Ask any safety leader one of their top priorities, and the answer you’ll hear is going to include something about a well-designed safety management program, no doubt.

The importance of a comprehensive, results-driven safety management program is clear, but that doesn’t always mean it is implemented the right way.

Safety-first organizations prioritize employee health and safety to make it a shared responsibility for all. They know that prioritizing and planning a safety program is step one—and that implementing it, in a consistent and proactive way—is step two of that journey.

In fact, when you look at the best-in-class safety programs, they have certain common traits. What are a few of those common characteristics? According to the National Safety Council, an effective safety management program should:

  • Reduce the risk of workplace incidents, injuries, and fatalities through data-driven measurements and improvements
  • Involve people from different parts of the organization to make safety a shared responsibility
  • Be well organized and structured to ensure consistent growth and performance
  • Be proactive, preventive and integrated into the culture of the entire organization

Given those requirements, we assembled a collection of “must haves” that should be a part of any highly strategic, well designed, effective safety program.

Here are the 8 of the most important elements of worker safety for your organization:

  1. Strong company values that are brought to life each day
  2. Formalized safety policies that are shared with workers
  3. Consistent, proactive communication about safety and health
  4. Support for behavior-based safety
  5. Utilization of both leading and lagging indicators of safety
  6. Tools that equip workers to “own” every day safety
  7. Frequent safety training and discussion
  8. A focus on continuous improvement

1. Strong company values that are brought to life each day

Your organization likely has values, but are those values regularly shared, expanded upon, and even reinforced, especially as they relate to safety and health of your workers?

If not, those values may not be truly understood or embraced by workers.

This is one of the underlying issues that can contribute to a culture where people start to take things for granted and start to behave in ways that aren’t true to company standards.

Consider sharing examples of when employees successfully brought values to life. Have employees share stories and have them explain the decision-making and mindsets that went into the positive decisions they made.

You can do this in company meetings, via email, or even through an internal company newsletter, as a few examples. Best-in-class companies don’t just share these examples, but they make sure to reinforce and/or celebrate these behaviors, even if it’s a small reward or verbal phrase alone.

2. Formalized safety policies that are shared with workers

Values are similar to a foundation for your safety program. They act as a guide as to how people should be thinking and behaving. But after your foundation is set, safety policies are the next critical component.

Your safety policies should include critical operating information for employees to embrace and follow throughout their day to day working lives. These policies should include everything from general operating procedures to emergency action plans. You want this to be written and commonly communicated, but you also want it to be lived out each day. To do that, you need consistent, proactive safety audits, site inspections, hazard identification, and regular interactions to ensure employees know and live the policy. At the same time, any and all risks should be discussed and corrected quickly in the company each day.

3. Consistent, proactive communication about safety and health

Having safety policies that are frequently communicated and accessible to everyone is important. It’s critical that organizations discuss the safety policies with employees and managers to ensure understanding and adoption.

It’s also a good idea to remind employees often that safety takes priority over productivity. This message can sometimes get lost with the daily pressures of meeting order commitments.

Workers can sometimes feel that they get mixed messages, so be sure to remind employees of the priority of safety.

Focused, consistent messaging about safety and health can create loyal, productive, and accountable employees. It can also help then feel involved and trusted, but of which are key to getting them to take proactive steps each day to protect their own health, and the health/safety of those around them.

consistent communication drives loyal employees

4. Support for behavior-based safety

The safest companies in the world recognize the importance of creating habits around safety. That’s why many of them focus on behavior-based safety – a safety methodology that focuses on improving safety through habit creation.

To support ongoing behavior-based safety you can ask these 7 questions:

  1. Is the company ready? Is the company, and are individual sites receptive to taking on changes that will be necessary?
  2. Have you customized your engagement? For real, sustainable change, be sure you’ve made the process fit the site and the culture of the company.
  3. Do you have clear, effective leadership? There needs to be specific and defined process leadership in place, explains Galloway. Who’s doing what? Who’s on the team? Who’s responsible for looking at everything? Who will be in charge of reviewing the data, developing and monitoring the action plans?
  4. Is there a sense of individual and shared ownership? Workers need to be willing to internalize both the focus on safety, and their own successes for this to work.
  5. Is there support and cooperation? It’s not just up to senior leaders to work with others—it takes supervisors, managers, frontline employees and all workers coming together.
  6. Are you leveraging your ongoing data? Who looks at and has access to ongoing, relevant data? Do you know how you are going to respond to it and use it to be more proactive?
  7. Are you efficient—or becoming more efficient? Do we have a blanket approach or a focused approach? Is what we’re doing adding value for our end customers? Asking, “Are we as efficient as we could be?” is a question that should be continually asked in this process.

