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Safety Beyond COVID-19: 6 Practices to Create a Strong Safety Culture

by Kate Perszyk

From my years as the Director of Engineering & Operations Search at Versique and with a lengthy background in Manufacturing, I know how crucial it is to focus on safety in the workplace. Safety is a top priority for companies and employees who work in these industries. Every person wants to feel safe in everyday life, whether that be at work or at home. 

More and more employees and companies have shared concerns around safety cultures in their workplace and taking necessary safety precautions, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve all certainly learned a lot since March of 2020, but safety measures and safe workplaces should always be a top priority for employers, not only during a pandemic. 

I’ve heard this same concern about safety from my clients and candidates. They have all asked the question, “What makes a strong safety culture?” 

Throughout my years in the recruiting industry, I have learned that common sense, situational awareness, and communication are all traits that are necessary to create a safe work environment. However, it goes further than that. 

What I can summarize from my discussions and experience is that there are 6 core elements that all work together to make up a strong and supportive safety culture:

1. An organizational commitment to safety

The main key to a culture of safety at all levels is buy-in from Leadership. It is very difficult, and maybe impossible for all employees to be engaged in safety in the workplace without the clear communication and support from the company and leadership. 

Employers can make safety priorities known to their employees by:

  • Identifying clear commitments and expectations to safety
  • Discussing it with all employees periodically
  • Displaying these commitments around the office 

When employees are well-trained and have verbal support and commitment from leadership, this creates clear direction across all levels and can lead to less safety concerns altogether.

2. Job satisfaction

Gallup’s Annual Work and Education Poll showed that only 65% of U.S. workers are satisfied with the physical safety conditions at their workplace. This is down significantly from 74% the previous year. 

The decline comes amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but also points to a need for employers to review and re-emphasize their safety practices moving forward. 

Employees who feel satisfied with their work environment typically have lower stress levels and are more engaged and focused in their work. Additionally, when workers feel their needs are recognized and employers are taking steps to meet those needs, they’ll be more willing to get on-board with the organization’s initiatives (see “employee engagement” and “personal accountability” below).

3. Training, equipment, physical environment

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), employers have a responsibility to provide a safe workplace. This includes making sure employees use safe tools, equipment is properly maintained, and training is periodically provided following up-to-date OSHA standards.

For further communication, employers can use color codes, posters, labels or signs to warn employees of potential hazards and to communicate updated operating procedures and health requirements.

4. Employee engagement and support

One of the biggest reasons communication around safety fails is when there is a lack of employee engagement. Lower levels of engagement can cause lack of safety awareness. When employees are engaged, they are more committed to their work and the success of the company. They put forth more effort, produce quality work, are more willing to assist others, and have fewer preventable accidents. 

Leaders can change lack of engagement and create safety environments by involving their employees in discussions around workplace safety. Management can ask their teams, “What would make you feel safe in the workplace?” “Have there been any challenges or concerns around safety in your work environment?”

Employers can also ask what their employees are willing to do to commit to making a safe work environment. Engaging the entire team in looking out for one another will improve the quality of the safety process and create stronger teams.

5. Performance management

Accountability is key when maintaining a strong safety culture. Excellence in safety can only be achieved through a strategy-driven, performance-based safety management process.

To effectively manage the progress and measure the success of their safety initiatives, employers could identify key performance indicators (KPI’s) for their workers. These performance indicators should be transparent and measurable and include targets such as: 

  • Number of safety incidents (close calls, accidents, injuries)
  • Number of trainings provided throughout the year
  • Scheduled equipment maintenance

These KPIs should be communicated throughout the organization to set clear expectations. 

The purpose of performance management is to improve program structure, planning, implementation, evaluation and reporting to support a positive and safe work environment for employees.

6. Personal accountability

Safety in the workplace is easier to manage when employees are being monitored. But it is not only impossible to constantly monitor employees, but micromanaging employees can create a toxic culture where employees feel they are not trusted or empowered to do their best work.

So it is far more effective to spark action and engagement by cultivating a mindset of personal accountability around safety for each employee. Personal accountability is a core value that an organization can build into its culture. They can also create ways to incentivize its employees to continue keeping safety top of mind.

This could include rewarding individuals or teams in the form of a card or verbal acknowledgement if they’ve exhibited great workplace safety performance (based on the KPI’s or the company’s established core safety commitments). As an example, if a member of the operations team is consistently taking accountability – following safety protocols and inspiring others – recognizing those efforts with positive encouragement and incentives could set an example that everyone can mirror and support.

Work with an engineering and operations recruiting agency who prioritizes safety as much as you do

With these 6 safety elements in place, many organizations can proactively avoid the pitfalls of an ineffective safety initiative:

  • Avoidable injuries and even fatalities
  • Poor performance and productivity
  • Unengaged employees
  • Miscommunication between layers of leadership
  • Unsafe behaviors
  • Lack of results
  • Poor compliance. 

Creating a culture around safety is an opportunity to stand out as a company, to provide real value for employees, and to build a strong foundation of communication avenues in work cultures for years to come. 

Finally, safety takes the participation of everyone involved. That’s why it’s important to hire with confidence candidates with strong safety values. At Versique, I focus on finding top talent engineers with the best cultural fit for my client’s environments. It is my commitment to my clients and candidates to continue connecting them together to create a strong safety culture for the future.

If you’re looking for the best engineering and operations recruits who care about safety as much as you do, contact Versique today!

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