Frontline supervisors are the lynchpin of safety, Judy Agnew said during a session Monday morning on safety leadership. She offers five tips for frontline supervisors to better engage the workforce, which not only improves individual performance but leads to a safe work environment for all.

She said leaders should focus on these tips to build engagement:

  1. Build relationships. Get to know your direct reports, demonstrate concern and build trust by doing what you say you will do. This is the foundation for building engagement.
  2. Respond to hazards. Do all you can to remediate safety hazards. Supervisors who do this well will have employees who are more willing to participate fully in safety.
  3. Encourage near-miss reporting. To learn from and prevent future incidents, positively reinforce reporting of near misses.
  4. Eliminate blame. Blame is the enemy of engagement. Work to understand and eliminate the behavioral root causes of incidents to improve prevention and build engagement.
  5. Use more positive reinforcement. Frequently acknowledge what employees do well. It will not only strengthen safe behaviors but also will foster engagement.

Agnew said it’s important for supervisors to be trained properly because if they’re not, they could see themselves as an enforcer or safety cop. That’s a problem, she said, because that has largely negative reactions from employees. Many employees say they only see their supervisor when they are told they’re doing something wrong. Be a safety coach, not a cop, Agnew said. “Don’t tell people what to do but ask them,” she said. “You’re building relationships and building trust. Building trust also offers incentive to promote good practices among employees.”