Employee engagement has been receiving a lot of attention in the OHS world lately, and there’s a good reason for that. Engagement has a reciprocal relationship with organizational health and safety. Organizations that focus on health and safety tend to have more engaged workers, and workers that are engaged tend to be safer at work.
While there are plenty of studies that show the impact engagement has on reducing accidents in the workplace, fewer people talk about the role it plays in capturing safety data and tracking key performance indicators.
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What Is Worker Engagement?
First, let’s talk about what employee engagement is. What does it really mean to have engaged workers?
In a presentation for the National Safety Council, Megan Raines from the Red Cross defines an engaged employee as one who is “fully involved and enthusiastic about their work, and thus will act in a way that furthers their organization’s interests.” Engagement encompasses satisfaction with work, pride in the employer, and the perception that the employer values what the employee brings to the table.
Engagement is more about morale than it is about happiness. Engaged workers put in more effort, have a higher quality of work, experience fewer accidents, and often provide feedback to management about how to improve the work environment.
(For related reading, see What Is the Number One Source of Stress in America? The Workplace.)
The Problem With a Disengaged Workforce
Disengaged workers, on the other hand, aren’t committed to the company they work for and aren’t overly concerned about their performance or the success of the business. This tends to have a negative effect on every aspect of the business, including daily operations, growth, employee morale, and, of course, safety.
In fact, studies from Queens School of Business and Gallup found that disengaged workers had 37% higher absenteeism, 49% more accidents, and 60% more errors and defects. Over time, low levels of engagement affected productivity, profitability, job growth, and company share prices.
In terms of safety, disengaged workers tend not to buy in to safety programs or the safety culture. In addition to posing a serious risk to themselves and their colleagues (due to lack of care and increased risk of accidents), this makes it difficult for safety leaders to track important measures of safety in the workplace.
Some key signs of disengaged workers include:
- Not reporting minor injuries or hazards
- A lack of respect for the safety program
- Low participation in safety-related meetings and committees
- Safety professionals being viewed as "cops"
How Engagement Improves Data Capture
So, how are worker engagement and data capture/tracking related, and why does one help the other?
Workers who are engaged have an emotional commitment to the organization and its goals – including the creation of a strong safety culture. They feel that the company has their best interests at heart and fully support the safety program in place. This makes it far more likely that these employees will provide sufficient amounts of reliable data to safety leaders in an effort to improve workplace health and safety and contribute positively to OHS initiatives.
They’re also more likely to provide valuable feedback and suggestions on how to improve safety at work, rather than taking the attitude that "it’s not my problem to fix." This creates an open, honest, and ongoing dialogue between and among employees and safety leaders, which is critical to developing or enhancing the workplace's safety culture.
(Learn more in Face-to-Face Safety: The Right Way to Build a Safety Culture.)
Engaged workers are generally excited about participating in new health and safety programs, too. While disengaged workers probably won’t be thrilled to add a new, wearable tech gadget to their gear, engaged workers will typically be more open to learning how the technology works, what types of information it can collect, and how that information will be used to improve things in the workplace.
In a study by the Kanexa Research Institute, safety was named the fourth most important driver of employee engagement. So, emphasizing safety can drive engagement, and engagement can drive further focus on and progress with safety.
But how can businesses go about doing this? One great way is to take advantage of technological advances, using wearables and other technology-based devices to track safety KPIs and report data to boost worker engagement.
Technology is continually evolving, and there are plenty of new products, platforms, and gadgets available that help make life easier for managers, supervisors, and employees. Providing them with tools that streamline their processes, display important data all in one place, and make inspections easier and more fun encourages employees to buy in and shift their mindset. It also demonstrates that the company values safety – and those responsible for ensuring it.
Is it possible to collect data and track safety KPIs with a disengaged workforce? Theoretically, it is. But when workers don’t care about the company or the quality of the work they’re doing, you have to ask yourself how reliable that data will be.
Research has shown time and again that engaged workers experience fewer accidents and display overall safer behavior while on the job. They also recognize their own vested interest in driving their organization’s health and safety forward, and are more likely to provide ample accurate, reliable data and feedback to supervisors to achieve this end.
So, if your organization is looking to track key safety indicators, start by engaging your workers.