According to the National Safety Council, injuries in the workplace cost employers in the United States 188.9 billion dollars in 2011. This may be attributed to the fact that one of the biggest challenges for safety professionals is getting employees and management to “buy into” the value of workplace safety. While it is quite easy for safety professionals to lecture management and employees regarding what is expected of them as it relates to safe work practices, it is far more difficult to get employees, as well as management to comply (learn more in 5 Reasons You Struggle with Safety Buy-in and What to Do About It). In most instances, employees rarely take the initiative to adopt safe work practices, which may be due to a lack of skills and confidence in health and safety, or they believe health and safety to be the sole responsibility of management.

Why Get Employees and Management on Board With Safety?

Research has shown that organizations 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 percent. Additionally, the two primary influences on safety culture are management and employees (learn the Essential Elements of Creating a Workplace Safety Culture).

How Does Management Influence Safety Culture?

To understand how management influences safety culture, we must first have knowledge of the their roles. Management is responsible for:

  • Ensuring a safe place for employees
  • Communicating effectively: supervisors are responsible for conducting safety meetings. Failing to get the message out effectively results in the information not be received or understood by employees
  • Fostering commitment towards safe behavior
  • Being a role model and leader of safety
  • Monitoring the work environment and employees constantly for unsafe conditions and behaviors

Therefore, management influences safety culture through leadership, actions, and rewards and disciplines (see Common Safety Cliches & Why They Aren't Helping for a discussion of safety leadership).

Getting Management on Board with Safety

The most effective way to get management on board with safety is to create and promote a culture of safety within in the organization. However, to establish a positive safety culture, there is a need to get all levels of management involved. Here are a few simple strategies to get management behind your company’s safety plan:

1. Obtain top management “buy-in”

Obtaining top management “buy-in” is the most important step in getting management behind your company’s safety plan. If top managers are not on board, health and safety will compete against core business issues, such as production and profitability.

2. Show the cost to the organization

Management must understand the need for change and be willing to support it. Showing management the cost of accidents (bot indirect and direct) to the organization in terms of dollars can be a compelling reason to adopt change (learn more in Connecting the Dots: Safety and Profitability).

3. Mentor

Try to get a senior safety professional on board who has successfully worked with many companies. Not only will this ensure the mentor’s credibility and professional branding, it will also gain the acceptance of the managers, as well as influence their willingness to safety.

4. Establish company specific safety culture events

This is the most efficient and effective way to raise safety awareness and involve various members of the organization’s management. Events can include getting non-safety practitioners to deliver key safety messages at company gatherings.

5. Use employees to share knowledge gained from external events

Encourage managers in all levels of the organization to attend external safety workshops or conferences. This allows managers to disseminate new health and safety ideas, as well as industry trends.

Getting Employees on Board With Safety

It is important to get employees behind the company’s safety plan because they are the ones most directly affected by safety issues, as they encounter potential safety and health hazards on a daily basis. Here are a few simple strategies to get employees behind your company’s safety plan:

1. Make safety part of your employee contract

This ensures that from the beginning new employees understand that they are responsible for following safety protocols and precautions.

2. Offer training

Make sure that employees know how to do complete their job tasks safely. Provide general safety orientation for new employees and employees starting new jobs, specific training on the hazards of the jobs and how to do their jobs safely, as well as retraining as required by the standards when jobs change or when employees return from long absence (for advice on training, check out these 7 Superb Psychological Tactics for EHS Training).

3. Hold employees accountable

Employees will pay more attention to safety if they know that they are accountable. Setting up a rewards system can encourage employees to follow safety precautions (but read Your Incentives Are Compromising Safety Culture to learn about common safety incentive pitfalls to avoid). Additionally, discipline employees who behave in a manner that is harmful to themselves or their co-workers.

4. Involve employees in all things health and safety related

Involve employees in health and safety by establishing an active workplace health and safety committee. Additionally, make daily safety inspections a part employees' jobs, as well as keep employees informed about safety inspections, injury and illness statistics, and other safety-related issues. Furthermore, set safety goals and make following safe work practices a part of performance evaluation. Also, make sure employees help review and improve the company’s health and safety program.

5. Take employee feedback seriously

Value employee input and feedback as employees often know more about safety problems and solutions than managers do. Favorable responses to feedback further encourage the cooperation of employees (read about the Speak Up for Safety initiative and the importance of genuinely valuing feedback).

The Benefits of Getting Employees and Management Behind Your Company’s Safety Plan

The benefits of getting employees and management behind your company’s safety plan can include:

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

The Bottom Line?

A company with a strong, positive safety culture will experience few at-risk behaviors and, as a consequence, they also experience low injury rates, low turnover, low absenteeism, and high productivity. Safety comes first and by getting both employees and management on board with safety helps to foster and create a safer and healthier work environment.