Getting Buy-In for a Safety Program

Having everyone on board fosters a safe and healthy work environment.

By Alexandra Walsh

One of the biggest challenges for those tasked with safety in the workplace is getting employees—and sometimes even management—to buy in to the value of adhering to the workplace safety program.

Not even the latest and greatest personal protective equipment will keep workers safe if they aren’t willing to wear it consistently and compliantly. Research has shown companies that promote and encourage a culture of safety within their work environment reduce the costs associated with workplace injuries and illnesses by up to 40%, close to half.

And the two primary influences on safety culture? Management and employees.

The Benefits

The benefits of getting employees and management behind your company’s safety program may seem obvious. They bear repeating:

  • Reduced costs and reduced risks
  • Lower employee absences
  • Lower turnover rates
  • Fewer incidents, accidents, breakdowns, and failures
  • Increased productivity.

Getting On Board

Companies that have a strong safety culture often have a high level of employee involvement in the development and implementation of safe work practices. That shouldn’t come as a surprise because workers are most directly affected by safety issues.

They’re the ones who face hazards on a daily basis, and their innate sense of self-preservation should guide them to safer approaches in their day-to-day tasks. After all, they want to go home healthy every night.

Here are a few simple strategies to get employees behind a safety program.

Involvement Pays

Because employees have a vested interest in workplace safety, involving them when developing safety plans can yield several benefits.

First, workers tend to take safety rules and practices more seriously when they have played a role in creating them. Second, they’re closest to the hazards and most familiar with all aspects of the tasks they’re being told to perform. Finally, when management solicits input from workers and then incorporates their input into safety planning, those workers tend to be more satisfied and more productive.

It’s always a good feeling for morale when supervisors treat the knowledge and ideas of their team members with full attention and respect. There are any number of ways to involve workers in developing and enacting a safety program. Employees can be the best sources for information. Go to them and ask for their advice!

Some employees may prefer to serve on a formal committee, while others would be more comfortable working with you on a one-to-one basis. Offer employees the opportunity to become actively involved in their own health and safety by inviting them to help establish an active workplace health and safety committee.

Make daily safety inspections a routine part of employees’ jobs, and keep all employees informed about safety inspections, injury and illness statistics, and other safety-related issues. Furthermore, publicize safety goals and make following safe work practices a part of performance reviews and evaluations.

Consider making safety a noted part of the company’s employee contract. This ensures that from day one, new employees understand they are responsible for following safety protocols and precautions. Employees will pay more attention to safety if they know they are accountable.

The Right Communication

A strong safety program has open lines of communication between employees and managers. If you only address safety through a punishment-based model, employees may become afraid to speak up to raise safety concerns or ask questions. They are the ones who will notice and encounter hazards before anyone else, so if they know they can raise concerns without fear of reprisal, your workplace will be a safer place for everyone.

It’s tempting to label a non-compliant employee as lazy and proceed to disciplinary action. However, it’s far more productive (and will foster a better relationship with your workers) to consider other reasons an employee might not be adhering to your safety rules. Effective listening will yield a more successful program because it will incorporate valuable employee insights.

Employees need to be comfortable and feel at ease presenting ideas to one another and confident that everyone involved will listen.

You can encourage discussion by beginning talks with high-level safety principles. Share the central elements of those principles, and then ask employees how those high-sounding elements relate to what realistically goes on in the workplace.

If they are hesitant at first, a good way to break the ice is to invite workers to share stories from their own work histories about how following a safety practice protected them or a co-worker—or even about those mistakes that could have been prevented.

That way, everyone will learn a great deal from each other, and each story will enhance the value of a strong safety program. And, because the ideas are all theirs, they’ll be more likely to use them.

Offer Training

A strong training program should be your starting point for gaining employee buy-in. Training is specifically required in many OSHA standards, but that’s just one reason to do it. Employees can’t comply with your programs if they don’t know how to, and training is the key to bridging the gap between regulations on paper and behavior in practice.

Workers may not need to know as much about jobsite safety as the person leading the company safety program, but sharing knowledge and putting it in context for team members may give them an entirely different perspective. They may know that you have to report incidents to OSHA but help them understand what a recordable rate is and what that means in practical terms.

Provide general safety orientation for new employees and employees starting new jobs. Make sure employees receive specific training on the hazards of the jobs involved and how to do their jobs safely, as well as the retraining required by the standards when jobs change or when employees return from long absences.

Secure Supervisor Support

Supervisor buy-in is another critical piece of employee compliance. As the most frequent and immediate point of contact with management, supervisors have an enormous impact on how employees perceive the importance of safety in the workplace. If supervisors send a message that safety doesn’t matter all that much or don’t comply themselves, employees will naturally follow suit.

The Bottom Line

Having a system in place that makes it a priority that employees understand and adhere to work safety requirements is critical to a company’s ability to meet OSHA regulations and safeguard its work staff against risk.

A company with a strong, positive safety culture will experience few at-risk behaviors and therefore will also experience low injury rates, low turnover, low absenteeism—and high productivity.

Safety comes first and getting both employees and management on board with the company safety program helps to foster and create a safer, a healthier, a more receptive work environment.

Alexandra Walsh is the vice president of Association Vision, a Washington, D.C.–area communications company. She has extensive experience in management positions with a range of organizations.