Dominic Cooper: “Are your employees engaged in safety?”
Many HSE thinkers / managers believe that engaging, simplified, interesting and persuasive risk communications that ‘speaks’ to the audience is the best way to stimulate people’s engagement in HSE. They truly believe speaking at people is going to get employees involved in HSE. This points to a widespread and fundamental misunderstanding of what engagement actually means.
Employee Engagement (EE) is about people being fully involved in and enthusiastic about their work, and who act in a way that furthers their own, their colleagues and the company’s interests (a triple win-win). EE is measurable and can be correlated with performance. For example, studies have shown that where EE was high, employees were [a] five times less likely to experience a safety incident, and seven times less likely to have a lost-time safety incident, and [b] experience 62 per cent less overall safety incidents compared to companies with non-engaged employees. This evidence shows companies need to  wean employees off of a full dependence on management for safety, and  recognise that safety is a social activity where everyone has to work together as a TEAM (Together Everyone Achieves More!). Moving from a traditional ‘command and control’ model of safety to an ‘all-inclusive’ one is challenging, and requires a consistency of purpose, focus, and execution from all concerned, but is best achieved by creating a genuine safety partnership between managers and employees.
Creating a safety partnership means management and the workforce jointly working toward achieving common and understood safety goals, with clear and consistent two-way communication, efficient monitoring and reporting, and decisive action to investigate blockages and taking the appropriate corrective action as needed. The key aspect is ensuring an understanding by all concerned that engagement is a two-way process to decide on the best way forward and act together to make it happen: i.e. managers deliberately reach out to engage with employees to focus on HSE issues of importance; in turn, employees proactively and positively engage with management.
The strongest rationale for deliberately creating a safety partnership is that neither management nor employees can bring about good safety performance on their own. Management, for example, relies on the workforce to report potential or actual incidents, follow procedures, and work safely. Similarly, employees cannot improve safety on their own; they rely on management, for example, to show safety leadership, set the direction for action, develop supporting safety policies, develop appropriate procedures, release the necessary resources to enact the policies, and complete any corrective actions.
The key drivers for developing and maintaining a safety partnership are straightforward and surround [a] management’s commitment to safety and high levels of support and [b] reducing the degree of risk presented by the nature of the work. High managerial support leads to higher levels of engagement, which in turn lead to much higher compliance with safety rules and procedures. Moreover, reducing high levels of risk presented by hazards also leads to much higher involvement and compliance with safety.
Specific and practical areas of safety that joint management and workforce teams can use to develop a proactive safety partnership include: [a] safety leadership skills development for all personnel; [b] reporting, investigating & reviewing incidents; [c] training people for, and conducting, hazard identification exercises; [d] conducting risk assessments; [e] procedural reviews; [f] development of toolbox talks and other safety training packages; and [g] pro-active involvement in behavior-based safety processes.
In summary, many believe EE is desirable but focus solely on using persuasive risk communications. Although more difficult, developing a safety partnership by being inclusive in HSE whenever and wherever possible is the key. In other words, doing safety with people is much more effective than doing it at them!
1. Cooper, M.D. & Finley, L.J. (2013). “Strategic Safety Culture Roadmap”. BSMS, Franklin, IN, USA.
2. Lockwood, N. R. (2007). Leveraging employee engagement for competitive advantage: HR’s strategic role. HR Magazine, 52(3), 1-11.
3. Harter, J K., Schmidt, F. L. , Killham, E. A., & Asplund, J. W (2006). Q12® Meta-Analysis. Gallup Consulting.
4. Cooper, M.D. (2015). Effective Safety Leadership: Understanding Types & Styles That Improve Safety Performance. Professional Safety, 60 (2), 49-53.
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