Safety in Action: A Practical Application

With a subject as serious as this, it's worth repeating the old adage: Nobody plans to fail, but many fail to plan.

It seems that there is almost an infinite amount of press, research, and advice on how to effectively employ an organization's safety program, theory, and strategy. But when you peel the onion back, to use an old cliché, and take a look at the actual execution of many safety programs, often there are inconsistencies as to how to make safety theory and safety strategy work. Even more importantly, there are gaps in how to effectively make safety truly personal.

Companies that know how to enroll their workforce in an emotional connection with safety and make safety really personal have far greater success. But how do you successfully execute safety competencies and in such a way that people want to embrace safety, not just understand what needs to be done? More importantly, how do you create the intrinsic versus the extrinsic? How can you really make it personal?

One great question to ask is, "Are employees emotionally invested in safety?" Emotional buy-in from employees to safety is far more valuable than just rational buy-in. Here are some basic and proven ways of engagement to make employee safety personal and keep it in the front of everyone's mind.

Communication
Create an ongoing safety campaign and dialogue throughout the organization. Communicate your objectives to all employees. When empathic communication techniques are employed, there will not only be a more positive work environment, but also there will be a safer job site.

Consider creating a safety theme and logo. Keep it simple (and do NOT change it; stick with it). Get leadership's commitment. This means not just a verbal or written commitment, but having leadership be visible, going into the field, plant, or whatever the company's setting is to help communicate and reinforce critical safety metrics. And don't do this just once a year or once a month, do it regularly. How about every Thursday?

Create a safety bulletin or a dashboard that communicates critical safety metrics. Make this visible throughout the workplace, and do it consistently.

Training
Reducing incident/accident frequency and severity can be the result of having the right blended training and learning in place. Training sustains focus on safety goals.

Behavior-based, interactive eLearning, and classroom training will no doubt create safer workplaces and job sites. Safety learning content should be creative, targeted, and interactive, making sure that it provides an immersive safety learning experience.

Just offering 6-8 hour+ classroom training probably will not achieve safety goals. Instead, think of building a sustainable learning retention model by introducing mobile and gaming into a safety curriculum. You will get much better retention if the delivery of the safety training is any time, anywhere. (iPads, anyone?)

Reward and Recognition
Make sure each safety recognition initiative supports and is aligned with corporate strategies. Maximum use of positive reinforcement -- through reward and recognition -- plays an integral part in what we really want people to do: be safe. Employees often fail to speak up when they witness risky behaviors, even when they know they should.

Reward for identifying and reporting unsafe behaviors, hazards, and do this frequently. We know that safety theory reinforcement and emphasizing proactive safety (leading vs. lagging) behaviors leads to a safer workplace.

Recognize and reinforce personal safety ownership for success. Practice recognition through safety reinforcement and make sure recognition and rewards are meaningful and commensurate with the required employee safety performance. And don't forget that in order for rewards to be appealing to an increasingly diverse and often global audience, they should be self-selected rewards, if at all possible.

When companies acknowledge the special contributions of employees to daily safety and make this "public," the safety culture becomes stronger.

  • Feature employees' advice on working safely: Capitalize on the safety expertise of employees.
  • Integrate gamification, safety contests, and safety games during work hours.

Measurement
Companies that measure their safety metrics and overall safety performance consistently do a better job at creating safer job sites and work environments. Being able to track employee participation in safety programs efficiently, to track safety performance -- if not down to individual level, at least to a departmental level -- and to correlate these data back to key safety metrics will assist in keeping a finger on the companyg's safety pulse.

Do assessments and conduct research to determine current attitudes and aptitudes toward employee safety. This will provide a baseline measurement against which to gauge future improvements. Make sure you share findings with employees consistently; it will help to build and sustain your safety culture. And make it personal.

Consistently reporting on results and metrics and then keeping those results in front of leadership and employees is key.

Is there a silver bullet to flawless safety? Of course not. Integrate the aforementioned safety core competencies and tactics with the daily business, and you will make safety truly personal. When you employ behavior-based safety training and a well-thought-out "make it personal" communication strategy, you make it personal. When you intersperse it with on-the-spot leading indicator reward and recognition, you make it personal and will build a solid foundation to safety success.

With a subject as serious as this, it's worth repeating the old adage: Nobody plans to fail, but many fail to plan.

This article originally appeared in the October 2012 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Evelina Y. Stanley is a Business Development Director for BI WORLDWIDE in Los Angeles and has partnered with organizations to set the stage for result producing safety programs through targeted media, behavior-based safety training and learning, reward and recognition, and ongoing measurement of results vs. goals. She can be reached at 818-470-5321 or evelina.stanley@biworldwide.com.

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