Building a High-Participation Safety Culture

Want to build safety participation? A new study says start with your older generation employees.

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Study says safety starts with older generation

By Josh LeBrun

Experts at eCompliance have studied the safest companies in the world and found that the top companies have their frontline employees perform an average of four safety activities a week. But how do you achieve such a high level of participation? One of the most underrated steps is getting buy-in from your older and more tenured employees.

After studying more than 250 million data points over a 3-year period and classifying the top performers as companies with a High-Participation Safety Culture, eCompliance conducted quantitative interviews with the top performers to find out how they achieved this culture.

The data revealed that companies with a High-Participation Safety Culture reduced incident rates by more than 3.5 times their low-participation peers. And the interviews revealed that many of them started with getting buy-in from senior frontline employees.

Let’s take a deeper dive into that approach.

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Experts at eCompliance found that the safest companies in the world have their frontline employees perform an average of four safety activities a week. Getting buy-in from more tenured employees is key.

Plotting the Course

Getting employee buy-in is just one of the steps these companies took but their respective journeys all included these 5 intentional steps:

1. CEO Commitment: The CEO makes a sincere and public commitment to safety.

2. The Rise of the Safety Leader: The CEO publicly backs and empowers a safety leader to drive change management.

3. Employee Buy-in: The safety leader earns buy-in from the front line by conveying that their participation ensures everyone’s safety and drives financial success for the company.

4. Safety Reflex: The front line carries out regular safety activities such as inspections and hazard identification. Management reacts and responds to the new safety data in a timely fashion.

5. Safety Velocity: The safety team prioritizes their efforts to reduce risk at a high velocity as the company scales and expands the safety program to other departments or sites.

It’s worth noting that step 3 can be one of the most challenging. It requires a serious shift in behavior with a workforce that may be very set in their ways. It also means destroying the myth that doing things the safe way is a time-waster.

Showing the Old Guard a New Way

Matthew James, director of health, safety, and environment at Spark Power, described his older generation linemen as “the cowboys of the electrical industry,” who were set in their ways. However, he was able to successfully introduce a new mobile device-based safety system to many employees whose previous level of technical expertise likely stopped at checking their e-mail.

James said he was able to earn buy-in by assuring them, “You won’t have to touch a piece of paper.” He immediately sold the direct benefit to these workers and painted a clear picture of a paper-free workday.

You will, of course, want to sell them on the most holistic benefits: keeping themselves and all of their coworkers safe and making sure everyone goes home safely every day. However, don’t be afraid to also promote the economic benefits to your employees. A better safety record means your company is always compliant with industry regulations, or short-listed when bidding on high-value contracts. This means more job security for the front line, as well as more raises and bonuses.

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If new employees are trained the “right way” by a senior lineman who believes in the value of safety, they will go on to train the next generation of new hires the right way, which is crucial in building a High-Participation Safety Culture.

Too many companies shy away from discussing the financial benefits of safety. They don’t want to create the impression that the company is only concerned about the bottom line and not its employees. But that’s not the takeaway if you have an open and transparent dialog about how safety helps the company — and the individual — financially.

A better safety record leads to more job security. That’s an idea that any frontline employee can get behind.

The Trickle-Down Effect

One of the most important reasons to focus on earning buy-in from your older generation is they are the ones who set the tone for the younger employees.

If a tenured employee training a new hire says, “Management wants us to do this, but you don’t really need to worry about it. I don’t,” the new hire will carry that attitude forward.

Also, younger employees have an intrinsic desire to fit in and gain acceptance from their older coworkers. They adopt whatever behavior they perceive will gain them acceptance. If safety is treated as a punch line on job sites, that’s the behavior they will mirror. But, if safety is treated as something that helps everyone and is a vital part of the job, they will pick up on that and act accordingly.

If new employees are trained the “right way” by a senior lineman who believes in the value of safety, those younger employees will go on to train the next generation of new hires the right way, which is crucial in building a High-Participation Safety Culture.

Breaking Years of Bad Habits

As previously mentioned, you might have to destroy the notion that doing things the safe way means doing things the long way. Your older frontline workers may have developed a number of safety-bypassing shortcuts (for example, not putting on an arc flash suit for “simple” repairs) to get a job done faster. That’s because safety was viewed as an inconvenience or something that could even cost them a bonus.

However, if you make the strong financial case for safety, it changes things completely. Nobody will want to be the one that hurts the company’s safety record and costs them the next big job.

Older generations will often be resistant to change. However, if you can convey the tangible benefit to both employees and the company, resistance quickly turns into enthusiasm.

Suddenly, frontline safety employees are carrying out daily safety activities without a second thought because they see the value in them. They don’t have to be reminded to wear their PPE or carry out inspections because they know the benefit of these steps. They will then pass this mentality on to the next generation when training new hires.

Without employee buy-in, you can never build a High-Participation Safety Culture. So, always start at the top and focus on your most tenured frontline employees. Let them set the tone for everyone else. UP

the Author: Josh LeBrun is responsible for eCompliance’s strategic direction and day-to-day operations, including finance, legal, administration, marketing and sales. He is considered a thought leader on the business value of safety management and participation-based safety. Prior to joining eCompliance, LeBrun was on the board of a containerized shipping company where he learned the challenges of measuring safety risk in complex industries.

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