Back to Basics is a weekly feature that highlights important but possibly overlooked information that any EHS professional should know. This week, we examine Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and the importance of having a diverse safety culture.
There are many factors beyond basic safety compliance that go into building a strong safety culture. One of those factors is diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), which is a safety issue, not just an HR issue. DEI also ties into psychological safety in the workplace, and according to Michigan State University, “intertwining psychological safety with diversity and inclusion efforts in the workplace allows employees to feel safe being themselves since their diversity is welcomed.”
Importance of DEI
A strong, healthy safety culture must involve trust, respect, and inclusion. Company leaders must understand the cultural makeup of both the community and the organization in which they serve in order to achieve those values, says OSHA.
Implementing and modeling behaviors that reflect a respectful and inclusive environment is essential to a safety culture, and this should include placing a high value on the positive impact of greater diversity and inclusion among leadership and the workforce. This process should include training in skills and behaviors that support a respectful environment. By using this approach, cultural diversity can become an effective resource for creative problem solving and organizational learning.
According to OSHA, safety and health programs need to have the meaningful participation of workers and their representatives in order to be effective. Employees have a lot to gain from a successful program, and the most to lose if it fails, and they often know the potential hazards associated with their jobs.
Employers should be involving workers in all aspects of their safety and health programs. Leaders are responsible for creating an environment where all workers feel included, heard, and respected. Every employee offers a valuable perspective, and their unique experiences are needed to prevent injuries and illnesses, and to find better safety solutions.
OSHA recommends taking the first step towards implementing DEI principles by identifying a workplace safety activity that helps build a more diverse and accepting workplace. The agency suggests the following activities that help advance workplace safety and health, meaningfully involve workers, and promote collaboration.
Celebrate diversity and employee differences, and provide management with diversity training so that workers feel supported and protected. Host employee listening sessions in order to help build a culture of trust where workers are encouraged to speak their minds, and establish a DEI committee that works closely with the health and safety committee.
Provide materials in workers’ native languages, and make the materials technology accessible to be inclusive. Develop and communicate DEI goals and measure progress, and provide opportunities for ongoing feedback from employees.
Diversify management to provide representation for workers, and make sure that work groups and teams are diverse. Lastly, be sure to consider time zones, job tasks, and work shifts when scheduling meetings so that all workers have the opportunity to participate.