EHS Administration

Focus on 2022: Employee Engagement

This week, EHS Daily Advisor (EHSDA) is examining four key issues that will impact EHS professionals in the new year. Today, we asked three industry experts to provide their insights on what employee engagement in EHS will look like in 2022.

employee engagement

Earlier this year, EHSDA and Avetta conducted The State of Safety and Beyond survey, which gathered insights from 314 EHS professionals about how their organizations are dealing with current safety challenges and what they’re expecting in the future. Asked how engaged employees are in organizational safety programs, 20% of respondents said their employees were very involved, 68% said they were somewhat involved, and 12% said their employees had minimal or no involvement.

There are many different ways to participate in safety programs. Ninety-one percent of respondents said their employees receive training, 78% said they attend safety meetings, 71% said employees report hazards, 54% said they conduct equipment inspections, and 54% said they serve on safety committees.

Other methods of participation include a safety corner that features posted safety information, an observation program, safety incentive programs, a “Safety Pulse Hotline,” union training, assisting in training others, risk assessments, safety tailgate meetings, “Safety Standout Awards,” reporting good catches and near misses, “hazard hunts,” mentoring of safety professionals on job sites, quarterly safety drills, and having designated safety captains work with employees on safety.

Asked about barriers to employee engagement in safety, 38% of respondents said lack of time for employees to participate in safety efforts, 29% said employees do not view safety as a core part of their job duties, 13% said employees view safety as a barrier to productivity, and 11% said lack of trust between employees and management. Other barriers noted included lack of consistent accountability and proper resources/tools to do their jobs safely; employees have become too comfortable working remotely; employees are concerned about retaliation; lack of injuries creates a “we’re doing OK” mentality; lack of training and awareness; and lack of leadership.

As the COVID pandemic continues to drag on with new variants, how should EHS managers approach employee engagement in safety?

Claire Beich, president and owner of Ascend Consulting Environmental Health & Safety:

EHS managers should approach the teams as if COVID efforts are here to stay, a non-negotiable part of the PPE programs at each location. With COVID, we know the data, updates, and mandates are increasingly fluid, being transparent with that, showing employees how the company is doing all they can to keep them safe while at work and to hear feedback from them if they have ideas. As EHS leaders, we need to be in constant communication with the teams to ensure there is not a culture of uncertainty being created through a lack of transparency within the organization. Engagement is organic when the conversations are consistent.

Kevin Shoemaker, senior product manager, EHS Hero:

The COVID issue is extremely serious, unfortunately politicized, and yet to be fully understood issue. As such, I believe the safety manager needs to recognize that the business risk exists and must be managed regardless of a person’s religious, political, or medical reasons for their choices. I believe step one is company business policies associated with management of this risk and prevention/mitigation of the risk for all employees and customers must be created and used. Once this step has been completed, following and using your unique plan to mitigate this risk will continue to be a priority. All employees need to be educated as new facts are established and everyone needs to realize that the policies and measure put into place are to protect against this risk and keep them safe. People (apparently especially Americans) don’t like people telling them what to do. I had a rodeo program at a community college where the college leadership said you can’t get cowboys to wear personal protective gear (PPE) like they do in football or baseball. These guys are tough and don’t want people telling them they need to wear this stuff. I would be willing to bet that early on in both baseball and football history such statements were made also. Now it is just routine and people don’t play without them. As a side note, there was a death in that rodeo program the next year that could have been prevented with the use of PPE. People have to be engaged and understand that it is for their own protection that these policies are being put into place. 

Rachel Walla, principal consultant with Ally Safety:

As a safety professional who interacts with a broad network of safety professionals, [I see] many of us out there leading these efforts who are, ourselves, experiencing “COVID fatigue” along with the teams we lead. Unfortunately, the pandemic doesn’t look like it’s going to be over any time soon. As leaders we need to find a path forward for organizations that is as consistent as possible, despite changing mandates and potential legislation. This will take patience and persistence. COVID is less of a focus than before and is instead becoming integrated into the fabric of business operations. I recommend developing a company motto around COVID management that helps leadership and employees to quickly and succinctly sum up the company ethos around managing the pandemic. This helps provide a common understanding of how and why decisions are made.