Over the past crazy year, organizations have learned many important lessons—some, the hard way.
From these many lessons that we are still experiencing, managers and supervisors have seen how ongoing, well-planned safety impacts productivity and quality of work. However, it is a major misconception that workplace safety and productivity are mutually exclusive, and in order for one area the benefit, the other must be negatively impacted. The reality is that safety and productivity actually complement each other.
When safety improves, so does productivity. In fact, each priority feeds each other in ways that have become clearer with the recent increase in remote and telework. According to a recent study in Occupational Health Science, “employees’ safety and health are of primary importance, as both are key elements in achieving an organization’s desired productivity and efficiency.” Furthermore, according to an article from Automation World, “manufacturers need to view safety and productivity as goals to achieve together, rather than ‘safety first’ after productivity.”
When a workplace or the work itself is unsafe, it means that employees may not be well-managed. That could result in less motivated and mindful employees who are unsatisfied and unhappy with their job. Poor safety management can not only put the team members’ safety on the line, but also operations and productivity. Additionally, heavy fines can result if litigation takes place, crippling—if not completely shutting down—an organization.
When safety is a priority and there’s a culture of well-being within the workplace (even online), team members can focus on the quality of their work instead of the worry and stress that comes with potentially hazardous work environments. A recent study from Science Direct found that physical and psychosocial conditions at work directly impact worker safety, health and well-being and “influence enterprise outcomes such as turnover, absence, productivity and healthcare costs.”
So now that you’re aware of the link between safety and productivity, how can you utilize this knowledge for the advantage of your team and organization? Every team and organization are different, but there are some general steps that can be taken in any industry to benefit all employees. While organizational change takes time and patience, the important first step is to implement some sort of framework that supports and promotes safety in the workplace.
Safety training—even online—encourages and facilitates valuable engagement and connection amongst the team, thereby strengthening the personal and professional dynamics on multiple levels. Not every new safety protocol will require a training session or workshop. However, when you are introducing a new major practice or policy, training may be needed.
Use these opportunities to not only educate the team on these important safety measures, but also try to make them as fun as possible. After all, they are also occasions for employees to connect over safety and other issues. The engagement alone from these sessions is worth it, resulting in significant ROI and improved operations. According to a study from The Conference Board on workplace engagement in the U.S., disengaged employees cost organizations around $450-550 billion each year.
Leverage Existing Communications Devices
Worker safety has been an important issue ever since 1897 when Great Britain passed a worker’s compensation act for occupational injuries. In the centuries since, countries across the globe have come a long way with laws and legislation to protect workers, including the creation of OSHA in the U.S., as well as the development of personal protective equipment (PPE) and innovative technologies.
From advanced location tracking and fall detection to automated check-ins and panic buttons, leveraging any existing and commonly used devices (such as smartphones and tablets) for these features is essential for protecting your team to the best of your organization’s ability. For example, this means employing lone worker safety technology and apps that can be utilized on devices already in the field that employees are familiar and comfortable with. The growing market and options may be overwhelming, but the good news is that there is a safety platform or software for almost every type of safety need and industry.
Physical and Psychological Safety
When it comes to workplace safety, the conversation tends to gravitate toward physical safety hazards and how to mitigate them. But due to the widespread isolation and loneliness of the pandemic, safety managers are talking more about how to support the mental and emotional well-being of workers, which impacts their physical safety as well as the productivity and caliber of their work.” The American Psychiatric Association Foundation estimates that $44 billion in productivity is lost each year to employees with depression.
Depression, loneliness and other mental health issues have increased over the past 18 months, but managers are not powerless. There are a number of resources that can be provided to improve mental health and stress management in the workplace. Mental health amongst the team is also stronger when they are engaged with the safety of themselves and their co-workers.
An active safety department is constantly keeping workers connected and aware of any potential hazards or risks. Whether you’re looking at employee data from a safety app, you’re conducting a lunch-and-learn workshop or simply checking in on a co-worker, these activities provide opportunities for connection. Reaching out to employees on a regular basis strengthens relationships and can result in better performance because employees feel valued, which can also help increase employee retention.
In 2016, OSHA passed a regulation that prohibits employers from discouraging workers from reporting injuries and illnesses and also requires employers to inform their employees of their right to report any incidents. In a 2009 report, The National Employment Law Project found that 43% of low-wage workers in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago experienced illegal retaliation from their employer after filing a safety-related complaint.
But the tide seems to be turning. Partially because of the vigilance against COVID-19, employers are more aware of the safety hazards facing their team.Even though every organization’s safety culture will be unique, the strong ones will create a work environment where staff feel comfortable to speak up about any potential safety hazards without fear of backlash; staff should be encouraged to raise their safety concerns and even rewarded for doing so. A strong culture of safety and well-being can benefit the productivity and quality of work in an organization. In an EHS Today article, Terry L. Mathis says that balancing safety and productivity “tends to enhance both, while letting either one triumph over the other will not only damage these efforts but also create collateral damage in other areas of the organization.”
It’s clear that a safe work environment has a number of impactful benefits, including increased work capacity and quality, in addition to improved well-being and corporate culture because workers will be more engaged with their job as well as their co-workers.
Safety and productivity are two important pieces of a bigger puzzle that encompasses a prolific and happy team who will produce better work as a result. While it might not happen overnight, by focusing on these four areas, you can empower and engage workers to constantly improve workplace safety and simultaneously increase their productivity.
Gen Handley is a marketing and growth coordinator for SafetyLine Lone Worker, an automated, cloud-based lone worker monitoring service that has helped companies protect remote or isolated workers for more than 20 years. Gen has more than 10 years of freelance writing and marketing experience.