About 15 years ago, I read an important engagement story regarding a line worker with a major automotive manufacturer in the United States. The story evolved from an organizational push to gain more involvement from their workers at a time when it was critical. An employee spoke up somewhere along the way and stated, “You used my body for 40 years and paid me well, but you could have used my mind for free and chose not to use it.”  

Sadly some organizations remain stuck in such a position when it comes to worker engagement and advancing safety.

More than 25 years ago, I was working for United Airlines as a young safety professional. It was there where I first learned the importance of employee involvement and engagement. If we left people out of an important safety-related process - shame on us. And it was at United where I first learned the depth and breadth of getting people directly involved in improving safety and reducing related losses. What great experiences I had there!

Here’s a few simple and straightforward ways to get your associates and end-users involved and engaged in ongoing safety improvement that will make an impact.
1. Involve workers as early as possible in the specification and review processes so that safety can be built-into materials, tools, equipment, and facilities.

2. Ensure safety professionals, operations personnel, key stakeholders, and the workers “maintain a seat at the table” so appropriate voices can be heard and timely actions can be taken.

3. Communicate discrepancies or revisions in design and specification processes so that questions that might surface later can be addressed in open and honest ways.

4. Help everyone understand the failure history of particular equipment, components, tools, and how those failure histories will be controlled or eliminated.

5. Educate and involve workers in human factors and ergonomic measures that will make the job more productive and safer.

6. Involve workers in near-miss reporting, hazard reviews and identification of those hazards for appropriate abatement or elimination.

7. Follow-up and correct hazards or specification issues as quickly as possible. Communicate your proposed actions and timelines, especially if a given process is protracted.

If you aren’t consistently getting workers and end-users involved in improving facilities, tools, and equipment, you’re losing out on a great opportunity to advance safety and to build trust.

Build safety into your work as early as possible. Abate hazards and concerns quickly because the downward slope from apathy to cynicism is a steep one. And it’s cynicism that forms a substantial barrier to the kinds of trust your organization will always need.