How To Create An Employee-Driven Safety Culture

While it is easy for companies to “talk the talk” when it comes to safety, it must ring true with employees on the plant floor. National Safety Council director Brian Cook explains.

“Safety first” — the mantra nearly all manufacturing and industrial companies in the U.S. have woven into endless corporate communications materials, executive speeches and internal messages. While it is easy for companies to “talk the talk” when it comes to safety, it must ring true with employees on the plant floor.

When a chemical leaks or a piece of machinery jams, your employees are the first line of defense to minimize safety hazards, ensure the well-being of plant co-workers and protect the nearby community from harm.  Their actions determine whether a company’s employee’s work without injury, operates better than safety norms, obtains awards and recognition for safety practices, and breaks industry records.

Therefore, even the most meticulously planned safety protocols are meaningless without strong employee support and participation. Manufacturing leaders must focus on creating an employee-driven safety culture to ensure a “safety first” mantra rings true. The following employee-focused safety best practices will ensure teams are trained to perform at the highest standards and empowered to make the workplace safer.

1. Engage Employees in Building Safety Practices and Goal Setting

Fostering a safety first environment requires employees to feel they are part of a larger community. Successful safety cultures are driven by employee and line management ownership.  Safety programs are most effective when coworkers trust and care about one another. Let employees know you value their input by enlisting their assistance in developing safety practices and goal setting. Our employees are the most qualified people to suggest ways to improve the safety of their work and our operations overall.  Their by in and commitment to our goals determine our success.

One example of how we’ve done this was through the involvement of our employees in developing our new Safety Vision Statement. Teams from all of our locations across North America submitted videos about what safety means to them, why they work safely, and their vision for our safety future. The submissions gave us clear insight into the safety priorities of our organization and inspired us to create a Safety Vision Statement that everyone in the company can stand behind.

2. Involve Employees in Internal and External Audit Programs

Routine safety audits play a vital part in a company’s safety programs by revealing areas of strength and opportunity. In addition, audits provide a holistic view of safety across a company. Allowing employees to actively participate in this critical process helps build ownership and assists with retention, talent development and fostering leadership at every level. Most importantly, employees who participate in the audit process learn from the experience and take new ideas back to their home locations.

Consider selecting high performing employees to participate in audit programs. This will ensure employee participation is viewed as a privilege or reward rather than a burden. We select employees at USG who go above and beyond in terms of safety to participate in our audit programs.   

3. Create Channels for Clear and Open Communications

Two-way communications is key for engaging employees when it comes to safety. Managers must clearly articulate the critical importance of safety and walk the talk when it comes to working safely themselves.  They must encourage employees on the plant floor to speak up and recognize positive safety behaviors. Maintaining formal and informal dialogues surrounding safety topics helps keep everyone informed and sets priorities across organizational levels. Ways to accomplish this could include sharing safety milestones and best practices on a company’s intranet, creating safety huddle meetings for employees to voice concerns in a comfortable environment, and incentivizing employees to share tips and best practices through social media or other communication tools.  Recognizing safe work behavior also goes a long way in breaking down communication barriers.  Taking the time to point out the safe work efforts of one employee reinforces the value of safe behaviors across entire work groups.  Encouraging employees to similarly recognize one another is even more powerful.

Most importantly, be sure to communicate to employees that they do not need to be in a managerial position to step up when it comes to safety. Anyone can lead a safety committee, participate in a safety audit, develop safety work instructions or lead a safety compliance program.  Everyone plays a critical role in improving the well-being of those around them in a “Safety first” workplace and in industry as a whole.

Brian Cook is Executive Vice President & Chief Administration Officer of USG Corporation and is Director of the National Safety Council

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