Engaging workers can be challenging – and engaging them in safety can be even harder. But it’s an important goal because disengaged workers represent a serious safety risk for businesses.

Studies conducted by Queens School of Business and Gallup found that disengaged workers experience 49 percent more accidents and 60 percent more errors and defects. Furthermore, businesses with low employee engagement scores experienced lower productivity, profitability, and job growth over time.

(Learn more about Measuring the Hidden Costs of Accidents.)

With all the technological advances and growth we’ve seen, it's natural to wonder whether technology can help increase worker engagement when it comes to safety in the workplace?

It absolutely can. In this article, we'll explore how.

Understanding Engagement and How It Applies to Safety

According to the National Safety Council, an engaged worker is one who is “fully involved in and enthusiastic about their work, and thus will act in a way that furthers their organization’s interests.”

When it comes to workplace safety initiatives, here are some key actions that business can take to promote greater worker engagement.

Involve Workers in Safety Programs

Creating safety committees, holding inclusive safety meetings, and having open discussions before implementing changes are all excellent ways to ensure that workers feel that they have a say in the safety programs that impact them.

Create a Feeling of Ownership

Empowering employees by trusting them to make safe choices and including them in the development of safety initiatives can go a long way to fostering a sense of ownership.

(For related reading, see Workplace Health and Safety Is Everyone's Responsibility.)

Facilitate Two-Way Communication

Communication is an essential part of engaging employees. To create engagement, you need to make sure workers feel comfortable expressing their ideas, opinions, and concerns to supervisors and managers without fearing retaliation.

(Learn about Face-to-Face Safety: The Right Way to Build a Safety Culture.)

Solicit Employee Feedback

Feedback matters for two reasons. First, it helps foster continuous improvement in safety practices, processes, and initiatives. But it also solidifies worker engagement and the fact that they have a stake (and say) in the safety efforts.

Using Technology to Boost Worker Engagement

Advancements in technology are making it easier than ever to keep tabs on worker whereabouts and detect potentially hazardous working conditions. But businesses can also use tech to create greater engagement.

While the right approach to merging technology, safety, and engagement depends on the company and the workers in it, there are a few great options that just about any company in any industry can benefit from.

1. Integrating Safety Recognition with Technology

Positive reinforcement is a simple but effective way to engage employees and encourage greater participation in workplace safety programs. In their Engage Your Employees in Safety report, the National Safety Council recommends that companies make an effort to formally and informally recognize safe work habits, as this increases the chances that the behavior will be repeated.

Creating a technology-based recognition program is a great way to get workers involved and further engaged. For example, a peer acknowledgment program might see colleagues snap photos of each other when they’re engaged in safe behavior and share them – perhaps on the company app or on social media with a specific hashtag. In addition to making workers feel valued, this kind of recognition encourages workers to continue demonstrating those safe behaviors and participating further in health and safety initiatives.

2. Streamlining Communication So Frontline Workers Feel Heard

The National Safety Council report also notes that one of the main reasons employees disengage is because they don’t feel heard – their opinions aren’t considered or they reported a safety concern in the past and nothing was done about it. Technology has made instant two-way communication possible, which means there are no longer any excuses for this kind of situation.

A purpose-built mobile app is an indispensable engagement tool for companies. It enables workers to submit feedback or concerns, ask questions, report unsafe behaviors, and recognize safe ones at the touch of a button. Supervisors and managers receive the comments instantly and can reply quickly, which leads to faster behavior change, faster observations, and allows them to maintain an ongoing dialogue with their teams.

3. Relieving the Paper Backlog

Paper forms and processes can feel a little too administrative, and this can deter employees from participating in safety programs.

By bringing everything online – again, through a purpose-built mobile app – businesses make it easier for workers and supervisors alike to complete safety forms, surveys, tracking logs, and more. And when processes are easy, workers are more inclined to engage and participate.

This is particularly important when it comes to your OSHA 300 log of recordable incidents, which you are required to post each year. Though supervisors must fill out incident report forms when required, the pen and paper process can be time-consuming, repetitive, and frustrating. This is a recipe for disengaged supervisors, and how can supervisors engage their workers if they aren’t engaged themselves?

(Learn more about the Benefits of Expedited EHS Reporting.)

Bringing incident reporting online allows forms to be completed on a mobile device and immediately shared with management. It relieves them of the additional administrative burden and makes the reporting process quick and straightforward. This allows supervisors to spend more of their time focused on what really matters: their workers. It also results in more accurate data, the ability to monitor that data in real time, and the ability to share easy-to-interpret reports with key stakeholders like workers, company management, and even customers.

Assessing Successes and Identifying Areas for Improvement

This isn’t to say that businesses can simply implement tech-based solutions to help boost employee engagement and call it a day. After any new initiative is rolled out, you'll need to ask two critical questions on a regular basis:

  • What’s working?
  • What do we need to change, improve, or eliminate?

A key part of this – and, indeed, of employee engagement as a whole – is establishing a transparent culture that welcomes and encourages feedback from workers at all levels. And while this feedback can be given via technology, it’s also nice to have face-to-face communication.

Feedback loops are a great way to determine whether the technological solutions you’ve introduced are having the desired impact. Cord Himelstein, VP of marketing for HALO Recognition, describes the concept behind them: “Give people feedback about their actions in a timely manner without fear of reprisal, and it gives them a healthy opportunity to work toward better behaviors.”

He suggests four ways to make a successful positive feedback loop in the workplace:

  1. Create a safe space that’s free of judgment and prejudice – and make sure all workers know it
  2. Lead by listening and hold all reactions until you have a full picture of the situation
  3. Provide feedback in person, as putting in time with people helps cultivate a trusting relationship
  4. Control your emotions (but don’t suppress them) by creating some headspace between your emotional and rational brains

Engagement is difficult to quantify, but both surveys and one-on-ones can help measure employee feelings related to how engaged (or not) they feel.

It’s important to gather the data before you implement new initiatives, as this gives you a starting point to compare to. Then, survey employees three months, six months, and perhaps also a year after your solution was introduced. Ideally, you’ll see an improvement in the level of reported engagement with workplace safety. If you’re not seeing this, you need to look deeper at the reasons why and make the necessary changes.

Final Words

Workplace safety isn't the most engaging subject, so it can be challenging to get workers engaged with it.

Employees too often feel that their opinions and ideas don’t matter, or report a concern and see no action taken. Using technology to recognize safe behaviors, streamline and improve communication, and move tedious administrative tasks online can help boost worker engagement in safety initiatives and contribute to a stronger culture of safety.