Turning Your Employees into Safety Leaders: A Survival Guide

Turning Your Employees into Safety Leaders: A Survival GuideIn the previous article in this series I made the point that while promoting and reinforcing safety as a core value is a great way to start building a sustainable safety culture, it’s not enough. We also have to build a sense of ownership in front-line employees so that they are the ones leading the culture. To underscore something I’ve said many times before, it’s not a sustainable culture until it’s being led at the front lines.

Nearly every organization I’ve worked with understands the importance of the role of front-line employees in a safety culture. Walk onto any plant floor or worksite in the industry and ask any employee the question, “who leads safety on the job?” and you are likely to hear as the response, “everyone.” But then point to a trip hazard on the other side of the facility and ask that same employee what should be done about it, and you’re just as likely to hear “that’s not my work area,” or “the safety guy is over there, ask him!”

We tell our employees they are “safety leaders,” but then we leave them to figure out what that means and how to act on it. In most cases, nothing really changes. They still defer to others on safety matters that don’t impact them personally. In short, they are still thinking and behaving like followers instead of leaders.

One of the best ways to instill a sense of ownership in them is to begin building their levels of engagement. “Engagement” is a state of mind in which employees (1) enjoy their job and have a sense of satisfaction with it, (2) like the organization they work for, (3) have a heightened sense of ownership (they think and behave like owners instead of like employees), and because of that (4) they put discretionary time and effort into the job (they arrive early, they leave late, they dedicate more energy to what they do).

The benefits of raising levels of engagement in employees includes higher performance levels (engaged employees outperform their unengaged peers), higher retention levels (engaged employees love their job and want to be there), and a greater commitment to safety. That last point was shown to be true in a study conducted several years ago. One company that was included in that study was a beverage manufacturer. The leadership of that company was asked to identify their engaged employees based on certain selection criteria, and then to compare the safety data on that population versus the rest of the employee population. What they found was that their engaged employees had five times fewer accidents on the job, seven times fewer lost-time injuries, and they ended up costing the company one-sixth of the rest of the employee population (in terms of workers compensation, lost time on the job, OSHA fines, lawsuits, and shareholder confidence).

That study has ramifications for the importance of building employee engagement in any organization, but especially for those who are especially vulnerable to injuries and fatalities. No organization that is interested in improving its safety culture can afford to ignore or neglect measures that will increase levels of engagement in its employees. In the next few articles I’ll cover six drivers of engagement that you can implement in your own organization to begin building a sense of ownership in your employees that will turn them into true “safety leaders” in their own right.

That’s it for this edition of Recordable INSIGHTS. Until next time.


About the Author

safetyBUILT-IN is the safety-leadership learning and development division of SCInc. We believe sustainable safety performance is best achieved through a core-values based safety culture, and that culture must be driven by leadership. Our safety-leadership programs are competency-based, and focused on performance outcomes. We believe in building capability and ownership into our client organizations—as well as sustainability into our programs—so that our clients can continue running those programs long after we’re out of the picture. Our emphasis is on building better leadership presence, better leadership communication and better leadership coaching by first building relationships of trust with people and learning how to engage them on the level of their core values and beliefs.