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Handle With Care

Handle With Care

March 28, 2022
Employees are more likely to take workplace safety seriously if they feel valued as individuals.

It’s certainly no surprise to learn—as one recent survey reveals—that workplace safety is very important to people, nor is it shocking that after two years of a pandemic, nearly eight in 10 employees say they’re more concerned about their safety than ever before. Even so, I did a double take when the survey said safety on the job is more important to people than anywhere else, including while receiving medical attention, while socializing or while on vacation. In fact, safety while at work ranks even higher in importance than while living your life.

Those are some of the takeaways from AlertMedia’s “The State of Employee Safety in 2022,” a report based on a survey of more than 2,000 U.S. workers. Besides stating the obvious—that workers want to feel safe when they’re at work—the report points to a disturbing trend: barely half (54%) of workers surveyed believe their safety is extremely important to their employer. Another 38% feel their safety is only somewhat important to their company, while 9% think their safety is either not very important or not at all important to their employers.

And that, of course, can lead to very dangerous situations when employees are expected to follow safety protocols. If an employee feels their company doesn’t care about their safety, why would they ever listen to you? “Everyone who really cares about you wants you to flourish,” observes motivational speaker Matthew Kelly. It’s not enough for workers to go home every night with all body parts intact—they want to feel inspired by the job and appreciated by their managers. That’s an admittedly pretty high bar to reach, and as safety leaders know all too well, even on a good day, workers don’t always do what they’re supposed to do. But if workers feel that their safety and their worth as individuals aren’t important to their companies, it makes a safety leader’s job even more difficult than it already is.

Besides believing their bosses are apathetic toward them, there are other reasons why employees might resist or outright refuse to do what you ask them to do. Sharon Lipinski, CEO of Habit Mastery Consulting and a speaker at last year’s ASSP Safety 21 show in Austin, Texas, outlines some of those other reasons:

  • Your employees are uninformed, especially when it comes to new safety procedures or policies your company is introducing. “This is a temporary situation,” Lipinski points out, “so you need to make sure that they’re getting the most accurate information directly from you—not from co-workers and definitely not from social media.”
  • Confusion, which could also reflect a lack of confidence. If an employee doesn’t understand the directions, chances are good they’re not going to respond properly.
  • Obstacles. It could be a language barrier, or poorly fitting PPE, or inclement weather or many other things that could impede an employee’s ability to properly follow safety procedures.
  • Know-it-all types. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve heard from many instant experts who “know better than you” what caused COVID-19 and how to best protect the workplace from it. Lipinski recommends that rather than openly challenging their opinions, safety leaders should make it clear they’re open to learning from all sources of information, but that ultimately, as the safety manager, their policies must be followed.
  • The “it’ll never happen to me” types who believe in the myth of their own invulnerability and wrongly conclude that just because they’re never gotten hurt before, they never will.
  • And there are the rebellious types who have an attitude of “don’t tell me what to do.”

How do you effectively manage a workforce with so many different personality types and viewpoints? According to Lipinski, the key is good communication, which has to be honest, transparent, accountable, consistent and frequent. Safety leaders who focus on the values their employees find most important, and who involve employees in problem-solving, will ultimately develop the kind of safety culture where the company not only respects and protects its employees, but where the employees equally respect their managers and do all they can to protect themselves and their co-workers, and where the entire workforce—managers and employees alike—can flourish.

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