help them feel more in control, rather than feeling frustrated by a mandatory lecture series. Look for online workplace safety courses that offer a corporate discount.
8. Prioritize Ongoing Training
Training is essential, but bad habits can still take over when workers’ hyper-awareness of safety wears off. That’s why training can’t be a one-off occurrence. OSHA requires employers to make sure their workers receive annual health and safety training. Don’t view this requirement as a burden. If you do, so will your employees. Instead, embrace it as a much-needed opportunity to reaffirm your ongoing commitment to safety, to remind employees of safety practices and to update them on new developments.
You may also want to encourage or even require employees who work in particular areas to complete specialized training that addresses the dangers of their work more specifically than your generalized training might. Online training is an excellent option here. For example, if some of your employees work in a confined space, they should take a course dedicated to safety in this environment. If they lift heavy objects, they should take a course on back injury prevention and safe lifting techniques.
Partner with Hazmat School for Online Safety Training Courses
If you’re interested in online training designed to engage your employees and help them adopt better safety practices, take some time to learn about the many courses we offer at Hazmat School. In addition to courses that are specific to dealing with hazardous materials, we provide a series of OSHA safety courses that cover both general and more specific safety topics. If you live in the San Francisco Bay area, consider our on-site training services, as well.
Sign up for a course today and see for yourself how much you and your employees can learn about safety. If you have questions about our classes or available corporate discounts, contact us. We’ll be glad to help you in any way we can so you can start seeing the benefits of a healthier safety culture at your workplace.
Manages Hazmat School’s E-Learning courses and blog. Kirstie has extensive experience in the online training and education industry. Kirstie has worked with courses that offer a variety of safety and environmental certifications that satisfy OSHA, EPA and DOT requirements.