EHS Management, Safety Culture and Behavioral Safety

What It Means to Foster a Safe Workplace

In his April 2020 letter to Amazon’s shareholders, Jeff Bezos declared that Amazon will become the safest place to work on Earth. To support that goal, the company recently launched a massive campaign to cut workplace injuries in half by 2025. While this reduction metric is helpful, Bezos’s major ambition to be “the safest workplace” is highly subjective.

Safe workplace, safety team

Amorn Suriyan / Shutterstock.com

A workplace is only the “safest” when it’s safer than all of the other companies around it. So, what does it truly mean to be a safe place to work?

Here are five hallmarks of a safe workplace that you can implement to help evaluate and improve your own operational safety.

1. Institute Top-to-Bottom Accountability

Mitigating workplace injuries starts with executive buy-in. It’s essential that company leadership proactively emphasize safety and ensure employees know it’s a priority.

In practice, executives should not only create safety policies and procedures but also weave safety into the company’s core values. Effective policies can cover an entire organization—from injury prevention to incident reporting and from equipment checks to hazard communication. When managers at every level demonstrate their commitment and buy into these policies, workers at every level follow them.

By making safety a cornerstone of your company culture in daily practice, staff are encouraged to more actively participate in workplace safety initiatives and proactive risk elimination. This can also go a long way toward showing staff and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that your company values everyone’s safety.

2. Bolster Safety Programs with Highly Visible Safety Champions

Many successful companies build safety or environment, health, and safety (EHS) teams to implement safety policies and ensure they’ll meet safety outcomes. Neither of those can be done without safety champions, those who campaign for safety programs across all departments, teams, and levels of your organization.

Safety champions can be anyone, though it helps to have at least one who is an executive. This person can help the rest of the organization realize that safety is more than doing the bare minimum; it’s about doing everything a company can to ensure staff go home in good health at the end of the day.

Your champions might start small by providing training or sharing a list of unsafe behaviors and triggers. But the most important thing is that their work is highly visible. To this end, every safety champion should have a seat at the war table, where the most important decisions for the company are made. Your safety champions will hold departments accountable for keeping workers safe and adhering to safety policies.

In our experience, the companies that devote someone (or, preferably, a group of people) to safety are able to effect behavior change in their workplace and significantly improve safety outcomes at their respective companies.

3. Make Safety Records Available and Aim for Transparency

Employees recognize when companies are behind in compliance, have outdated materials, or inconsistently report on workplace safety. So, to build trust and credibility with your staff, at a minimum, make your safety records available to all employees.

Then, you’ll be well positioned to use this data to inform how you’ll improve your workplace safety record on an ongoing basis.

For example, if slips and falls are persistent issues, communicate that you’ll be taking action to reduce these incidents, and explain what those actions will be. Your company might install nonslip mats, post additional slip hazard signage, and require a slip and fall training course to help staff identify these hazards.

Then, follow up on those areas of concern in a timely manner, and flag improvements in upcoming reports to ensure employees don’t just see that action was taken; confirm that you care by communicating that you’ve made the workplace safer in a tangible, measurable way.

4. Require Mandatory Compliance Training

Safety and compliance training should never be optional. Every employee should be required to actively participate in training as part of your company’s safety program.

In a strong safety culture, all workers undergo training in EHS policies and procedures, as well as any rules specific to their jobs, sites, and equipment. When regulations, standards, and technologies change, organize a round of training to keep workers up to date. Every company in the world has had to do this—formally or informally—during the COVID-19 outbreak, and you can take lessons away from the successes and challenges you experienced in those training sessions.

But it isn’t just about official or formal courses. Compliance training encompasses everything from tailgate talks at construction sites and pop quizzes on mobile devices to more formal on-site and online training courses.

5. Recognize and Reward Safe Behavior

Employee recognition is the most potent and effective way to motivate staff to take safety seriously. Instead of focusing solely on what an employee did wrong, it pays dividends to identify when an employee went above and beyond to keep himself or herself or others safe.

There are a few ways to approach your recognition and reward program:

  • Send an e-mail blast to the entire company recognizing an employee’s stellar safety behavior.
  • Create a safety all-stars program wherein you highlight an employee or two each week or month.
  • Consider a physical reward such as time off, money, or gift cards.

When you talk about your safety programs to employees, mention your reward program, and use it to motivate compliance. This will also give you the opportunity to highlight how past safe employee behaviors benefited the organization and their peers.

Safety and EHS leadership

Rido / Shutterstock.com

Build Your Culture of Employee Safety and Care

Bezos was right when he said there is a science to safety. To build a safer workplace, you’ll need to crunch numbers, identify trends, and plan a strategy to address areas for improvement, which will likely include additional safety and compliance training programs.

But safety isn’t just about the stats; it’s about building a culture that establishes, rewards, and supports positive behavior change in employees at all levels. While incentivizing safety through rewards and recognition can bolster your efforts in short order, for long-term safety, you’ll need to create a workplace in which people work together to contribute to the group’s well-being and the growth of the company.

It takes time and dedication to cultivate a safe workplace, but leadership can pave the way with their words and actions. If you’re not sure what that looks like, revisit the recent shareholder letter from Bezos, and look for the hallmarks we mentioned above. The $300 million commitment is just a start, but it’s a sign that Amazon is getting serious about safety, and you don’t need to invest on that scale to steer your company in the same direction.

Nick BujeaudNick Bujeaud is a district manager at KPA, an EHS and workforce compliance software and services provider for midsize businesses. KPA solutions help clients identify, remedy, and prevent workplace safety and compliance problems across their entire enterprise. The combination of KPA’s Vera Suite platform, EHS consulting services, and award-winning training content helps organizations minimize risk so they can focus on what’s important: their core business. For over 30 years, KPA has helped more than 10,000 clients achieve regulatory compliance, protect assets, and retain top talent.