Safety Best Practices

The definitive list of “must-haves” to achieve safety success

Most companies aren’t focused on workplace safety simply because of the regulatory requirements. Most companies prioritize workplace safety to attract top talent, have a great culture and ensure that everyone goes home safe at the end of the day. Inspired by our discussions with industry-leading experts and in particular, an interview we conducted several months ago with safety expert Jake Woolfenden, Owner of Summit Safety Group, we compiled a list of 9 safety best practices to help you ensure a safe workplace:

  1. Support for behavior-based safety
  2. A formalized safety policy
  3. Strong and effective safety leaders
  4. A disciplinary system that applies to all employees
  5. Empowered and motivated employees
  6. Comfort with reporting issues related to safety
  7. Effective and regular communication about safety and health
  8. A high-functioning safety committee
  9. Utilization of both leading and lagging indicators of safety

You may know many, if not all, of these, and no checklist can capture every component that’s found in an accountable, engaged and high-performing culture that drives continuous improvement. But most companies have areas on the checklist where practices and norms could be improved. These reminders help us all stay on top of our game.  And of course, a safe workplace helps keep costs and insurance premiums low too –  a win for everyone.

1. Support for behavior-based safety

The major objective of an effective behavior-based safety process is to make safe behavior a habit. Unsafe behavior is habitual in most employees. Something has been done the wrong way for so long that the employees aren’t even conscious of their improper behavior.  To reinforce safety best practices, organizations need to help develop the right, safe habits for all employees.  According to James Clear, it takes 66 days on average to develop a new habit. In order to create habit change, Clear uses a framework called 3R’s of Habit Change:

  1. Reminder (the trigger that initiates the behavior)
  2. Routine (the behavior itself; the action you take)
  3. Reward (the benefit you gain from doing the behavior)

In your personal life, you might use a fitness tracker, set an alarm or leave notes on your bathroom mirror as a reminder to maintain healthy habits. To ensure a safe working environment, create a similar reminder system for you and your employees. One idea that you can implement today is to have your employees set up visual reminders for themselves across their workstations or job sites. While this is an effective starting point, modern safety software can make this process much easier. Apply these same principles and over time you’ll begin to create safe, healthy habits.

2. A formalized safety policy

Having a written, shared, and embraced safety policy is the most basic way for an organization to demonstrate its commitment to safety. It should be easily accessible to everyone and updated on time.

Not only should the policy be written, but it should also be actively lived out each day. That includes consistent, proactive safety audits, site inspections, hazard identification, and regular interactions with team members to ensure employees know and live the policy—and that risks are discussed and corrected quickly in the company,” says Woolfenden.

3. Strong, effective and capable leaders who value and practice safety standards

Having the right people in the right roles is key to supporting a culture focused on safety. Many small to mid-sized organizations often promote someone who does well in one role into an entirely new role as a safety manager. Sometimes this is preferred, as it is often someone who has done the job and understands its potential dangers. Sometimes, however, this internal promotion makes things difficult for the newfound safety leader as they may not have developed the leadership skills necessary to effectively perform their duties.

If you do decide to promote individuals from within the organization to a safety role, be sure the individuals truly embrace their status as leaders – not peers and not enforcers.

Although the leaders are responsible for creating a safe work environment, make sure that each worker knows it is their responsibility to take an active role in maintaining safety. It’s everyone’s responsibility.

4. A disciplinary system that applies to all employees

It’s absolutely necessary to have a disciplinary system in place to reinforce the importance of following safety protocols. Here are the 3 necessities of a successful disciplinary system:

  • Be sure it’s written. A written policy that outlines the step-by-step process of action if a safety protocol is broken is critical to ensure proper follow-up action. Accountability is key.
  • Make sure the policies apply to every single employee. Safety is everyone’s job. So you need to create a discipline policy that applies to everyone, from line workers and foremen to the CEO.
  • Be diligent in your own disciplinary process. If you’re a safety leader, you are the example. Be sure that you “practice what you preach.”

5. Empowered and motivated employees

Many companies struggle to empower and motivate their employees as it relates to safety. Do you feel that you’re empowering your team members to take part in their own safety, or do you feel like you’re a one-person operation trying to be the safety program for them?

Oftentimes organizations fall into one of two traps:

  1. Safety leaders operate as “one-person shows” where they try to manage the safety of employees for every employee.
  2. Safety leaders focus on preventing injuries by highlighting the problems that could occur if proper protocols are not followed – scaring employees straight.

Successful safety programs consistently promote proper safety through continuous education, consistent reinforcement, and ongoing improvements to the overall program, rather than focusing on what not to do.

Interested in some ideas to improve engagement and empowerment? Try highlighting a safety person of the week/month!

6. Comfort with reporting issues related to safety

It’s natural to want to get the job finished on schedule — or even ahead of time — but with a “get it done quick” attitude, accidents happen.

Make sure that no matter the business pressures, that employees understand that they shouldn’t take shortcuts and that safety is the top priority. An accident impacts productivity more than anything in business, so make sure that is understood by all – especially the managers who are evaluated on productivity.

Make sure that employees feel safe reporting a hazard or potential issue when they see it and provide a clear way to report hazards. Employees should feel inclined or responsible to carry out the policies and procedures implemented to keep them safe over completing a job quickly.

7. Effective and regular communication about safety and health

Focused, consistent messaging about safety and health can help to create loyal, productive, and accountable employees who feel respected and valued by the company. Regular, ongoing communication educates employees, helps to show the values of the company, and reinforces the right behaviors.

Make sure that employees feel a strong personal connection to their own safety and the safety of others. The benefits of this “shared accountability” will be recognized instantly. You’ll see that employees embrace safety policies rather than avoid them; you’ll find a gradual reduction in the frequency of incidents and near-misses and happier employees.

8. A high-functioning safety committee

At the safest companies in the world, safety committees are essential entities within the organization. They provide analysis and direction regarding the current state of safety at their company, and how to improve it over time.

Does your safety committee help to facilitate the right, desired behaviors? Can you say with confidence that the committee supports continuous improvement of your organization’s safety performance? Do you make time for them to meet regularly?

An effective safety committee, done right, maximizes safety leaders’ efforts by getting people involved and it adds a degree of ownership across the entire employee population.

9. Utilization of leading and lagging indicators

Most organizations utilize the lagging indicators—that is, what incidents have occurred. Lagging indicators include what’s happened in the past such as lost workdays, workers’ comp costs, or injury frequency. As safety leaders know, the drawback is that these do very little for the future prevention of accidents and injuries.

The ability to quickly and precisely identify high-risk situations is something that should be on every safety leader’s checklist for safety performance.

Leading indicators provide organizations with that capability if they record the proper information. A few of the most helping leading indicators are:

  • Frequency of safety training
  • Number of safety audits and inspections
  • Average JSA score

The Job Is Never Done

Keep in mind that the commitment to safety and establishing a safe and healthy culture is never-ending.  You will always find areas of opportunity for improvement, new employees to train, new hazards to address and more. Don’t get discouraged. Improved outcomes are your success. The key is to make the “easy things easy” so that you can focus your time and energy on the hard things.  We can help make the “easy things easy” to support safety best practices in your workplace.

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