Safety Perception Survey

Straight from the employee’s mouth to you.

By Alexandra Walsh

Employers who want to promote a culture of safety should include their employees in safety planning and strategy execution. A safety perception survey is one of several tools they can use to accomplish this.

A safety perception survey provides a quantitative measure of how employees feel about current safety policies and procedures. It also provides workers an opportunity to share their recommendations for improvement. At the end of the day, safety perception surveys are essential safety measurement tools.

Believing Is Behaving

Today, incident statistics and safety system audits are the two measurement methods most used to assess company safety performance. As with all methods of performance measurement, there are pros and cons with respect to their use.

For example, incident statistics are not forward-looking and therefore not predictive of future safety performance. They are often used to evaluate whether or not a company’s past incident rates warrant future work contracts. This can pressure companies to find creative ways to keep the numbers low.

Safety perception surveys and safety system audits complement each other. Typically, audits assess what is already in place. For example, are safety meetings being held and safety inspections being conducted? Safety perception surveys go to the next level and assess how effective these are as perceived by the employees and provide insight into how they might be improved.

There is some overlap, but the two should be considered both necessary and complementary. Companies that only conduct safety system audits will identify weaknesses in safety program elements, but will not identify the underlying human factors that work against safety program success.

One of the biggest limitations to the safety system audit measurement approach is that only a few performance indicators—such as investigation and inspection—are incorporated into the audit.

Research into what really drives safety performance confirms that other indicators of equal or greater importance—management credibility, employee satisfaction, autonomy, and work-life balance—significantly influence safety performance.

Together, the two measurement methods—safety surveys and safety audits—can provide companies with a better picture of what needs to be done to continue to improve.

Key Benefits

A safety perception survey is grounded in the understanding that what people believe and how they behave are directly related. A survey will both quantify what employees perceive and reveal any disparities between the beliefs of workers and those of management.

Completed surveys can be used to develop a road map for recommended changes, adjust current policies and procedures, make improvements in current practices, and create the framework for a long-term safety strategy. Surveys can be administered wholly online or in combination with face-to-face employee interviews.

When properly executed, safety perception surveys deliver several key benefits:

  • Culture of trust: Employees will appreciate the fact that management cares enough about their safety to solicit and value their opinions. Safety perception surveys tend to cement employer/employee relationships and open important dialogues which can then be enhanced through formal workshops and on-site training programs.
  • More accurate measurement: One-sided approaches, which don’t involve employee participation, provide only a partial, incomplete picture of current practice. The safety perception survey produces a more comprehensive and accurate assessment.
  • Blueprint for action: Safety perception surveys are designed not merely to measure opinion but also to generate action. Survey results are associated with specific action steps. Some come directly from employees taking the survey and are therefore geared to immediate and long-term improvements.
  • Cost effective: Unlike many of the more traditional approaches, the safety perception survey doesn’t cost very much to administer. A do-it-yourself approach is available to companies that eliminates their need to hire survey consultants.
  • Reveals perception gaps: The perception gap between workers, supervisors, and upper management is important to measure. If there are large gaps, misaligned perceptions are indicated, usually suggesting communication issues that need to be addressed.
  • Identifies specific needs: Employee comments often contain very specific nuggets of information that uniquely apply to their areas. This gives the company the ability to target specific corrective actions.
  • Identifies specific improvement opportunities by employee groups: A properly constructed survey allows management to engage with workers specifically on the issues identified within each employee group.
  • Evaluates your own safety: There is no better test of how effective a safety program is than a safety perception survey that asks employees to rate various aspects of their company’s own health and safety program.
  • Removes fear: One of the biggest reasons why companies hold off on conducting a safety perception survey is fear. If your management is afraid of what a safety perception survey may reveal, your company is a prime candidate for intervention.

Sample Perceptions

Now more than ever, occupational safety has increased awareness around the issues of mental health and substance abuse. These sample questions can provide a forward-thinking look into your company’s environment.

  • What is your job role?
  • If you make a mistake, is it held against you?
  • Are employees at your company able to bring up problems and tough issues?
  • Are you afraid to speak up when you feel something is wrong?
  • If you do not speak up in certain situations, why not? (Check all that apply.)
    -Speaking up brings job consequences (being fired, transferred, or any other form of retaliation)
    -Afraid of insulting or offending someone higher up in the company by implying that the current systems or processes are problematic
    -Don’t feel comfortable speaking up unless you have solid evidence
    -Intimidated when a supervisor or company management is present
    -Don’t want to look or feel “stupid”
    -Feel a sense of futility (“Why bother?”)
    -Afraid of damaging a relationship.
  • Does your immediate supervisor demonstrate a commitment to safety by leading by example?
  • If you bring up a health or safety concern to company management, do you feel your concern is made a high priority?
  • When you bring up a safety concern or suggestion to company management, do they always keep you updated on its current status?
  • If you were to commit an unsafe act that could result in you becoming injured or ill, do you expect your coworkers to speak up and say something to you?
  • Are you open to listening to suggestions on how to remain safe at work even if it’s coming from someone you don’t like or work well with?
  • When you started at the company, were you properly trained before being assigned to a job-related task?
  • Overall, how satisfied are you with your company’s training program?
  • Will you refuse to perform a work activity unless you know it is safe?
  • Do your coworkers take unnecessary risks to complete a task?
  • Will you take unnecessary chances to complete a task?
  • If you see a coworker committing an unsafe act, will you always speak up and try to correct it?
  • If you do not normally speak up when you see coworkers committing unsafe acts, why not?
  • Pick your top reason for not speaking up:
    -Feel it’s not your responsibility
    -Feel they should learn from their mistakes
    -Are afraid of confrontation
    -Don’t want to cause conflict
    -Are not sure how to correct the issue, so you choose not to say anything.
  • Do you feel safety is a top priority at your company?
  • Do you know how to report injuries, illnesses, close calls, and safety violations?
  • Are you encouraged to report any of these in your workplace without fear of retaliation?
  • Are accidents, incidents, and close calls investigated quickly to improve workplace safety at your company?
  • Do you consider your company a safe place for someone to come forward about substance abuse?
  • Do you consider your company a safe place for someone to come forward about struggling with mental health?


Best-in-class companies conduct safety perception surveys for a good reason. They realize they cannot succeed in safety without first engaging with their employees. They value their employee survey responses, and that is why when it comes to providing a safe work environment for their employees—they are the best.

Get Safety Products from NGWA
Go to the NGWA online bookstore and get items to keep you safe. Included are:

Model Environmental Health & Safety Manual, a downloadable complete safety program that can be stored online or in a three-ring binder.

Employee Safety Manual, second edition, a 40-page pocket-size book with details on a variety of safety topics.

Safety Meetings for the Groundwater Industry, which contain details for leading weekly safety meetings printed on two-part carbonless paper with areas for employee and supervisor signatures.

Click here to learn more.

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.