Safety and health processes in the workplace are often facilitated by EHS professionals and driven by volunteers. Think of a behavior-based safety steering committee, or a Voluntary Protection Program steering committee. There just aren’t enough professionals to go around. Especially with everyone running lean and trying to squeeze costs out everywhere. So we have the age of engage the employee.

In workplace safety and health, this can mean volunteer employees assisting in everything from incident investigations and facility audits to leading training classes and developing performance recognition programs.  And much more…

The culture factor

Depending on an organization’s safety culture, you can have an easy or hard time finding your safety champions. Go to Voluntary Protection Program worksites, or sites heavily invested in behavior-based safety initiatives, and you’ll find no lack of enthused and very much engaged employees.

Companies whose execs are missing in action on questions of safety and health or are laying off employees or shuttering plants have morale woes and what’s called “pent up departure demand” on the part of employees who can’t wait to find another job. Try finding volunteers for extra-curricular safety and health activities under these dark clouds.

Most worksites likely fall somewhere in between these two cultural extremes. Which puts the emphasis on the safety and health professional’s people skills. Indeed, many pros are good at reading people and sensing the mood of the troops.

If you’re out on the recruiting trail, looking to build up volunteer participation in your processes, it helps if your senior leaders send clear signals that they support those processes. Or as one safety and health pro once put it to management, “I don’t want your support, I want your active involvement.” That’s better yet. Actions do speak louder than words. Employees will see safety engagement starts at the top and will be less likely to think volunteering will be a waste of time.

Lessons from HR

Still, when you’re recruiting it helps to brush up on some lessons learned from the human resources side of the house.

For starters, do less talking or selling (or arm twisting) and more listening and observing. You certainly know safe and at-risk behaviors when you see them. Observation programs can be one screen you use for finding candidates for your volunteer teams and positions. Your observations might help you uncover your quiet safety leaders. That’s a challenge and a reward in the recruiting game. Human nature plays out in all of this. Some people are natural “joiners” and will come aboard with hardly any persuasion. By the same token you’ll always have your resisters and recluses who wouldn’t sign up to help grandmothers cross the street. In between are your fence-sitters, skeptics and in fact the silent majority.

“Pre-placement” screening

Sift through the silent segment of your workforce and you can find some real nuggets. They won’t sell themselves to you, and they won’t be quick to step forward. But their actions, too, speak louder than words. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “What you are speaks so loud I can’t hear what you say.” Check and screen for these signs:

? Respect for co-workers and property. How do your potential volunteers interact with peers and supervisors? How do they treat company property and grounds, tools and equipment? How are their personal housekeeping habits? Do they keep a clean, orderly work space?

? Sense of responsibility. What kind of conscience and work ethic does a person show on the job? Who makes the deadlines and quotas and who scrapes along? You and the gang on the floor know who the slackards are, and who the gamers are. The ones who care about getting a job done right, and the ones who don’t care.

? Present and accounted for. Who is early for meetings and who walks in late? Who never seems to miss a day and who can’t you find when you need them? It’s called being there. You can look it up in the attendance book. Like Woody Allen said, 90 percent of life is just showing up.

? Team play. Who gets along and who gets shunned? Who pitches in and who darts out?

? Situational awareness. Some have it, some don’t. Some people know what’s going on, they’re sharp and alert. Some folks seem to suffer from “presentee-ism” – they may be right in front of you but mentally they’re somewhere else. The lights are on but nobody’s home.

?  Leadership off the job. The smaller the workforce, the easier it is to know more about your people, on and off the job. Still, chances are regardless of the workforce size, word gets around about who coaches youth sports, who is a community leader, active in their church or kids’ schools, who volunteers for Habitat for Humanity (and not to get their driver’s license back) or animal rescues.

Character wins out

What these screens give you is a kind of character sketch. Reflect on your screening results, make a list of attributes. You’ll learn (and chances are you already know) who’s determined, focused, honest, ethical, loyal, dedicated, reliable, trustworthy, patient, tactful, attentive, vigilant, diligent and helpful.

As I said, in most cases, if you’ve been on the job long enough as the resident safety and health pro, you know your people. Hopefully you’ve earned their trust. You talk to ’em, and not just about the job but how things are going outside of work. You make contact. You interact. You listen with what’s called an “active ear.” Your antennae are always up. So chances are when you’re searching for safety champions and solid citizen-type safety volunteers, you have your candidates in mind. But it doesn’t hurt to take some time, analyze attributes a little more formally, and confirm what your gut instincts tell you.