Engaging Employees in Health and Safety
Any health and safety consultant worth their salt will tell you how important it is to:
- lead by example
- instill a positive health and safety culture
- ensure that employees are involved in the decision making process.
The Health and Safety Executive and Institute of Directors have produced guidance on this topic for board members, the European Agency for Safety and Health have launched a campaign about it and the Olympic Delivery Authority have a number of case studies to prove it. These three key ingredients are vital to improving health and safety.
But it can be difficult to engage employees. Employees don’t always want to participate in health and safety initiatives or to take on health and safety responsibilities. Employees may even be suspicious of managers’ motivations for getting them involved in health and safety.
So how can you involve employees in decisions? What are the benefits to employee involvement and what do you need to consider before you start?
Why should you involve employees in decisions?
It is well known that, if employees are given the opportunity to participate in making decisions that affect their job, they become more actively involved in the work that they do. Getting employees more involved in health and safety has three main psychological benefits.
1. Employees become more focused on their work; they are more alert, active and prepared to perform, they do not become easily distracted and therefore are less likely to make errors that may lead to an accident.
2. Participation motivates employees to contribute more. A motivated employee will balance their own and the organisation’s needs. If their job is designed to give them intrinsic and extrinsic rewards, then they will be more committed to the organisation and therefore the goals that the organisation sets around health and safety.
3. Participating in decision making can help employees to become more accountable and therefore help them to achieve the health safety goals of the organisation and therefore feel safer at work.
What do you need to consider?
- There may be a business cost of providing cross-training to employees to help them make informed decisions.
- Participation will not solve an organisational crisis or one-time event but may help the organisation learn from the event and make improvements.
- Employees want to make a contribution, want to be healthy and safe at work and want to learn.
- Managers may not want to relinquish control and delegate activities.
- Employees want to have the skills to contribute to an adaptive, dynamic health and safety culture that thrives on discussion, debate and continual improvement.
- A successful health and safety strategy must support the business needs of the organisation and be integrated into the whole of the organisation’s risk management strategy.
- Employees need to be able to explain how their participation in health and safety improves the organisation’s competitive advantage to be able to properly buy into it.
So how can you involve employees more?
Demonstrate you care about them – you need to go above and beyond just safety. You need to show employees that there is a strong connection between the employee’s and the organisation’s actions.
Create opportunities for employees to achieve their personal goals – link the employee’s performance objectives to health and safety, and ensure that any health and safety responsibilities that they are is given are meaningful to them and can help them gain experience.
Modify the employee’s health and safety responsibilities so that they can gain more intrinsic rewards – these are the personal gains that an employee can get from doing their job, for example feeling competent, craftsmanship, a feeling of pride. For instance, providing them with opportunities to make decisions about their personal protective equipment, giving them an opportunity to study for a meaningful qualification such as IOSH Managing Safely, empowering them and giving them control over how they do their work.
Reward and interact with employees – make sure that you are available to talk to your employees about any concerns they have, praise good health and safety practice and celebrate health and safety successes.
Set goals together – work together with employees to set health and safety goals. Make sure that the goals are valued by employees by adding them to performance appraisals. By doing this, you will actively encourage employees to want to develop, be committed and to progress in the organisation.
By involving employees more at work, you can increase job satisfaction and commitment, which as well as encouraging a safe environment has a multitude of business benefits, leading to gaining an edge over your competitors, such as:
- better employee retention
- less sickness absence
- better performance
- more creativity
- more ambitious goal setting.
For more information on employee involvement, developing a positive health and safety culture and safety leadership please contact us.