Human side of safety
To create a successful health and safety culture in an organisation, it is important to invest in the employees and management to ensure that they are engaged and committed to a safer environment and a more successful business.
Why does zero harm remain so elusive? If you think of the amount of time, effort and money that the average company invests in safety, one would expect to hear of fewer incidents. I understand that this is a complicated matter and no one thing or “silver bullet” is going to solve everything. However, there are definite interventions that work.
Gallup’s enquiry into organisational effectiveness spans over 30 years and has included 35-million workers, 3,4-million business units, in 73 countries across 49 industries. The outcomes of Gallup’s research should cause us to sit up and take note.
The study proves that there is an undeniable correlation between employee engagement and safe production. Worldwide, the loss in production income, because of the lack of engagement of workers, is tantamount to
US$ 9 trillion (R128 trillion).
Specifically relating to safety, Gallup’s 2016 research – which included 1,8-million workers –̶ revealed that businesses that had high levels of employee engagement had 70 percent fewer safety incidents than companies with low engagement levels.
Gallup found that in South Africa only 15 percent of employees are engaged at work. Statistically, that means only 15 percent of staff in South African companies are psychologically invested in their job. In other words, they willingly support company initiatives and are motivated to take responsibility for their performance and safety.
On the flip slide, 67 percent of employees, who are not engaged, do only the minimum amount of work. They are detached. They do what is expected of them, but without any passion or commitment. Typically, they will work safely only when it is convenient.
Then you have the 18 percent who are outright disengaged, and are more than unhappy with their jobs. They are openly antagonistic and will gladly share their discontent with other co-workers. They have no problem with undermining efforts to improve the company’s performance, including safety requirements.
The impact for safety is enormous. Engaged workers are more mindful of their surroundings. They are more disciplined and conscientious in terms of following safety procedures. They actively take responsibility for their safety and for other team members. The bottom line is that companies with highly engaged staff have stronger safety cultures than those that do not.
It is crucial for senior managers to ensure that they have a world-class safety system in place and that they constantly endeavour to make the working conditions as safe as possible. At the same time, if leaders are serious about improving performance, reducing incidents and improving their safety culture, then having engaged employees must be a priority.
The number one contributing reason for workers to be engaged, or disengaged, is the attitude of their direct supervisor. Companies often underestimate how much their managers and supervisors impact the overall performance and safety of their organisation. The most important action any company can take toward improving its safety culture is investing in its leadership capacity.
It is disconcerting that, despite this being old news, the level of engagement remains the same. That means too many managers still do not know how to effectively lead their people. Paying lip service to fundamental leadership behaviours simply does not suffice.
If leaders want workers to be committed to safe production, then attending to their basic human needs for psychological engagement must be taken seriously. Little things go a long way. Here are recommendations that can make a significant difference:
Sense of belonging
We are social creatures and have a deep-seated need to feel part of a community. Employees long to be part of a team where their opinions matter and they are listened to; where they feel they are not just a number, but a person who is respected, trusted, treated fairly and cared for. Managers should therefore intentionally create a greater sense of community.
Sense of meaning
Part of engagement is having employees understand their role in the company and how their contributions add value. People want to feel that what they do makes a difference. Leaders should regularly remind their teams how their work aligns to the company’s goals.
The number one reason workers leave their jobs is not for more money, but because they do not feel appreciated. Appreciation tells employees that their efforts are recognised and aren’t taken for granted. This is highly motivational.
Sense of safety
Fear stifles initiative, creativity and a willingness to take responsibility. The work environment should be a safe place for employees to give 100 percent. Team members like to share their opinions (especially when it comes to working safely) without the fear of reprisal. They want to be able to take responsibility without the risk of adverse consequences if they make an honest mistake.
Sense of empowerment
No one likes to be told what to do or be micro-managed. People long for the freedom to decide how they will do their work. If they are there just to follow orders, they feel like robots and quickly disengage.
Employees who feel trusted and feel that their ideas count, and who have some autonomy, are more likely to give more of themselves.
What does all of this have to with safety? Everything. Remember, companies with engaged employees have 70-percent fewer incidents than those with disengaged employees.