Create a work culture for increasing employee commitment to safety

October 2, 2006
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A PPE program can only be as effective as an organization’s overall safety culture. However, getting employees to participate in safety cultures can be difficult. Motivation techniques for encouraging employee participation can have both positive and negative factors. Analyzing these techniques can help a company better develop ways to motivate employees.

The best safety cultures — those with plenty of employee interaction — start with management committing to and embracing the concept, and then passing that vision and importance on to the employees. So, how much commitment does a safety program have from management? This will, of course, dictate employee involvement.

Reward model

Once management is on board, choose a program model to further develop an employee’s grasp and participation in the company’s safety culture. A common solution is a system designed to reward employees for a successful safety program. Within this program, all employees are rewarded based on certain thresholds or benchmarks. Typically, the benchmarks are based on Lost Time Incidents (LTIs). An example of this would be all employees receiving a coffee cup for one million staff hours without a LTI. A company will continue to give rewards based on the LTI, raising the threshold in increments of 500,000 to one million hours. Each increment increase will result in a better gift, such as leather coats or large-screen televisions.

One positive element of these programs is that all employees are involved. The more the gift values increase, the more employees strive for a common goal. It may encourage the buddy system, which compels employees to become more diligent about watching out for one another. Within a good workforce and a strong safety department, this system can be successful. This system is also beneficial if it has a means for employees to give suggestions towards eliminating hazards. Statistically, from a management standpoint, this method of strengthening safety cultures and encouraging employee involvement has been successful.

Two downsides to this model exist if it isn’t managed properly. First, the program doesn’t reward individuals who go the extra mile to meet safety goals. It’s based on the assumption that all employees are focused on the company’s safety culture. Secondly, employees pressure themselves not to have a LTI. For example, an employee may break a bone in his hand, and his coworkers will cover for him for the rest of the shift, allowing the employee to go to the hospital directly after shift and report it as an at-home accident. If the employee is absent from work because of the injury, it is reported as sick leave or personal time off, leaving the LTI goals in tact and allowing all employees — including the injured one — to enjoy the LTI incentives.

While this program looks good on paper, it does not allow continuous improvement to safety programs. It is statistically meeting all of the goals, but it does not recognize individuals for their contributions to improving safety. The shortcoming of this program is that the only data point is staff hours without a LTI.

Employee contribution model The employee contribution model is based on employees contributing their individual ideas on how to improve an organization’s safety program and culture. By asking employees to participate in the development of a safety program, they will likely take further ownership in the safety culture.

An example of using this model to develop a safety culture is asking employees to drop safety issues into a suggestion box. All of the suggestions are then investigated by the safety manager. Any suggestion that is confirmed as a hazard is addressed by the safety department. After the hazard is mitigated, the safety manager provides the suggestion, hazard investigation and solution to the safety committee. The safety committee reviews all suggestions provided by the safety manager for that month. Each month, the safety committee picks one winner. The winner is compensated for his or her contribution to the program.

The downside to this model is that it may alienate some of the workforce, which could ultimately reduce the number of employees giving suggestions.

Develop the ideal model

Although both previous models are functional and may meet the goals of the management team, combining the strengths of both programs can create a safety culture that is broad-based and flexible, and will encourage employees to embrace and participate in safety programs. The culture is broad-based in that all employees are rewarded for meeting a certain threshold, and are also encouraged to go above and beyond by contributing safety ideas individually (as in the example of the suggestion box).

Each department must be allowed input in their particular areas, even though manufacturing may have the highest risk potential. The program must allow all employees to participate. If the safety program alienates any employees, the safety culture is jeopardized. All employees are part of the safety culture.

The safety culture, as well as the motivation program, needs to be designed with the flexibility to adapt to future growth and change in the organization. When enhancing safety and PPE programs, changes should be seamless and resistance free. Each individual company should evaluate its safety culture and determine what needs to be implemented to encourage employees to bring forth ideas for furthering safety. This will result in a cycle of safety, with employees offering greater participation in programs, ultimately reducing the number of work-related accidents at an organization.

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