5. Utilization of both leading and lagging indicators

Organizations with outstanding safety records develop a systematic method to measure what’s going on throughout their entire safety operation. It enables them to quickly and easily understand why something went wrong if it ever does. However, most organizations are far from this type of systematic reporting capability.

Many organizations primarily utilize lagging indicators – a measure of what’s happened in the past such as lost workdays, workers’ comp costs, or injury frequency. The problem is, this doesn’t always allow you to quickly or accurately spot future risk. It also doesn’t do enough to identify your current, high-risk situations.

For that, you need leading indicators, which includes things like frequency of safety training, number of and results of safety audits and inspections, as well as the behaviors reflecting operations including mean time of completion of corrective action, employee involvement in proactive activities and even leadership involvement.

Through gaining insights into leading and lagging indicators, organizations can gain a complete picture of all safety activity, with the ultimate goal of preventing accidents before they ever happen.

6. Tools that equip workers to “own” every day safety

give workers the tools to own every day safetyCompanies with low injury rates equip their employees for success and they do so through more than just processes and programs. They leverage cutting-edge tools and systems to keep their employees prepared and ready to handle whatever they need to.

These best-in-class companies know that the most impactful kind of safety program is one where workers really do fully feel that they are highly involved and totally engaged in safety. In other words, these are cultures where workers feels equipped, empowered, and they feel a sense of ownership over the safety program. Said another way, they know they can improve the safety program and they know their voice is important and it’s being heard.

Putting information in the hands of workers is another part of this. Whether it be an SDS Sheet, a training record, or the result of a safety audit, companies are now leveraging mobile safety management solutions to improve the timeliness of response and communication, too.

Just like companies provide their employees with PPE, the best safety leaders recognize the importance of mobile safety software to improve their overall safety management program.

This is becoming even more important as younger workers who grew up as digital natives look for employers that accommodate working in ways that are natural and preferred for them. After all, they are used to information being at their fingertips—so giving them safety training and access to other safety-related tools at any point in their day is just what they are coming to expect from employers.

7. Frequent safety training and discussion

The safest companies in the world recognize the importance of continuous education of their employees, and they prioritize it on a continuous basis.

Safety training today must be fresh, delivered in multiple formats, and ideally it can be viewed on-demand—viewable and accessible at any hour of the day.

Not only does that mean new, important information can be seen when it needs to be (like before a large, new project kicks off), but it also helps workers optimize their own time, too

Certain training will happen in a classroom or certain training will happen on-site. There’s no denying that, but if you haven’t already, consider using new forms of media when it comes to training which is common in best-in-class safety programs. Again, that’s what workers are craving, so be open to new forms of media to keep your training sessions as engaging and interesting as possible. That can include video, reports, visuals, interactive data and/or tools, audio, and more, all of which can keep the attention of workers and can provide multiple ways for them to learn.

8. A focus on continuous improvement

healthy and safety commitment

When it comes to safety, the work really never is done! Keep in mind that the commitment to safety and establishing a safe and healthy culture is never-ending. But for best-in-class safety programs, that’s expected and considered an opportunity for ongoing improvement.

You will always find areas of opportunity for improvement, new employees to train, new hazards to address, more fresh and relevant training opportunities, and more. These challenges keep the job interesting and rewarding, and when every individual has the mindset of continuous improvement, they embrace the ability to continue to increase the organization’s safety, health, and overall success.

If you implement any of these 8 elements, you will far exceed compliance minimums and you will be one step closer to a safer culture. If you successfully implement all eight and you continue to work to advance them, month after month, you’ll surely see your injury rate reduced and your workers’ comp premiums kept low.

Most of all, everyone will leave safe and sound to go home to their families each night, and that’s often the greatest measure of success for you as a safety leader.

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