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A Matter of Trust: How to Evolve and Manage Worker Health & Safety

Jan. 9, 2020
A safety culture comes down to establishing a deep trust between the company and the workers.

Top safety leaders create a safety culture that shifts from a minimum requirement of compliance to a workforce where employees are committed to working safely. Safety leaders know that safety starts and ends with the people. It’s not about the confusing jargon, acronyms, abbreviations, and the piles and piles of paperwork. It’s about the deep trust that exists between the company and the workers.

Safety leaders agree that compliance is important. Compliance is the rules, regulations and laws that are necessary for a safe workplace. For this article I spoke to three safety to leaders to better understand how they moved from understanding and knowing the rules and regulations to being committed to operating safely always. It all comes down to trust!

Trust is the ability to be open, vulnerable and courageous based on positive expectations. It’s based on five tenets of trust:

Caring—Demonstrate genuine care of others. Employees can tell if compliance is about CYA (Cover Your Assets) rather than caring for them as individuals.

Commitment—Keeping your word or not stopping until your work or task is completed. When you are committed to a safe workplace it becomes a value that is non-negotiable and everyone lives and breathes it.

Consistency—Words and actions are aligned. The rules apply to everyone.

Competence—A skill or knowledge that aligns with the task. Everyone should be trained so they have the skills and abilities to do their job safely.

Communication—Being able to listen and verbalize for complete understanding.

Everything works together and perfect trust is possible when all of the tenets align.

It’s not surprising that the top companies are leading the shift and making a big difference in EHS. Each of the safety leaders I spoke to has a genuine concern for their people. It showed up consistently in all of the interviews. Let’s take a look at some of their insights.


Earnest (J.R.) Glascock, Jr. is director of corporate safety at The Lane Construction Corp. He spoke candidly about trust in the construction business.

“There is a big difference between compliance and culture. Every company out there has a safety culture. To build a solid culture and commitment you need to get every part of the organization involved. That is key to safety success.

“First, you have to ask yourself: Why do the employees work safe on the job? Every employee needs to take responsibility for their own individual safety. They need to know the purpose behind why they are actually working safe.

“Why they want to work safe is the difference between compliance and culture. Compliance is. ‘I have to do this.’ Culture means, ‘I want to do this.’ That to me is the key. While purpose is important, it obviously goes deeper than that.

“The second point is you have to live by the core value of ‘care for people.’ That is a core value of our company. When a company genuinely cares for employees it sets that stage for that cultural commitment that every company strives for. When employees feel that the company really cares for them, it is reciprocated. It really is a full circle.

“Companies need to ditch that ‘safety is our number one priority’ approach. It's one of those buzzwords but I would much rather hear a company talk about ‘safety always.’ What I mean by that is priorities can change. Even if it's your number one priority there is the potential that the safety priority could be pushed if you’re behind schedule. So instead of a priority it needs to be a value. Values are unwavering. They don’t change. It’s something that you live each and every day.

“Most companies have values. However, for a value to be trusted it has to be lived. It’s tangible when you see it lived out in the field each and every day. That’s what solidifies a world-class safety culture.”

According to J.R., trust is aligned with three core principles:

1: You have to care for the individual.

2. You have to see value in the person and add value to the person.

3. Your words and actions must align.


Stephanie Benay is director of safety systems and assurance for BC Hydro in Vancouver, BC, Canada. When I’ve needed clarity around health and safety, Stephanie is the first person I go to for her intelligent, articulate and well-reasoned response. Her commitment to safety and her education, combined with her ability to articulate and see the big picture, are some of the reasons I go to her.

“In the last decade safety has changed from a worker blaming focus to being systems-focused.

We need to understand safety beyond field execution. What that requires is a systems thinking approach. Safety happens in the field but really it starts in the planning. It happens at the executive table when the budget is being planned.

“It’s like building a house. The basement is the health and safety management system. So you pour the basement to make sure that framework is solid.

“Once you’ve finished the basement and it’s a solid foundation, you put the walls up. That’s compliance. Compliance is an important step and it’s about meeting the necessary regulatory requirements. But it’s not where you stop. And that’s a key piece. You need to put the roof of the house on. The roof of the house is risk. If you pour a solid foundation and you put your walls up straight the roof can go on. What you want to do is get your organization and the people who work in the organization to the place where they are managing risk effectively.

“You don’t want to add extra layers of bureaucracy that can get in the way. Let people effectively get to the place where they have the tools, the skills, the education and the wherewithal to manage the risk that they face on a daily basis.”


Reliance Electric is a nationwide electrical contractor. I met Fred Barlow, CSO, and Nephi Allred, president and CEO, when I spoke at a safety conference in Austin, Texas, in 2016. Since that time, I’ve seen first-hand their commitment to the value of trust in their people and in their services. Fred and I spoke at length about the trust and safety at Reliance.

Safety and trust go hand in hand. What is safety? It is to preserve life. If you are preserving or helping to save someone’s life there has to be a high trust relationship. It means that we care about their lives and making sure people get home safely. Trust is vital to a healthy safety culture.

Workers willingly go into a construction site, which by itself is an inherently dangerous process. You can threaten people with penalties all day and it’s a short-lived pressure to them. Moving from compliance to a commitment is a behavioral emotional change.

“A commitment requires that something change in the heart. You have to change something in the inside. There has to be a desire planted. That is what we are focused on because compliance becomes easy once they have the desire to comply. We tie it back to their home and their personal lives. No one wants to be hurt at the end of the day. Compliance has to be tied to a commitment that is not work-related. You tie it back to principles like integrity and trust and caring and respect. People do it because they are adhering to their character. When they stand by their character, compliance becomes a lot easier.

“I tell people when I see a challenge in trust and respect in the workplace. When I started in safety there was a lack of trust between some people. When there is a challenge in trust and respect you fix it the same way you fix the challenge at home. You have to put your ego and your position aside and genuinely care about each other. You have to do it consistently. Your spouse, your kids, they’re going to trust you when you care not only with what you say but with what you do consistently day after day and how they feel when they are around you. That’s the same way around the business. Upper management has to be very consistent in their message of safety and caring.

“I’ve never seen a worker truly want to be unsafe. They don’t say or think, ‘I’m going to go mutilate my arm today.’ So when I see a worker not following the safety rule that they’re trained in, I have to ask myself, ‘Why are they ignoring that safety rule?’ It’s not because they want to get hurt. I dig into the cause. Sometimes it’s because someone they are working with doesn’t share the same value on safety. They’re feeling peer pressure to do something that is out of their comfort zone, and they feel compelled to do it. Getting the proper training and getting the proper equipment takes time. On a job site, on a construction site, time is money.

“We can’t control everyone our employees work with. Because it is such an ever-changing worksite we have to have their personal commitment that we talked about.”


It isn’t a surprise to me that the leaders I spoke to are highly trusted. To lead the shift from compliance to commitment and to evolve and improve worker health and safety, trust must be there. What was consistent with all of them was their belief that you hire and train workers and respect their ability to do the right thing. You show them that the rules and regulations are there because you care for them and it’s not just a CYA (Cover Your Assets).

I heard it again and again: “No one wants to get hurt or killed on the job.” Make it easy for them to live and work safely. And show them you genuinely care.

Lea Brovedani ( is author of two books and numerous articles on trust, and her programs on trust are taught worldwide. She is president of Sagacity Consulting, based in Philadelphia, Pa.

About the Author

Lea Brovedani | president

Lea Brovedani ( is author of two books and numerous articles on trust, and her programs on trust are taught worldwide. She is president of Sagacity Consulting, based in Philadelphia, Pa.

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