Effective SMS programs at the employee level need to be more than words on paper, or speeches spoken by top management on the "occasional safety day." One of the most effective strategies to improve your safety culture is by keeping employees engaged in the safety process.
Establish Safety Reporting Rules and Enforce Them
Employees need to know what's expected of them and what consequences they face for non-compliance. It's important they report safety issues that are typically handled very informally, even though it may take just as much time reporting the issue as it took to "fix it." One common mistake of backsliding safety cultures is that this practice is not reinforced regularly. Make sure all employees know what types of issues you want them to report. Drive these points home time and again through newsletters, surveys and routine safety meetings. Ensure they know how important safety reports are to improve processes and to make the company more competitive in the marketplace. This in turn, helps employees to have a safe and profitable business to work at.
When reporting safety issues is difficult, such as tedious paper-based reports or unfriendly electronic reporting tools, it will be much harder to convince employees to keep reporting issues. Along the same vein, when mid-level management discourages reporting either because it increases managers' workloads or managers want to keep employees on task, valuable data is forever lost. When users fail to report issues, establish penalties and use them when necessary. Add a safety compliance element to employee performance reviews, especially for managers. When users do report safety issues, publicly praise this behavior and provide recognition when possible.
Real safety cultures involve every person within the organization, and not just the top and the bottom echelons. Top executives most often understand the business case for safety. More often than not, it will be the middle managers who try to subvert the "safety process" in the interest of time or to not create additional burdens on their workday. When managers don't take the safety process seriously, we cannot expect employees to obey safety reporting rules that management ignores and often openly discourages.
Safety reporting procedures should be part of every job description and initial employee orientation. Not only must new employees receive safety training immediately that reinforces the importance of safety in the workplace, they need to be trained on the importance of safety reporting to health of the organization. Safety reminders and informational posters are often useful, just as are routine newsletters. Keep newsletters short and fun. Workers today have little patience for long-drawn out newsletters.
All employees want to work in a safe environment and feel as if their contributions affect the success of the team. Managers can make that happen by maintaining a healthy attitude toward open safety reporting across all levels of the company. The entire organization needs to change its attitude from, "it takes too much work to report issues" to "I recognize my contributions are important to improving the safety of my workplace and quality of our operations." The reward will be better employee retention, better morale and satisfaction knowing that your safety culture is healthy and proactive toward safety.