What is HR’s role in ensuring the health and safety of workers?

“Every employee should have the right to show up to work, to do their job successfully, to do it in a safe environment, and to come home to their family after the workday,” says Joey Price. (Price is CEO of Jumpstart:HR, a company that provides outsourced HR outsourcing and consulting, helping to tame HR to-do-lists for small businesses, non-profits, and other organizations.)

And HR’s role is to help ensure that happens.

Knowing safety success is about much more than meeting compliance requirements, here are 6 key ways HR should be involved in safety.

1. Set the tone during the recruiting and hiring phases

In many ways, the way you recruit and hire sets the tone for workers in terms of your company culture. Are people being recruited and hired who are capable and have the capacity, with training, to do the job? Do you stress to them how important safety is for your organization? Are hires those who show that they are aligned with your culture of safety?

2. Administer and implement the safety program

Depending on your company size, this may or may not be part of HR’s responsibilities directly. Even if HR isn’t solely responsible, they should ideally be involved. HR’s role in injury and incident prevention can include:

  • Culture: ensuring values are upheld and making sure safety is taken as seriously as productivity and results are;
  • Policies and procedures: are the policies and procedures upheld? This can make or break any safety program!
  • Communication: one of the most critical components is transparent communication and collaboration to make all of this possible. High-performing cultures have a way for people to speak up to support safety, and HR clearly has a connection to this.
  • Proper monitoring and updating of a safety program: While starting or re-launching a safety program means you have good intentions, HR is critically important in monitoring and ensuring what should happen, does happen, when it comes to injury prevention efforts.

3. Make sure employees see what’s in it for them

A safe workplace is one of the first things people can take for granted, unfortunately, despite how important it is.

In a society that’s all about “me,” this can be even more challenging, explains Price; but it’s HR’s role to continue to show how safety and health goals do benefit each individual person. And HR can help build awareness that it’s up to each employee to take responsibility for their safety.

“There’s so many reasons why people choose to work, and why they choose not to work. Now more than ever, the individual’s needs should be at the forefront of leadership’s mind, because a company is comprised of a collection of individuals,” says Price.

In turn, it’s also HR’s role to show the importance of how safety policies and procedures impact co-workers in a company, the company as a whole, and even the community.

4. Champion safety

HR needs to be a champion of safety in the workplace and they need to be one of the leaders of safe workplace initiatives. “And that’s partly because it’s in our job description, and partly because it’s not,” says Price.

“What I mean by this is that ‘human resources,’ by definition, means we are tasked with making sure the humans that show up to our workplace are adequately selected and trained. It means we ensure they have adequate workspace and that they are adequately informed of the mission and goals. And, it means we ensure they are aware of what they are individually responsible for, and collectively responsible for, in the organization,” says Price. “Safety falls under almost all, if not all, of those categories,” he says.

5. Make sure training and development sets workers up for success

HR’s role is to ensure that the organization invests in a proactive safety culture; that investment, when done right, will prevent injuries, incidents, and other issues.

A key piece of this is training and development that helps workers to be safe.

“Like anything, training is a muscle that allows you, over time, to grow in your confidence to exercise those things,” says Price, who says that training is what will help workers trust in their plan, no matter what happens on a job site or no matter what emergency takes place.

“You can have a plan. You can put it on the company intranet. You can share it with your employees, but when you train on it, that gives people the right applied knowledge, and it gives you confidence,” he says. “For health and safety, so often it’s about having confidence in what you’re going to do.”

6. Ensure the workplace is committed to overall employee well-being

The “well-being” of an employee is connected to their health and their safety.

“Today, health branches out to not just be our physical health, but it also includes mental health as well. Work is more stressful these days. We take our job home with us at night. We package it up and put it in our pocket with our cellphones and laptops. It’s harder to stay disconnected and recharge,” explains Price. The idea of “health,” in many ways, has changed for workers, and the role of HR has evolved alongside it, too.

For example: who is more likely to get injured on the job: someone who’s well-rested, alert, and engaged? Or, someone who is fatigued, complacent, and going through the motions? This example is meant to show how connected an employee’s well-being is to health and to safety, too.

“HR has sort of a role, at times, where if no one else knows where to put it, it winds up on HR’s desk,” says Price with a laugh. “The idea often is, ‘HR can do it,’” he says. It might be planning the company picnic, or cleaning out the fridge, or another task…but when it comes to more serious matters—such as active shooter training or what to do if there is an earthquake—HR really has to be the champion around these issues, too.

“We’re the ones committed to creating a safe environment, and that’s really no matter what that means. “That’s a safe environment where everyone has been communicated with: why the workplace should be safe, how workers should be behaving to ensure it’s safe, and what to do if and when certain situations arise.”

HR Has An Essential Role to Play With Workplace Safety

“Right now, we’re seeing more and more instances that are calling our attention to the idea of, ‘Just how safe is the workplace?’” says Price. “As workplace fatalities are on the rise, it’s just as important as ever. It’s important that we have the responsibility of getting you home safely to your family every night.”

Keeping this in mind, now is a great time as ever for leaders to re-assess their processes and to make sure your safety program goes beyond the basics.

“One employee lost to gunfire is too much. One employee lost to harassment is too much. One employee lost in a fire or chemical spill or injured on the job—or anything that could have been prevented—is one person too many,” adds Price.

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