Keeping Up with the Changing Face of Workplace Safety

February 12, 2021

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Many organizations, such as those in the manufacturing and healthcare sectors, long have adhered to strict safety policies. But in the past year, workplace safety has become a linchpin of employee trust and corporate reputation for many more organizations, as employees have faced threats ranging from COVID-19 transmission to altercations related to political views and more. That’s in addition to the typical risks workers face depending on their specific industry or workplace. In fact, 48% of workers believe that they currently are forced to sacrifice personal safety to remain employed.

Today’s landscape calls for a new level of intentionality around workplace safety — and an expanded view of what it means and why it’s important. Many of the safety issues companies face are not going away soon. Even with gradual availability of COVID-19 vaccines, safety will continue to have an outsized impact on your reputation and bottom line. Additionally, FleishmanHillard’s TRUE Global Intelligence “The Future of Work” study found 62% of employees want their employer to demonstrate they can be trusted to put employee health first before returning to the workplace, so it makes sense to build on the momentum of the past year.

Organizations that think about employee safety as an opportunity even after the pandemic — rather than as another corporate mandate they can sunset — stand to benefit from keeping the well-being of their workers a priority. The following best practices are prevalent across safety-focused industries and sectors and can help drive a culture of safety in your organization as well:

  • Commit to safety at the highest levels of the organization. When your CEO communicates that no other metric — not even production targets or sales goals — is more important, employees will understand that safety is not just a formality, but a cultural value.
  • Model safe behaviors. On top of encouraging all employees to adopt desired safe behaviors, leaders and managers should comply with all established safety protocols and demonstrate through their actions and messages that safety is a priority. Make it clear to employees that nothing takes precedent over safe work and that they will be supported when they encourage others to follow protocols or sound the alarm on unsafe behavior.
  • Designate a safety communications lead. If you don’t have a formal safety lead or official safety communicator, select a member of the communications team to stay abreast of safety regulations, workplace risks, worker concerns and best practices so they can develop and implement a safety communications strategy that will keep employees informed.
  • Get input from the people who understand the risks. Your workers know what hazards they face. Provide opportunities for input and listen to their feedback on safety policies. Consider a “safety council” where concerns and opportunities can be discussed. Co-creating your safety culture with employees will help foster successful adoption.
  • Speak positively about safety. Teach managers how to talk about safety and why it matters — including psychological safety and inclusion. With the support of managers, equip employees to champion the cause among their colleagues. Embed safety ambassadors — perhaps members of your safety council — across the organization to create peer-to-peer reinforcement and identify safety success stories to highlight safety successes in action.
  • Elevate safety metrics. Few things will fuel a culture of safety faster than tying safety targets to the performance management process so that managers and leaders are evaluated and rewarded based on how safe they keep their teams.
  • Report on safety regularly. Include safety metrics in monthly or quarterly reports on business results for employees. Publicly held companies should consider discussing safety performance in their annual reporting.