Oftentimes, it feels as though safety programs are there to ensure employers are compliant with the relevant governing bodies, and not focused on the well-being of the workers. However, a few changes to how you present your program to workers can upgrade it from a program that covers your ass to a safety culture that kicks ass.
Employers vs Employees: Whose side is your program on?
First things first: you need to determine what your current OH&S program is telling your workers. Chances are, if your workers think your safety program is about covering your ass in the event of incidents, maybe that's because you are telling them that!
If your health and safety program is based solely on someone else’s rules and regulations, you’re probably sending the message that you are being compliant and not much else. Now, following the appropriate rules and regulations for your industry is CRUCIAL to any business, especially since non-compliance can lead to:
- Charges of personal culpability
- OH&S charges
- Criminal charges
- Jail time
However, if your safety program doesn’t emphasize worker safety for reasons other than company compliance, why would your workers believe in it? If you want to change their mindset, you may need to change how you are presenting information to them. How you ask?
Bring in the human element
Most of us have worked for at least one company whose policies and procedures came from a corporate office, but never really made much sense in practice. Truth is, it's hard to make decisions for workers when you aren't working in their environment every day. If you want workers to see that your safety program is there to protect them, make them a part of the process.
Be a leader
It's really easy to say “safety needs to come from the top”, but a manager sitting behind a desk at head office creating a safety program based on descriptions or previous experience with tasks from the beginning of their career is not going to cut it. Why, you ask?
- Decision makers aren't typically the same people who need to follow the rules on a day to day basis.
- Decision makers are often tucked away in a corporate office except for the odd day of the year when they make an appearance at all their sites, usually when a big change or announcement is being revealed.
- Decision makers make decisions based on the bigger picture. Unfortunately, this often means considering budget and bottom-line numbers and making them work within the regulations.
It can be difficult for workers to see the rules imposed by a suit in an office as gospel. What they need isn’t a manger, but a leader. The most successful safety programs are more than a binder. They are a culture that every worker believes in, including management. If management is visibly driving the safety culture, workers will be more inclined to follow their lead.
Ask for worker involvement from the start
Instead of building your entire safety program in the board room, take it to the front lines. If you're creating a safety program for workers in the field, why not walk a mile in their shoes to understand what they actually need?
Workers understand that there are regulations in place that need to be followed, but often, the repetitive nature of their tasks might spark some ideas as to how the processes they work with every day can be improved.
- Visit the sites you are creating policies and procedures for.
- Meet with workers in different positions and learn about their tasks and concerns.
- Watch your workers in action. By observing tasks being carried out, you may identify additional or different hazards than you otherwise would have anticipated.
- Be open to constructive criticism. It’s not easy or fun to hear that you’re doing something wrong, but workers may have valid reasons for disagreeing with some of the policies you have in place.
Take advantage of this first hand knowledge. One of the biggest assets to building a strong safety culture is your workers. If they feel heard and included, they will be much more invested in the success of your safety program.
Lighten it up
We aren't scared of saying it...safety can be really dry and boring, but it's also incredibly important to every individual in your workplace. So try to lighten it up whenever you can. Tailgate meetings and toolbox talks don't need to feel like a funeral, especially if they are preventative and not reactive.
Instead of simply relaying health and safety information to groups of workers, take a chance and do something a little different: make your safety program interactive!
- Give your workers a challenge to identify a number of hazards over the course of a week and their suggestions on how to mitigate them. You can discuss them with the entire worker group during your next meetings.
- Instead of having a safety meeting, choose a topic and stage a "CSI" style scene for workers to examine and investigate.
- Play Safety Bingo. Include elements of your safety program, from specific task procedures to PPE requirements. Workers can initial each other’s cards to demonstrate that their successful compliance was witnessed.
- Hand out scratch cards or small rewards when workers report hazards.
Now go forth and build a kick ass safety culture
The elements above are only a few of the things you can do to make your company's safety program less about protecting yourself and more about looking out for your workers. Just remember, the more you involve your workers in the process, the more they will feel that your safety program is there to protect them too. You may not be able to change the perception overnight, but with a little time and persistence, you will end up with a strong safety culture that benefits everyone in your company.
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