24 OCTOBER 2017
As a safety manager, you know that your greatest asset in creating a healthy, safe working environment is your team. In the office and on the worksite, they are your eyes and ears, and the ones charged with carrying out proper safety procedures. Your company’s commitment to safety depends on them.
This is why it’s so important for members of your team to know they can speak up when they see something dangerous taking place. Whether it’s reporting near misses, getting involved in developing safety policy or taking advantage of a whistleblower policy, you want your team to feel they have a voice and a role to play in creating a safe work environment.
Here are a few ways you can empower your employees to speak up.
Dispel fear of repercussion
One of the biggest barriers to speaking up about unsafe practices is the fear of repercussions. Employees sometimes fear that if they criticize colleagues, managers or the company’s practices in general, they will be reprimanded or removed. That’s a terrifying thought for an employee, especially since some may have had experiences in previous work environments that reinforced that mentality.
It’s important that you actively dispel any fears by creating a culture of openness, and by demonstrating that speaking up is welcome and won’t be punished. At safety meetings, talk about concerns that have been raised. During employee reviews, directly ask if they’ve witnessed anything that concerns them and reward employees for coming forward.
Of course, even if you’ve demonstrated that speaking up won’t be punished, some employees may still be nervous to do so. For this reason, you should make it possible to report unsafe practices confidentially. This can be done via an anonymous web form on your website or employee web portal, by providing a confidential toll-free number, or by contracting a third-party confidential reporting service.
Another barrier to speaking up is apathy. Some employees simply don’t feel invested enough in their job or their workplace to bother reporting a near miss or questionable practice. An employee who feels strongly connected to their workplace and their team is more likely to keep it safe and take pride in upholding high standards.
Engage in team-building exercises such as turning safety training and reporting into friendly team competitions. For example, for each near miss an employee reports, enter their name in a draw for a monthly prize. This will encourage everyone to practice safety, and to report others who don’t without feeling badly about it.
When they raise a concern, act on it
If you want your employees to feel like they are empowered to speak up when they see unsafe behaviour or working conditions, you have to show them that their efforts are not in vain. If they raise concerns and you either dismiss them immediately, or promise to act but never follow through, they will learn that they are wasting their time. If you want your employees to speak up, take it seriously when they do—even when it’s a small matter. And if their concern doesn’t warrant any changes, still follow up, explain the investigative steps you took, the conclusion you came to, and thank them for bringing the matter to your attention.
Foster a culture of health and safety above all else
Safety culture starts from the top. If you want your employees to take safety culture seriously enough to report unsafe practices, you need to demonstrate on a daily basis, through your words and actions, that you take it just as seriously. Tell them about safety improvements that you’ve made, praise them for safe behaviour and demonstrate to them that you will refuse to engage in unsafe practices, even if a paying client is pressuring you to do so. Humbly admit to your own mistakes to demonstrate transparency and accountability. Keep your whistleblower policy and confidential reporting contact information posted prominently and visibly, as a reminder that safety is part of the culture in their work environment.
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